Meet Anna Johnson, A Big-Picture Planner Building Bridges in Construction

By Nikiya Crisostomo

November 2022 Pathfinder Anna Johnson

Meet Anna Johnson, an MEP Superintendent for Turner Construction in Des Moines, Iowa. Anna’s love of on-the-ground action and big-picture planning has given her momentum as she grows in construction management.

“Best of both worlds”

Anna grew up in Lexington, one of Kentucky’s biggest cities. She spent her childhood between the homes of her parents, who separated when she was young. Her father lived on a farm, while her mother lived in the city. “I really got to have the best of both worlds,” Anna said.

The balance of perspective and experience doesn’t end there. Anna’s mother is Korean, while her father hails from the Appalachians. As a first-generation Korean-American in Kentucky, Anna grew up with a rich perspective of the world and culture. “Since I’m a mixed bag myself, I’m really good at relating to people,” she said. “I can find something to relate to with almost anyone.”

While growing up, Anna often helped her mother run her restaurant. That experience with small business ownership and customer service provided a foundational understanding of the working world that Anna still carries with her today.

A science whiz with enthusiasm for extracurriculars

Anna Johnson kayakingIn school, Anna always loved science. “I liked the challenge that came with it,” she said. “Because I loved science, I kind of just had to do the math, too. It comes with the territory.”

When she wasn’t in the lab or pouring over biology and physics textbooks, Anna spent a lot of time in the orchestra pit. She played the violin for 10 years and later added viola to her repertoire. “I was an orchestra nerd for sure,” she laughed. “And proud of it!”

Her enthusiasm extended to other extracurricular pursuits, including the swim team. Looking back, she realizes that her zeal for jumping into new projects and challenges originates in these early years.

New states and horizons

Graduation from Miami UniversityWhen applying for colleges, Anna didn’t know what kind of career she wanted. “But I knew I wanted the world to be my oyster,” she said.

She wanted an education that would lead to career opportunities and job security. Her mother suggested engineering, which instantly sparked interest in her math- and science-oriented brain.

Anna knew it was a good fit when she was accepted at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She soon found her rhythm, balancing academics and building community through an engineering fraternity. “Finding my community during that time—my first time living away from home—was really important,” she said. “It solidified engineering as the right path for me.”

Anna fondly remembers her time in college, which she completed in three and a half years after doubling down on her course load. “This was a tough goal to tackle, and I learned a lot about what it means to lean into my strengths, understand my growth areas, and ask for help from my community. This strengthened my mental fortitude and continues to serve me in projects today,” she said.

“Boots-on-the-ground” experience

After her freshman year, Anna headed to Florida to pursue a lifelong dream of working at Disney. “I always was—and still am—a huge Disney fan. I really truly thought I wanted to be an Imagineer,” she said, referring to the creative professionals who design and build Disney theme parks and resorts, ranging from rollercoasters to hotels.

From May to December, she worked at Hollywood Studios, an experience she describes as “forever in my heart.” Yet even as she learned about new areas of engineering, she couldn’t help but worry about staking her career on a single employer. “I just kept thinking about that job security piece,” she said.

So she switched directions and spent the next summer as a facilities engineering intern at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, the nation’s largest NASA center. She enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the right fit either. “Government contracts typically follow a different timeline pace than my preferred working style,” she explained.

As she entered her junior year of college, on track to graduate with a mechanical engineering degree, she still wasn’t sure what kind of career she wanted until a job fair presented a new possibility.

Discovering construction with Turner

Turner Construction Cincinnati Museum projectAnna learned about Turner when she attended the job fair to meet a different company. “It was one of the biggest blessings I could’ve ever asked for,” she said. “I’m so lucky it happened the way it did, because I have loved my time working for Turner.”

Turner is an international construction services company with a large presence across many markets in North America. The company performs a range of projects, from small, community-focused operations to larger, more complex jobs.Shortly after graduation, Anna began working as an Assistant Project Engineer at Turner’s Cincinnati office. “There was a learning curve at first, but I’ve found such a great fit with them,” Anna said. “I know that I can keep growing here.”

Anna posing in Iowa corn fieldShe’s already grown a lot with Turner. After several years as a Project Engineer, she took a role with Turner’s supply chain management service, SourceBlue in California, as a Lead Estimator. From her base in Huntington Beach, she handled the company’s architectural estimates west of the Mississippi. “I was so excited to jump into estimating,” she said. When the pandemic hit, like many others, she deeply missed the opportunities for in-person connection.

“I like to be out in the field, so when my partner was offered an opportunity in Des Moines, I pushed hard to transition to work that was more boots-on-the-ground,” she said. Turner obliged. In January 2022, Anna became MEP Superintendent in Des Moines. She has the distinction of being the only female superintendent on her team.

Using OpenSpace for large-scale projects

Anna JohnsonAnna currently uses OpenSpace for captures and management on her latest project, a large data center under construction near Des Moines. She said it has been crucial for efficiently documenting the project site, which spans over 600 acres, with five separate buildings in the first phase of construction alone!

OpenSpace has been instrumental in keeping everyone—especially those who work remotely—up to speed on current conditions. “I love the platform,” she said.

“I’m always looking for opportunities in all facets of my life to lead and inspire when it comes to using new technologies,” Anna said, “so I’m a huge advocate for OpenSpace.” That openness to learning new things—whether it’s tech or professional skills—has served Anna well in her career. “I’m most fulfilled when I’m in those spaces where change is happening,” she said. “I think that is where the most growth happens.”

What does being a Pathfinder mean to you?

“In construction, we live with a lot of stigmas, one of the biggest being that we are unwilling to change,” Anna noted. “I don’t think that is true. I’ve actually found the exact opposite to be true.” She has seen some of the most senior staff at Turner show the most enthusiasm for integrating new technology at the company.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t need a changemaker who can lead the way for transformation. For Anna, that’s the essence of being a Pathfinder.

“It’s about being that bridge,” she said. “It’s bringing together all sides of the equation so we can achieve more together. I love being able to be that bridge.”

Anna Cross Country SkiingAnna Johnson on vacationAnna posing with her boyfriend

Pathfinders are power users like Anna who excel at using OpenSpace. You can check out all of our published Pathfinder Spotlights in the OpenSpace Community gallery. If you’d like to be a Pathfinder, submit your Pathfinder application today.