Articles People & Places

How SAHC Enhanced My Career

4 May, 2020 4 min reading
Anna Blyth, Robert Silman Fellow for Preservation Engineering at Silman New York, USA

How SAHC Enhanced My Career

As I wrapped up my undergraduate degree in civil engineering, I began to look for an advanced degree program that would supplement my knowledge in structures and propel me towards a meaningful and exciting career.


The SAHC Masters syllabus had everything I was looking for to combine technical engineering knowledge with the conservation skills necessary to properly preserve heritage structures and sites.


As I spoke to my own mentors and different SAHC alumni, I received ringing endorsements of the expertise at the SAHC program.


In the late summer, the entire class gathered in the quaint medieval town of Guimaraes, Portugal to begin coursework. I quickly became acquainted with my 26 other classmates who, like me, had traveled a long way from home to take advantage of this opportunity. Despite differences in language, culture, and experience, we all had in common a great love for historic buildings.


The coursework was rigorous and interesting. It spanned topics from the history of construction to seismic behavior and structural dynamics. The courses were taught one at a time for three to four weeks each, which allowed us to give our full attention to mastering each theme. Lectures were given in the morning and assignments in the afternoon.


The program is highly collaborative, and we spent many hours in groups completing projects with our colleagues. Through this time together, we developed deep friendships and friendly rivalries as we strove to become better engineers, architects, and communicators.

In addition to coursework, we were all assigned to a larger group project that spanned from the fall into the spring. My group got to perform a case study on the seismic vulnerability of the historic city center of Leiria, Portugal. It was exciting to do research that looked at a city’s historic building stock as a whole and not only on a building by building basis.


The project was a real-life application of the skills we were learning in the classroom and was presented to the municipality to aid them in making decisions about the city. An article we wrote on our work has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, a testament to the intelligence and hard work of my classmates and our advisor. 


Outside of the classroom, we spent time cooking each other meals from our home countries, celebrating each other’s favorite holidays, and studying together in our favorite coffee shop. One of my favorite memories of that year is cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my roommate to share with our peers. We played volleyball and took the train to Porto. We took the occasional car trip to Lisbon and made many wonderful memories. 


I was fortunate to spend my entire SAHC year in Guimaraes. The town is unbelievably charming and the perfect setting to study historic architecture. The people of Guimaraes are friendly and warm. I felt welcome wherever I went, I even got informal Portuguese lessons every time I visited the butcher. I made friends with locals who welcomed me into their homes and introduced me to their families. They showed me their favorite little-known spots in the surrounding areas, from waterfalls to Roman ruins. 


In the spring, I remained at the University of Minho to complete my thesis while others traveled to Barcelona, Padova, and Prague. I used numerical modeling techniques to study the seismic performance of the Church of the Carmo Convent in Lisbon. I loved learning about the convent’s rich history. Damaged in the Great Lisbon Earthquake and fire of 1755, the church was only partially rebuilt to stand as a monument to those devastating events. It is now used as a primarily outdoor archeological museum that celebrates the history of the structure and of Portugal. My work was supported by the archeological museum and the Millennium BCP Foundation to learn more about the structural vulnerabilities of the church.


Click here if you want to know more about SAHC advanced masters


Since graduating from SAHC, I have taken a fellowship position with a structural engineering firm in New York City. The fellowship is geared towards engineers with a particular interest in preservation. For six months I worked at the structural firm, Silman, working on rehabilitating and renovating historic buildings as well as designing new construction.


Now, Silman continues to support me as I work for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC. The National Trust is a nonprofit entity that is known as a leader in preservation across the United States. They own and steward 27 historic properties across the country including Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and President Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage. 


The background I gained at SAHC is undoubtedly what made me a viable candidate for my position. Coming from the program, I felt well prepared to work as an engineer and engage in meaningful conversations about preservation.


The SAHC program exposes its students to a broad range of analysis tools and intervention techniques, and it teaches a broad skill set that can be applied to 14th century convents in Portugal as well as 1950s modern architecture in the United States. 


This program is unique in its ability to bring people together from all over the world to unite and learn about how to preserve our shared heritage. I am grateful for the friends, memories, and education from SAHC. I’ll carry them with me for life.