Vanarsdale proud to be among the first female African American architects licensed in the state of Iowa
Friday, September 22, 2023

When life hits a crossroad, some people look for a spiritual sign. Others jump into a digital space and seek guidance from family and friends.

For Adele Vanarsdale, director of campus project planning at Iowa, the sign she needed was delivered on the side of an 18-wheeler.

In 2011, the Waterloo, Iowa, native, who is a licensed architect in Iowa, was living in California and working for the California State University system. On one morning commute, she was contemplating a job offer at the University of Iowa.

On her mother’s advice, Vanarsdale wrote down the pros and cons of staying in Southern California versus returning to Iowa. But on the morning a decision was due, the answer still wasn’t clear. At least not until fate stepped in and Vanarsdale was pointed east by a passing semitruck.

“I was driving to campus and stopped at a light. On the other side of the stoplight is the Cal State campus, and as I’m sitting there, a semi drives past,” says Vanarsdale. “Written on the side of the truck, as big as a billboard, it says, ‘Heartland Express, Iowa City, Iowa.’ Incredible. I called Rod and said, ‘I guess I'm taking this job.’”

That “job” was with UI Planning, Design and Construction. That “Rod” was Rod Lehnertz, UI's senior vice president for finance and operations and previous director of the department.