Winners of the 2017 ENR Texas and Louisiana Top Young Professionals contest are company principals and owners, architects, engineers, constructors, transportation experts, attorneys and project managers, but also sustainability experts and technology whizzes.
Some began their careers with larger companies and then had the courage to break away and start their own firms; others have been targeted and promoted by firm principals as promising leaders. All have demonstrated a mastery of new technologies and worked hard to mentor their colleagues and students on better design and construction practices.
As in past years, the annual contest was rigorous. Companies or individuals were allowed to nominate more than one person, and individuals could nominate themselves. Nominees must be working full-time in some aspect of the commercial construction industry in the ENR Texas-Louisiana region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Other key selection criteria included achievement of/or progress toward industry certifications, significant success in creating more efficient systems, designing new processes or managing landmark projects and significant volunteer work across the industry and within the community.
The judges for this year’s competition were: Jing Johnson, president, Prism Renderings; Brad Brown, president, Austin Commercial; and Jennifer Woodruff, director of marketing, Associated Builders & Contractors of Greater Houston.
The following pages contain profiles of the winners, describing their successes and goals, which include a striving for excellence, improved quality of the finished product, bettering the industry through participation in professional groups and achieving a balanced life that prioritizes family and community.
Congratulations to the winners.
Passionate leader contributes to company, industry and community
37, Senior Project Manager, Construction Excellence Team Leader
Joeris General Contractors
Although he is a dedicated project manager, mentor, trainer and knowledge resource, most importantly Adam is a leader. His portfolio includes K-12, higher education, retail and mixed-use projects, many of them multiple award winners, such as Pearl Parkway North, the 2012 ENR Texas/Louisiana Best Retail/Mixed-Use Project.
Within Joeris, he is a member of the leadership development program, participates in its technology think tank, serves as a resource to new hires and advises younger project managers. He also has helped with technology-related initiatives, such as being the company’s first Prolog Super User. He led Joeris’ plan and grid initiative, which provides immediate field updates via mobile devices.
Since 2015, Adam has headed the firm’s construction excellence team, developing a more comprehensive warranty program and a quality assurance and control program. In addition, he supports the Urban Land Institute’s efforts to revitalize San Antonio’s urban core and foster responsible development.
His team helped design Dallas Cowboys world headquarters
34, Associate, Project Architect
The day-to-day design leader of more than 10 architects and designers and a consultant team of more than 30, Armstrong has overseen complex health care and hospitality projects, K-12 education facilities and, more recently, a corporate headquarters and sports training facility.
He has worked in Calgary, Canada, as well as on high-profile domestic projects in the Dallas area, most notably at The Star, the $250-million Dallas Cowboys world headquarters and Ford Center—the only NFL training facility that is shared with a public high school athletics program.
He is a “consummate professional and a leader within his team on our projects,” says Ron K. Patterson, assistant city manager for Frisco, Texas, in a statement.
Beyond his day-to-day design responsibilities, Armstrong serves on several leadership committees at Gensler’s Dallas office. Those include design management and education as well as the associates group.
He also was selected as part of an internal next generation leadership program. He is on the dean’s advisory council for the College of Architecture at Texas Tech University, where he is an alumnus.
His many other community efforts include tutoring fifth-grade math at West Dallas Community School and helping to launch Bonton Farmworks, the first urban farm in Dallas.
Bilingual civil engineer is the first college graduate in her family
33, Project Manager
RPS Klotz Associates
Arredondo has earned seven career promotions at RPS Klotz Associates, most recently to associate, making her one of the youngest female engineers to reach that level.
She also received three RPS Klotz Associates Star Awards for exceptional performance, as well as industry honors like the 2014 Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Young Engineer of the Year Award.
In her nine years of civil engineering design, she has worked on 146 projects, including site-development contracts as well as port, transportation and public utility projects in Houston and neighboring cities.
She manages and designs multiple concurrent projects. Recently, she tackled 20 ALDI food store civil design contracts throughout Texas—all with short deliverable schedules and unique designs. She negotiates projects in both English and Spanish.
Arredondo mentors students at Rice University and the University of Houston and serves breakfast on Saturday mornings to the homeless at Elevare International.
She also has organized after-school and weekend events to promote science, technology, engineering and math education at local schools for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers in Houston.
