A San Antonio native, Anna Nau ’06 grew up spending her days after school wandering the halls of the San Antonio Museum of Art, where both her mother and stepfather worked as art historians. Despite this early exposure to art, she attended a high school with a strong focus on science and initially wanted to study engineering in college. Like many undergraduates, Nau’s journey at Southwestern began with a dream of pursuing a science degree. However, her trajectory pivoted when she discovered her true passion for art history during elective classes. Professor of Art History Kim Smith’s modern art class and Professor of Art History Thomas Howe’s architectural history class sparked a deep interest, unveiling the captivating world of historic buildings.

Nau’s pivotal moments at the University didn’t stop there. A semester abroad in Cairo, Egypt, immersed her in a different culture, exposing her to ancient landmarks and instilling a love for travel. “It was such a great experience because I got to see these amazing ancient sites, go inside a pyramid, go to all the temples in Luxor, and take classes with students from all over the world,” Nau recalled. “Witnessing ongoing preservation work inspired my interest in not just studying the history of architecture but in how we care for landmarks and historic buildings. It opened my eyes to all the different types of careers that you can have working with historic buildings.”

Back on campus, another key moment for Nau was attending a lecture given by a fine art conservator whose work involved plaster conservation in caves connected to the ancient Silk Route in China. This further solidified Nau’s desire to pursue a career in preserving historic architecture. With her unique blend of interests in science, art history, and conservation, she eventually found herself in a field aligned with her true calling—caring for old buildings. Her academic journey continued with two master’s degrees, one in architectural history from the University of Virginia and another in architectural conservation from The University of Edinburgh. Her pursuit of knowledge culminated in a Ph.D. at the University of Texas–Austin, focusing on the history of the historic preservation movement. “I like to joke that I’m a building doctor; I have my Ph.D., so I take care of sick buildings,” Nau said.

While at Southwestern, a family friend suggested an architectural internship at Ford Powell & Carson (FPC) in San Antonio. This pivotal experience influenced her professional journey, with FPC serving as the backdrop for her growth. Mentored by Carolyn Peterson, FAIA, Nau’s post-Southwestern path unfolded. After graduation, Peterson extended a year-long opportunity to help Nau navigate her career path and delve into preservation work. “The first project I worked on under her guidance was the Alamo, marking a significant step in my career,” Nau said. “Carolyn’s mentorship went beyond the intricacies of historic buildings; she imparted valuable lessons in client relationships, collaboration with engineers and consultants, and problem-solving, especially in the context of existing buildings.” Describing the firm as a supportive community, Nau humorously noted, “They fondly refer to me as the ‘boomerang,’ given my multiple stints at FPC– two summer internships, a year post-grad, another year after obtaining my first master’s, two years after my second master’s, and part-time work while completing my Ph.D. It’s become more than a workplace; it’s my extended family.”

As a senior associate at FPC, Nau’s role has evolved beyond the technical aspects of architectural conservation. She advocates for preserving historic buildings, emphasizing the creativity and problem-solving skills required in the field. Her dedication to this is evident in the meaningful projects she undertakes, such as the restoration of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, and her involvement in the restoration of the mission churches in San Antonio showcases her commitment to preserving the cultural heritage of her hometown.

Reflecting on her time at Southwestern, Nau acknowledges the invaluable foundation it provided for problem-solving and critical thinking. The small class sizes and engaging seminars fostered an environment where she could develop strong reading and writing skills, essential for her later academic pursuits. Her advice to current Southwestern students reflects the importance of a liberal arts education—be open to diverse interests and seize opportunities for exploration. Nau’s experience is a testament to the transformative power of education, curiosity, and finding one’s passion. Her journey from a student with varied interests to a respected architectural historian and conservator serves as inspiration for those navigating their own paths of discovery.