Allysia Kizzee – Rice University
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Andrew Melson
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Growing up in Houston, Allysia Kizzee recalls seeing the grandeur of Rice University while passing by—the quads with vibrant green lawns bordered by brick buildings, many connected by covered walkways with majestic arches.
“Looking at it from the outside, it may seem simple,” she says. “When you come inside the hedges, we have a complex, multifaceted community.”
Since November 2021, Kizzee has been on the inside as the university’s director of facilities. She and her team of 45 maintain more than 90 buildings, including residence halls and lecture rooms, as well as the lab facilities where organizations such as NASA and the Texas Medical Center conduct research.
Kizzee brings 25 years of project and facilities management experience to her role at Rice—a career that began on a Chevron oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. She’s also the first African American woman to direct facilities at Rice, and a staunch advocate for helping other African American women succeed in her field.
“Our team is responsible for maintaining the environments where faculty, staff, and students can do their best work,” Kizzee says. “When a member of our community arrives on campus, it’s important that our facilities demonstrate the ability to support the renowned teaching and research within each building.”
A gifted campus
Located on 300 acres, Rice University was chartered as the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art in 1891—a gift to the city by its founder, who made his fortune in Houston. Classes began in 1912 on the 12th anniversary of Rice’s death.
Rice has an enrollment of more than 6,700 students studying in more than 50 undergraduate majors and graduate programs—from architecture and engineering to humanities and music. The university is home to research in areas including particle and nuclear physics, electrical and computer engineering, biosciences and chemistry.
The array of academic offerings also presents an array of responsibilities and complex demands for Kizzee and her team. While they take care of the basics (including electrical, plumbing and HVAC), the research centers and labs also have equipment requiring regular maintenance: air handlers, exhaust hoods, water processors (to create reverse osmosis), exchangers that can create negative air pressure—and so on.
“We maintain those and respond to emergencies—changes in temperature, humidity, gas pressure—any other sensitives that may affect research,” Kizzee says.
Because ongoing research is typically a 24/7 process, Kizzee says maintenance work is scheduled well in advance, and she and her team need to notify researchers to avoid disrupting projects. To ensure everyone is notified, she has a team of building liaisons within the facilities department.
The liaisons also make sure lights and mechanical settings for things like air pressure and room temperature are activated in older campus buildings that don’t have automatic controls.
Kizzee and her team are also helping in the construction of the Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science. Scheduled to open in summer 2023, the $152 million building includes five floors of state-of-the-art labs and classrooms. Kizzee’s department is responsible for ensuring construction complies with building codes and meets design specifications. They also walk through the construction and speak with the project manager and trades people when needed, she says.
“We’re excited by the opportunity to support and maintain a state-of-the-art, innovative research intensive and academic building,” Kizzee says.
While facilities management wasn’t a career objective for Kizzee growing up, her interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, learning—all of which Rice is renowned for—has never wavered.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Prairie View A&M University in 1992, taking special interest in the project management aspects of the major. She then joined Chevron as an environmental project manager, guiding projects in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
“That’s where I moved into facilities management,” she recalls. “You’re self-contained out there on the platform.”
In 1998, Kizzee was hired as a regional facilities manager for Shell, coordinating maintenance and guiding interior and exterior redesign projects for Houston-area gas stations and stores. She also returned to Prairie View and earned her master’s degree in engineering in 2000.
From 2002 to 2011, Kizzee was senior regional facilities manager for Yum! Brands, owners of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell. She also had facilities leadership roles with Aramark from 2011 to 2013 and was assistant director for technical resources at Tulane University from 2013 to 2015.
Kizzee’s work extends beyond the facilities management field to the classroom, too. She taught math, including geometry and precalculus, in Houston’s public schools and the nearby Aldine Independent School District from 2015 to 2018.
Room for everyone
Before joining Rice, Kizzee was director of campus operations, engineering and maintenance services at Austin Community College.
She says making her the first African American woman to lead facilities shows Rice’s commitment to becoming more diverse and representative of the community it serves.
“In my role, everyone is open to helping me learn and learn from me,” she says. “Our team interacts very well together. When people in a different trade or shop need assistance, we step in and help.”
She enjoys the challenges of maintaining buildings with varied and intricate technical requirements. As she looks to expand her team, Kizzee says she needs people who understand the unique demands an academic environment presents.
“It’s an open opportunity for other women of all backgrounds to consider as a career because it’s been very rewarding and challenging, and there’s room for growth and development,” she says. “We have the abilities, knowledge and skills to be successful in this role. Our perspective and way of contributing is welcomed.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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