Ops expert helped boost his firm’s revenue 20-fold in three years
34, Vice President of Operations
Under Cardwell’s leadership as operations vice president, the Palmisano Group’s annual revenue has jumped to $100 million from $5 million in three years. The firm’s staff has gone from four to more than 70 in that time.
Hiring the right people is one of Cardwell’s fortes. He also excels at mentoring team members, establishing operational procedures, quality control programs and safety protocols.
He helped establish Palmisano’s best practices, which lowered the firm’s safety EMR and produced a no-recordable-accidents record. To enhance internal mentoring, he has helped manage an in-house training program for project managers and superintendents.
The program has helped reduce the firm’s rework and boosted its productivity. Cardwell also helped create and now leads the award-winning Palmisano safety committee, which develops and maintains strict safety guidelines.
During 16 years in construction, Cardwell has managed projects exceeding $250 million, including historic renovations, senior living, educational and medical facilities, hotels and multifamily developments.
His recent projects include Homewood Suites, in which crews demolished a factory and built a 160,000-sq-ft hotel.
Company leader, engineer designs master-planned communities
Texas Engineering Solutions
As a co-CEO, Delgado has helped build Texas Engineering Solutions (TES) from the three founding employees in May 2009 to its current staff of 21 and designed several master-planned communities.
As an active member of various professional organizations, Delgado continues to elevate the architecture, engineering and construction industry and the design community. Those groups include the Urban Land Institute, Real Estate Council of Austin, Texas Society of Professional Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Greater Austin Contractors and Engineers Association.
His extensive community service involves sponsoring programs and volunteering with the University of Texas at Austin College of Engineering and also at Westlake High School, where he mentors students in civil engineering and college preparation.
The TES team also has participated in ASCE events such as the Big Brothers, Big Sisters bowl-a-thon. Delgado is on the trustee boards of the First United Methodist Church of Austin and the Dripping Springs United Methodist Church, and he’s been a volunteer coach for various sports for three years at the Youth Sports Association.
Design leader works to enhance the inclusive character of cities
28, DFW Studio Lead
The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Duong grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., envisioning a future where he could help cities become more inclusive for diverse populations and, as a fan of science fiction, where he could also be a protagonist in guiding their future designs.
After moving to Dallas in 2011, one of his first jobs was working with a north Texas rural transit agency. He designed and implemented a bus system for McKinney, one of the largest cities in the country without any public transit.
After joining AECOM, he helped found the Dallas-Fort Worth design, planning and economics practice, which has focused on city building and infrastructure development. He won an international competition hosted by AECOM and Hyperloop ONE to study how to best implement the 700-mph transportation system popularized by Elon Musk.
Outside AECOM, he was recently elected director of the American Planning Association’s North Central Texas chapter and asked by the University of Texas at Arlington to become an associate professor of urban planning and help shape its new College of Planning and Landscape Architecture.
“Steven,” writes Wendy A. Lopez, an AECOM senior vice president, “is always willing to go the extra mile, not only at work, but also in the community.”
Afsaneh “Anna” Farokhi
Commissioning pro has managed company projects worldwide
37, Commissioning Specialist IV
Farokhi chose construction for her life’s work because of its power to improve people’s lives and shape civilization. Fluent in five languages, Farokhi has traveled the world for the last 12 years managing projects for Fluor.
She is now managing precommissioning and turnover of the multibillion-dollar Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.’s ethane cracker plant in Baytown, Texas, where work was done as part of a joint venture with JGC. It is the first greenfield cracker project in the U.S. in more than a decade and will be one of the country’s largest when completed later this year.
She has authored practices and procedures that govern Fluor’s commissioning activities globally and that enhance workplace quality and execution.
Through the company’s volunteer organization, Farokhi has led numerous activities, including work at St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Fluor’s many philanthropic events.
“While work-life balance is never a true balance, it is what you make out of it,” Farokhi says. “I love my job and what I do. When I am at work, I am 100% there. When I am at home, I am 100% there. And I enjoy every minute of both.”
Daniel J. Filer
BD veteran understands value of P3s in large infrastructure projects
39, Vice President Business Development North America
Ferrovial Agroman US Corp.
Filer understands the importance of good infrastructure. At Ferrovial Agroman, he oversees the finance, design, construction, operations and maintenance of highway, airport, rail and water treatment plant projects.
