Winners of the 2018 ENR Texas and Louisiana Top Young Professionals contest are architects, engineers, builders, infrastructure and water resource experts, project managers and safety professionals.
Some began their careers with large companies and then moved on to smaller ones, while others did the opposite, moving from smaller firms to industry giants.
All of them are interested in leveraging industry organizations and community connections to enhance their careers and improve processes that allow AEC professionals to deliver better projects. Mentorship is a common interest. Many of this year’s nominees credit the impact of their own mentors on their careers and how those people inspired them to pay the lessons forward to the next generation of professionals.
As in past years, the annual competition was rigorous. To be eligible, nominees must be working full-time in some aspect of the commercial construction industry in the ENR Texas-Louisiana region, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas. Those individuals also must be under age 40 at the time nominations were due.
Other key selection criteria included the achievement of or progress toward industry certifications, demonstrated success in creating more efficient systems, designing new processes or managing landmark projects and significant volunteer work across the industry and within the community.
Meet Texas & Louisiana's 2018 Top Young Professionals Jury
Texas & Louisiana's 2017 Top Young Professionals
38, Vice President – Account Manager
High school exchange program leads to a construction career
Aalsma’s interest in construction began with his participation in a building-exchange program between Troy and Temple high schools in his native Texas. That led to a summer job as a laborer on a local bond project, where he developed relationships with civic leaders. He continued working in construction as a full-time student at Tarleton State University. The passion for the industry that Aalsma developed in high school continues 15 years into his career at Skanska.
Now a vice president and account manager, Aalsma manages Skanska’s business operations in the greater San Antonio area. He has had leading roles on high-profile local projects such as the Lackland Air Force Base Wilford Hall Ambulatory Care Center and at several industry organizations.
Aalsma co-authored an article about the team’s experiences at Lackland, working with colleagues from HDR and the USACE Fort Worth District on the challenges of delivering a phased hospital project within an active military base.
29, Civil Engineer, Associate
Parkhill, Smith and Cooper
Farming inspires a push to improve communities’ water systems
Growing up in rural Whitharral, in West Texas, Albus recognized the importance of doing one’s best in both work and school. His experience on the farm managing water for crops taught him how crucial good infrastructure is to agriculture. That sparked the pursuit of a career to help communities improve their water and wastewater treatment systems.
After securing an internship at Parkhill, Smith and Cooper, Albus continued into a full-time position with the firm, where he designs reverse osmosis plants, arsenic treatment plants, facultative lagoons and activated sludge systems, among other projects.
He takes advantage of opportunities offered by the firm’s mentorship program, which in turn inspires him to mentor others. His engineering solutions are making a difference to smaller communities in West Texas.
When one community just a few miles from his high school needed a new wastewater plant but couldn’t afford the upgrade, Albus worked with a team that included the mayor and city council to utilize Texas Water Development Board funds to kick-start the project.
“Growing up a farmer means we took care of our own infrastructure for water and wastewater. That sparked my interest in a career to provide water and wastewater services to communities in need.”
—DANIEL ALBUS, 29, Civil Engineer, Associate, Parkhill, Smith and Cooper
35, Vice President
Halff Associates Inc.
Leadership and training in floodplain management
Baker has quickly risen through the ranks at Halff Associates during her 13-year career. As a team leader for the firm’s water resources group, she trained and managed engineers overseeing more than 250 projects.
The leadership skills she developed while managing the group led to Baker being named a vice president in 2015. Now she plays an integral role in business development and mentorship for the firm.
Baker develops and teaches several classes, including professional development, project management and team leadership. She is also instrumental in lobbying for solid flood protection and floodplain management.
Additionally, Baker’s business development efforts helped the firm land a contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency worth $600 million in fees over five years. She leads a team that provides on-call disaster response assistance to FEMA.
During Hurricane Harvey, Baker’s team created real-time inundation mapping with critical information for authorities who needed to make important decisions about evacuations and disaster messaging for people at risk.
Baker serves on the board of the Lake Highlands Junior Women’s League, a local nonprofit in a Dallas suburb. She also is participating in the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas Class of 2018.
