’94 BS Engineering, ’09 MA Business
Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering Alumna of the Year
Some graduates remain connected with their university by joining the alumni association or returning to campus to pursue a graduate degree. Others do so by volunteering to serve on an advisory board or committee. Still, others give back as fundraisers, donors, mentors or employers.
Lisa Freestone? She checks each of those boxes — and then some.
A two-time UNLV graduate, Freestone has supported her alma mater — and specifically, the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering — for nearly three decades. And that support has run the proverbial gamut. Consider:
- Freestone is a UNLV Alumni Association life member (including an ongoing donor).
- She has served on the college's Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction (CEEC) Advisory Board since 2004 (including a stint as chair in 2011).
- She has helped secure funds for student scholarships as an active member of the CEEC golf tournament scholarship committee.
- She volunteers as a guest speaker and student mentor.
- During her nearly 14 years with Carollo Engineers — for whom she currently wears multiple hats as vice president, senior client service manager, and office manager — she has hired multiple UNLV graduates.
Needless to say, the entire Rebel community has benefited from Freestone’s generosity. And now for the ironic twist: UNLV wasn’t part of her original plan.
“I excelled in math and science in high school and thought I wanted to attend the Air Force Academy — not because of engineering, but because I was told that it was difficult for young women to be appointed,” Freestone says. “I worked very hard to receive a congressional appointment but didn’t work hard enough — in my opinion — to receive the final appointment.”
So she turned immediately to UNLV … right? Not exactly.
Freestone first enrolled at an Arizona College as a marketing major. After a year of feeling unchallenged academically, she headed north to Las Vegas, registered at UNLV, and put her math and science skills to the test as an engineering major.
“Initially, I thought I would study mechanical engineering, but I quickly gravitated to civil and environmental engineering,” Freestone says. “It proved to be an excellent choice, because throughout the 1990s, Las Vegas was the fastest growing area in the country.”
Freestone took full advantage of that reality post-graduation, beginning her career with PBS&J, a Henderson-based civil engineering firm. After 14 years with the company, Freestone took a job with Carollo Engineers in 2008.
She spent the next seven years working in Carollo’s Las Vegas office, but in 2015, the company lured her back to Arizona to manage the Phoenix operation. Although the Phoenix area has been her home for seven years, Freestone maintains a tight connection to Southern Nevada. She often returns to work with clients, catch up with friends and family, and, of course, lend a helping hand to UNLV.
Freestone’s enduring love for Las Vegas and her university is best represented by a sign hanging in her office: “You can take the girl out of Nevada, but she will always be a Rebel.”
When did you know for sure that you made the right choice to become a Rebel?
Right after I met [the late professor] Herb Wells, my UNLV advisor. At my previous school, I was nothing but a number. However, within my first few weeks at UNLV, the faculty and fellow students called me by name — and a lot of that is thanks to Herb. He was the greatest advocate for all engineering college students, but he especially supported women throughout their UNLV journey.
For example, he quickly encouraged me to join the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to build my network and meet other women in the program. I went on to serve various roles in the UNLV chapter of the SWE — in fact, I was section president when we hosted the regional conference. I have remained an SWE member ever since — including holding several professional section leadership roles — and last year received my 30-year pin.
Like many, I’m grateful for Herb’s support throughout my college career.
In what ways did UNLV prepare you to be a difference-making problem solver?
Much of my engineering homework was all about problem solving. However, the opportunity to work in teams — both during my undergraduate years and in my MBA program — provided a much greater problem-solving experience. There is strength in recognizing and incorporating diverse thoughts and approaches to issues, as more often than not there is more than one right answer.
I’ve spent most of my professional career working in a team environment, and through that I’ve learned that successfully navigating through the dynamics of a team will always create a better solution.
Describe a moment — either as a student or professional — when you had to rely on self-determination (a UNLV core value) to successfully accomplish a goal.
After working 14 years with the same engineering company, I moved on to Carollo Engineers and only knew two people. Carollo is a water-focused firm, and I had spent my previous career focusing on land development. So, I had to work very hard to refocus on water and environmental engineering, as well as build a new network within the company.
I was also in the middle of my MBA, so it wasn’t an easy transition. But I jumped in and was determined to prove myself to my new co-workers and company leadership while completing my master’s degree. I’m proud to say that this fall, I’ll be celebrating my 14th year with Carollo.
Your Rebel roots run deep, as you’ve remained actively engaged with university in so many different capacities. What is it about your alma mater that elicits this ongoing desire to give back?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing, but I truly think it boils down to a sense of pride. This university has grown significantly since I walked into my first class in 1990, and supporting that continued growth has always been very fulfilling. I also recall professionals coming to our engineering classes and sharing their “What it’s like in the real world” stories, which always intrigued and motivated me.
Giving students the opportunity to see what life looks like after graduation is important, especially since the business environment is constantly evolving. It’s the same with mentoring: Connecting on a personal level with future engineers and helping them see their future after graduation is so rewarding.
How did your experiences as a Rebel — both in an out of the classroom — help you “make it happen” in your career?
I was very fortunate to be recommended for an internship by one of my former classmates who at the time was an engineer at the City of Henderson. That internship exposed me to another engineer who recommended me for my first professional job. This and my SWE experiences taught me that relationships and networks are extremely important. Building your network early in school and in your career can facilitate so many connections and opportunities throughout your career.
Having a network to enlist mentoring and support along the way has helped me to make it happen.