When Filer joined the company, he was serving as a reserve engineer officer with the Louisiana Army National Guard, which called him up for duty in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
He supervised testing of the structural integrity, safety and rescue operations at the Superdome, a last-resort shelter for almost 20,000 evacuees.
Soon after the emergence of design-build project delivery, Filer realized it would be fundamental to public-private partnership projects, which he saw as the key to infrastructure development in the U.S.
Recent multimillion-dollar projects he has won for the firm include California High Speed Rail; the I-285/SR 400 project in Atlanta; and work at Denver International Airport.
Largely through his efforts, the company is shortlisted for the LAX Automated People Mover and the I-66, I-70 and SH 249 highways in Texas.
As a member of the board of directors for the Engineering & Science Foundation at Louisiana Tech University, he provides graduates an opportunity to learn more about engineering.
Efficiency expert uses mentoring as a way to give back to the industry
37, Associate/Team Leader
Parkhill, Smith & Cooper Inc.
El Paso, Texas
Hernandez leads the single-family residential team of engineers, engineers-in-training and design staff for Parkhill, Smith & Cooper Inc.
Returning to his native El Paso from the Dallas area for his job, he immediately identified several inefficient design processes. Soon, his team was working at a higher level of efficiency, and relationships with clients and municipalities improved.
As the first engineer in his family, one of Hernandez’s career passions is mentoring the next generation of professionals. Equally important is investing his time and talents in the community.
One organization he supports, Court Appointed Special Advocates of El Paso, advocates for abused children by finding them safe, permanent homes.
On a business flight, Hernandez sat next to a young girl and learned that she was a foster child in the program. He quickly connected with the group and is now on its executive board.
“Jacob understands that the engineering profession is not solely about finding innovative or unique design solutions,” writes Parkhill, Smith & Cooper’s Alissa Holloway. “The solutions are merely the vehicle that allows an engineer to give to his or her community and make a positive impact on the lives of others.”
Cutting-edge designer becomes new-age ‘urban storyteller’
33, Technical Designer, Principal
When Houser joined Gensler’s Austin office in 2014, he returned to a university town known for its technological innovation.
Houser was in the right place, because his work celebrates expansion of technological methods and tools in architecture, as well as what has been called “speculative architecture.”
These are “projects in which architects use ideas for the built environment to express themselves in a way that’s analogous to how storytellers use words,” explains industry associate Avinash Rajagopal.
Described by colleagues as both “brilliant” and “down to earth,” Houser has designed everything from furniture and homes to large urban projects and even trees. The Orchard in Austin is a “park of the future,” with 30-ft inflatable trees that emit sounds and light in response to visitors’ interactions.
Newly married to a fellow architect, Houser mentors the next generation of architects by serving as studio review critic at the University of Texas Arlington and Texas Tech University. He also has participated in a Gensler-sponsored portfolio workshop for UT architecture students.
Technical guru nurtures ideas and initiatives into the real world
38, Innovation Technical Lead
Sugar Land, Texas
Irvin has 14 years of industry experience, including sales, front-end engineering and design, procurement, turnarounds and disaster relief for the defense, oil and gas and maintenance industries in such countries as India, Russia and Iraq.
As part of Fluor’s business transformation and innovation organization, which fuels the firm’s idea growth and implementation engine, she transforms approved initiatives into reality.
Last year, she coached a team for the company’s “hackathon,” created to generate solutions for industry challenges. The resulting plan, to eliminate isometric drawings on projects, received full funding from management.
She mentors youth during Engineering Week through Fluor’s volunteer program. When she traveled to Fluor’s New Delhi office, she took time to visit a local school. Also, she works with the Katy Prairie View Chapter of Jack and Jill Inc., an African-American organization of mothers who nurture future leaders.
At home, work-life balance is what you make it, Irvin says. “Everyone has a role in the household, and therefore, although there are some chaotic moments, we all understand that communicating these events in advance will help eliminate mass confusion,” she says. “Our priority is family, and making other things fit definitely can be achieved.”
Academician conducts research to improve project delivery
33, Assistant Professor
University of Texas at Arlington
Already recognized for research that furthers engineering and project management, Kermanshachi also has developed two software programs. They help contractors and owners estimate design and construction costs for rural and small-urban transit facilities. They also suggest ways for contractors to handle project complexities and avoid problems.