36, Division Manager
Turner Construction Co.
Tackling small projects turns into big opportunities
Barker started his career with Turner after graduating from Vanderbilt with degrees in civil engineering and mathematics.
After moving to Dallas eight years ago, he managed several key projects, including the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Consolidated Headquarters Facility and the Gaston Medical Office Building. That work led, in part, to his promotion to manager of Turner’s special projects and interiors division. It includes more than 65 professionals who specialize in projects ranging from $100,000 to $50 million. His responsibilities include sales, preconstruction, procurement, overall financial and operational performance, human resources and continuous growth and improvement. Barker says he is dedicated to promoting and implementing lean construction and other best practices. He also participates in the Dallas Chamber of Commerce 2018 Leadership Dallas program.
“[I’m] dedicated to promoting and implementing lean construction and other best practices.”
—NICK BARKER, 36, Division Manager, Turner Construction Co.
Michael J. DeGruy
37, Chief Operating Officer
Ryan Gootee General Contractors LLC
From right-hand man to chief operating officer
DeGruy was one of the key people who helped Ryan Gootee start his general contracting company more than a dozen years ago. Gootee credits DeGruy’s experience and vast knowledge of construction, his knack for thinking strategically and his ability to adapt and innovate as a significant contributor to the firm’s growth and success.
DeGruy is involved with academics on many levels; an alumnus of Louisiana State University, he serves on the school’s Construction Industry Advisory Council and Education Committee. The committee helps introduce more real-life, hands-on courses to the school’s construction management program.
DeGruy is a firm believer in design-build or design-assist project delivery, which “allows us to be involved all along to catch unforeseen problems and conditions,” he says.
One education project has had a special connection for DeGruy: a challenging, 15-month job for Green Trees Early Childhood Village at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. Responsible for phasing and special events, DeGruy ensured there was minimal disruptions to the active campus during the project. His daughter is among the students at the newly renovated and operational Green Trees school.
Design-build or design-assist project delivery “allows us to be involved all along to catch unforeseen problems and conditions.”
—MICHAEL J. DEGRUY, 37, Chief Operating Officer, Ryan Gootee General Contractors LLC
32, Construction Engineer
Sugar Land, Texas
Making prefab in-roads in the world of oil and gas
Farrell graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering technology from Texas A&M University at Galveston and began working on major chemical, upstream and pipeline projects for clients such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Enbridge and LyondellBasell.
His expertise includes module design, fabrication and installation processes of major oil and gas components for projects in Russia as well as Ohio and Texas. Farrell’s direct experience with supply-chain management involved working with his Houston-area team and contractors to ensure that module weights were suitable for fabrication and transportation. He then followed his prefabbed modules all the way to Russia, spending time at the remote site as a mechanical superintendent, supporting the placement and installation of the modules and overseeing mechanical crews working on the equipment.
Farrell has used his experience in uniting multi-cultural teams to help develop Fluor’s safety in design initiative, from which he leads training classes on behavior-based safety processes and helps organize staff trips to Flour’s craft training centers. His manager notes, “Chris never asks what needs to be done. He always has the ability to see a need and just go do it.”
“Chris [Farrell] never asks what needs to be done. He always has the ability to see a need and just go do it”
—VANCE MIXON, Construction Engineering Manager, Fluor
39, Regional Vice President, North and South Texas
Leveraging the opportunities offered by industry organizations
In less than three years, Goyne has grown from an area manager overseeing a handful of projects to leading Webber’s North Texas region for the heavy civil division, managing more than 30 projects.
Goyne recently worked on the BNSF Railroad Bridge Replacement in Childress, Texas, which consisted of two railroad bridges built away from the existing bridges and then rolled into place during an eight-hour closure of the railroad. The project required a tremendous amount of planning and engineering to ensure minimal disruption to operations.
In addition, Goyne is currently pursuing his DBIA certification and works to help develop the next generation of construction professionals through Webber’s rigorous internship program.
