Coffee Chat with Tonia Christensen
As part of our Coffee Chat series, a Capstone employee will be interviewed each month and featured in our monthly newsletter, The Erudite. For the January issue, the editors of The Erudite sat down with Tonia Christensen.
Tonia joined Capstone in 2006 and since then has been an instrumental part of the structuring and negotiation of each of Capstone’s on-campus P3 transactions. Tonia obtained her B.S. from Judson College, a private women’s college located in Alabama and her J.D. degree from the University of Alabama. She exudes a passion for education and if given the chance, she would have been a professional student. In her free time, she enjoys home DIY and craft projects with her family.
Tonia Christensen, VP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel
Judson College, B.S. Biology, 1998
University of Alabama School of Law, JD, 2005
Where are you from originally? I grew up in Cullman, AL which is about one hour north of Birmingham.
Let’s talk a little about your experience at Judson College. Did you live on-campus? Judson College is located in Marion, AL and is the last private women’s university in the state of Alabama. Judson’s enrollment is around 300-400 total. It’s a tiny hidden gem! The central main building on campus, Jewett Hall, has burned twice in the history of Judson and has been rebuilt. When I was at Judson, there were three separate dormitory buildings as well as a couple of additional academic buildings. Some buildings served both purposes, providing academic on the first floor and residences above. The dorms were very different than what our student housing projects look like. Judson was founded in 1838, so some of the campus buildings, including the dormitories, were built in the early to mid 1900’s. In the first dorm I lived in, each floor had the original phone booth room at the end of the hall from the days when there was just one phone for each floor.
Judson has a three-year bachelor program that I participated in, so I lived on-campus all three years of my undergrad. At the time, unless you lived locally with family or were 23, you were required to live on-campus. Most of the dorms were double occupancy units, so each unit had two bedrooms with two beds and the 4 suitemates shared a bathroom; no common or shared living room space. In some of the buildings there were common areas on the first floor and at the end of each hall. We were sorely lacking in amenities like common kitchens, but we had other unique amenities and experiences that other schools did not have which made Judson special. Judson also houses the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. There is a ceremony every time there is a new inductee which students attend. As part of this, I got to witness some incredible speakers, like Maya Angelou. It was a great experience!
Did you have a favorite class from college? Yes, really, all of them. I would have been a professional student if I had the right funding – I loved school! I was a science major so I loved the microbiology and genetics classes and things like that, but I’ve also always loved literature and arts and those sorts of classes. I think the most surprising part of college was that was where I learned to love history; I never really liked it in high school – but one really good professor can really open your eyes to interests that you didn’t know you had.
So you were a biology major / chemistry minor and now you’re a lawyer. That’s interesting! Yes, I’m great in emergency situations and I love science, and initially I thought I’d go to med school. Ultimately though, it just didn’t feel like medicine was the right fit for me.
What did you do after your undergrad? After college, my roommates and I moved to Birmingham together and two of us moved into an apartment together– we had no money, no plan and just needed jobs! I got a job with a manufacturing company as a receptionist and then quickly moved into HR and worked in that role for 5 years. Then I enrolled in law school at the University of Alabama. After law school I worked for an aviation company for a little bit and then I was introduced to Mike Mouron and soon started working at Capstone. I’ve been at Capstone since 2006.
Is there a podcast that you are you listening to right now or book that you are reading? We have started watching a documentary called Trafficked that’s on National Geographic. It’s one of those global underworld type shows and follows how smuggled goods are moved. I also really enjoy historical fiction and am listening to the Paris Architect on Audible right now.
Do you have any favorite quotes that guide your day? I love a good quote. Lately, my favorite has been this quote from Oliver Windell Holmes: “Many people die with the music still in them. Too often it’s because they are getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” To me that’s just a really eloquent way to say “Life is too short! Eat the cake, write the novel, take the trip, give forgiveness.”
What do you do in your free time? I try to stay involved in my daughter, Riley Grace’s, school and in our neighborhood and various volunteer groups. No real hobby per say, but I’m a can-do person so I’ll try my hand at pretty much any hobby at least once and often recruit my family to participate in the fun. I’m currently refinishing my bathroom cabinets by myself. Over Christmas break we also tried making cocoa bombs and we’ve also tried crafty things like “pour painting”. We actually have a dedicated “craft room”. I got a Cricut for Christmas that I have not yet learned how to use. That’s next – when I have some free time!
What’s something most people don’t know about you? This is a hard one…I have a completely irrational fear of clowns. My husband thinks it’s great fun to show me random pictures of them.
What do you enjoy most about working on college campuses? I always love when I get to be on-site and see the facilities and get a feel for the campus. I love education in general. To me, education really represents possibility – possibility for those being educated as well as those that are going to be impacted by those who are educated. Being a part of that possibility in some way is what I enjoy most.
What has been your most rewarding project so far? I learn something from every project, but I think the projects I’ve found most rewarding so far were ASU Taylor Place and Woodlawn Commons in Chicago. Both of those required so much dedication and teamwork because of the challenges and intricacies of the projects. Getting through all of that with a team that you can be really proud of just feels like such an accomplishment. The projects that are the most challenging are the ones that you learn the most from.
Do you have any closing thoughts that you’d like to add? There are a lot of people that come to Capstone early in their careers and stay with the company for a long time. I think that is a testament to the company and its leadership. Mike Mouron as well as both Bruce and Jeff all have this ability to identify people who are just cut from good cloth and they build teams well. I think that’s a big part of what has made Capstone the success that it is – and I’m just happy to be a part of the team.