In addition, she created a module for building information models that automatically estimates construction costs based on schematic design. She has worked on safety modeling for pipelines and piloted a stochastic model to address reliability and optimize maintenance.
Further, Kermanshachi studies the social, technical and contracting aspects of integrated project delivery and has developed a decision-making model to help predict project costs, schedule performance and forecast project success.
She was among the first researchers to examine project management complexity as a stand-alone topic and create cost estimation and risk assessment training modules for state highway agencies.
As part of her interest in improving diversity in the field of construction engineering and management, Kermanshachi has been actively involved in mentoring African-American students at Morgan State University. She also works to improve awareness of construction engineering among Hispanic students at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Tamara J. Lindsey
Construction law expert also advocates for community causes
35, Senior Associate in Construction Litigation
A Louisiana Super Lawyers Rising Star for the past two years, Lindsey skillfully manages construction- and surety-related matters, including contract inception, dispute resolution, procurement, bid protests and settlement negotiation.
She was an integral member of the Coats Rose legal team that successfully prosecuted a public bid protest for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Lindsey now leads a 150-person, collective-action Fair Labor Standards Act case in Louisiana federal court.
Lindsey also serves her community in many ways. For example, when she joined the New Orleans Bar Association, she helped create the construction law committee, which she has chaired. She also is serving her second term as the legal affairs officer for the Surety Association of Louisiana.
In addition, Lindsey has chaired a large fundraiser for her son’s school and supports Bridge House, a transitional facility for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, and Eden House, which provides a safe living environment and training for women who have been victims of sex trafficking.
Transportation engineer becomes compassionate co-owner of firm
35, Vice President, COO
Aguirre & Fields LP
Since joining the transportation structures group at Aguirre & Fields in 2009, Lubitz has worked on many diverse projects including bridges, tunnels, parking structures, wireless communication facilities, water and wastewater facilities and municipal facility management.
At the same time, he helped revamp the firm’s budgeting, scheduling and strategic business development plan. In 2016, Lubitz became one of the company’s five owners.
He was project manager for the $2.5-billion North Tarrant Expressway Design-Build, which won an America’s Transportation Award for the Western states. The firm earned a 2011 engineering award for its work on a $4.8-million bridge over the San Gabriel River.
Lubitz is the current president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a member of the Central Texas chapter of the American Council of Engineering Cos.
His employees say they appreciate his servant-leader mind-set, his politeness, wit and enthusiasm, as well as his accountability. Lubitz has rescue pets at home and volunteers his time for the Austin Humane Society.
Engineer created a cost-saving and tech-savvy surveying department
36, Vice President, Civil Engineering and Surveying
Gessner Engineering LLC
College Station, Texas
After just four years with the company, Peters became a partner at Gessner Engineering in 2015. Under his leadership of the civil and surveying departments, the firm’s civil work has grown by 43%.
In 2013, he started the surveying group as an alternative to outsourcing, creating six survey positions, including a department head.
Always aware of industry trends and emerging technology, he began using UAVs—unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones—to gather topographic survey data and then managed it using point clouds. In addition, he has facilitated the sharing and development of project data between the two departments.
His recent projects include civil design for the Center for Infrastructure Renewal at Texas A&M University and the 400-plus-space parking lot at Sam Houston State University.
He has served as vice president and president of the American Society of Civil Engineers Brazos Branch. He also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and is an active member of Grace Bible Church in College Station.
He says that he most values spending time with his wife, Karin, and their daughter, Morgan, who is in remission from autoimmune neutropenia (AIN) a white-blood-cell autoimmune disorder. The couple’s AIN support group has become a major part of their life.
Civil engineer has created many solid-waste management firsts
37, Senior Associate
Parkhill, Smith & Cooper Inc.
Pugsley joined Parkhill, Smith and Cooper in 2015 with extensive experience designing solid-waste projects and a goal of expanding the firm’s geographical reach in that specialty. That part of PSC’s practice has grown nearly 50% since then.
Recognized as one of Texas’ foremost experts in solid-waste management and engineering, he has achieved several innovations in landfill development. First, he prepared permits for the first, second and third bioreactor-type enhanced leachate recirculation landfills in Texas, the only three of those currently permitted in the state. Second, Pugsley proposed a program to establish standardized landfill-cover designs for all regions of the state. The standardization project has been implemented and is currently being administered and funded.
And third, Pugsley completed work on the first landfill mining permit for resource recovery, not just waste relocation. Through this process, an existing landfill can excavate decades-old waste to recover recyclable parts of it.
Pugsley volunteers with the American Society of Civil Engineers, including Hearts and Hammers housing repairs, and has made engineering-career presentations to students in the Woodrow Wilson High School civil engineering club.
Laura Flannery Sachtleben
Education facilities designer helps create schools of the future
At just 34, Sachtleben was a partner and principal for the SHW Group, since acquired by Stantec. Now she enhances the firm’s expertise in educational design as the Houston area market leader.
While earning her master’s degree in architecture at Tulane University in 2005, she won the school’s Thesis Award. Later, she received the Ben Brewer Young Architect of the Year Award from the Houston AIA.
A recent project, the Robert R. Shaw Center for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math), dubbed an incubator of innovation, received a Caudill Award, the highest-level education design award of its kind in Texas.
Sachtleben believes that sustainability should inform all projects. She helped create Texas’ Collaborative for High Performance Schools, a building rating system designed exclusively for educational facilities, and then consulted on the 2015 update of its criteria.
She serves on the Houston AIA board of directors, advises young architects citywide and has taught architecture classes in programs for low-income, high-risk children.
His community roots drive builder’s career and personal goals
37, Executive Vice President
Lee Lewis Construction Inc.
The career beacons for Vitek have always been clear: professional dedication, working for a company he believes in, a love for the city of Austin and a childhood passion for construction.
In 2007, he opened the Lee Lewis Construction office in Central Texas, where his responsibilities include relationship-building with clients as well as ensuring that projects are completed on time and within budget at a quality level that exceeds expectations.
Vitek has completed more than $270 million in work for the K-12, higher-education, retail, civic and municipal and hospitality markets, including award-winning projects such as the city of Killeen’s 80,000-sq-ft, LEED-certified police headquarters.
His professional and networking efforts in the Austin community through various industry organizations have helped guide the company’s growth in Central Texas.
Vitek’s charitable work includes serving as a board member for the Busby Foundation, which provides financial support to Austin residents and other residents of Central Texas who suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Experienced project exec manages complex projects efficiently
37, Vice President, Operations
Journeyman Construction Inc.
One of just four company officers, Waterman’s duties at Journeyman Construction include working with design professionals, subcontractors and owner representatives on complex design-build and other project types.
Waterman has earned a reputation for always meeting project schedules while pushing the job forward and encouraging everyone to exceed standards, especially those for safety. As a project manager, he has delivered a number of stand-out completions, including the Hotel Indigo, a $33-million, design-build project in downtown Austin.
After graduating from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in 2003, he joined Zachry Construction and was hired as a project manager by Journeyman in 2006. In only two years, he was chosen to open the firm’s San Antonio branch office as executive project manager.
Waterman continues to serve his alma mater as vice president of the UTSA Alumni Association, which raises funds and awards scholarships to students, some of whom he has hired.
He also works with the ACE Mentorship program, which offers industry education and hands-on design experience to high school students.
His other community passion is volunteering for the Alamo Area Council of the Boy Scouts—an organization that Waterman, an Eagle Scout himself, considers a cornerstone of his life.
Exec’s early field experience enhances his project expertise
33, Vice President & Division Manager
Brasfield & Gorrie
Continuing a family career tradition, Weeks developed a passion early in life for construction. As a graduate intern, he worked as a laborer, carpenter’s assistant and rodman. As a result, he brings a hands-on builder’s understanding to his management role, in particular, a willingness to implement technologies that improve project delivery and team performance.
He has been involved in more than $1 billion of projects in the health care, multifamily and hospitality sectors. In 2015, Weeks was challenged to grow Brasfield & Gorrie’s presence in Texas; with his guidance, those operations have already increased by 20%.
He now oversees construction on the $79-million, 15-story Renaissance Legacy Hotel, part of the 225-acre Legacy West development in Plano, Texas, and is managing the $35-million expansion of the Texoma Medical Center in Denison, Texas, among other projects.
“Jason’s attention to detail, his understanding of team, having the owner’s interest and the pursuit of excellence in construction and design are among the best I’ve come across,” says Daniel F. Joy, principal of Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio, an Atlanta-based architectural firm.