Away from the office, he devotes time to the Associated General Contractors, which he has done for more than 10 years. He was recently selected as the Fort Worth area highway vice chairman for the Texas chapter.
Goyne also is involved with the Regional Black Contractors Association, where he promotes minority-subcontractor participation and encourages members of the community to pursue careers in construction.
Kristi M. Grizzle
39, Principal, Project Manager
Walter P Moore
Student-athlete becomes successful design leader
Grizzle attended Florida Atlantic University on a swimming and academic scholarship as an NCAA Division 1 student-athlete.
She eventually transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, followed by a master’s degree in structural engineering. After graduation, she joined Walter P Moore, where she has spent her 13-year career.
Grizzle graduated from Leadership Houston, where her 50-plus classmates honored her with the Speed of Trust Award.
She is active with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and works as a child advocate for children of at-risk families in the foster system.
Grizzle was promoted to stockholder and firm principal in 2014, making her the fifth woman to assume the role of principal in the firm’s 83-year history.
She is currently working on the design of the Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center, a $70-million, 600-seat opera house and performance hall.
37, Operations Manager
Manhattan Construction Co.
Building to inspire, entertain and excite
Haynie has built his career at Manhattan, starting with the firm as an intern in 2001. In that time, he has been involved with numerous projects valued at more than $800 million, including some of Tulsa’s most visible jobs. These include the BOK Center, an 18,000-seat, Cesar Pelli-designed events center; Guthrie Green Park, a brownfield conversion into a dynamic community park; and the River Spirit Casino Margaritaville expansion. One of the region’s largest casinos, the Spirit project added more than 1.2 million sq ft of space in a 27-story, 483-room hotel built on the banks of the Arkansas River.
Haynie heads up Manhattan’s initiatives in the community as well. In 2017, he led the company’s participation in nearly 10 community service projects.
Away from the office, Haynie has served on the Foundation for Tulsa Schools board of directors and Tulsa’s Junior Achievement board of directors and participated in the 2017 American Cancer Society’s Cattle Barons Ball.
William “Clay” Herndon
38, Treatment, Transmission and Utilities Associate Project Manager
Freese and Nichols
Connecting cities through infrastructure innovation
Herndon realized early in his 15-year career that he was drawn to solving issues on water and sewer connection systems and on projects related to municipal engineering.
After graduating from Texas A&M University, he gained experience at a small firm, and three years later, accepted a position in the water and wastewater utilities group at Freese and Nichols (FNI).
Herndon designs lift stations and elevated storage tanks and is known as the go-to engineer for technical expertise on projects across the region. He gained experience working on public projects for more than 10 years in FNI’s Pearland, Texas, office.
Herndon recently led a team of 13 engineers on projects such as the Groundwater Facilities Rehabilitation for the city of Houston, which improved 19 groundwater plants.
In the two years since accepting a key position in FNI’s Oklahoma City office, one of Herndon’s projects, an elevated storage tank for the city of Edmond, received an inaugural Water for 2060 Excellence Award from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board in the public water supply category.
He also completed the American Council of Engineering Cos. of Oklahoma’s leadership development program and is actively involved with several local water associations.
An appetite for growth driven by experience in managing firms
Holley built his career at Architects-Plus and eventually negotiated to purchase the firm from the founding principal in fall 2013.
Holley managed staff, business development and operations, a key complement to his design and master-planning skills.
In spring 2016, Architects-Plus and Three Square Design finalized a merger, becoming the 35-person team of Method Architecture.
As one of four founding principals of Method, Holley oversees two of its ground-up building teams responsible for the most complex projects, including labs, offices, industrial space and breweries.
As a principal of a relatively young firm, Holley understands the fundamental importance of investing in his team by setting aside time to coach, mentor and train employees.
Holley was involved in Method’s acquisition of a firm in Austin, with plans for continued expansion across major markets.
He gives back to the community through participation in Architecture for Humanity, and the 1+ network, offering more than 700 hours of pro bono work to charities annually.
38, Vice President
El Paso, Texas
Vice president combines her construction experience with a law degree
Lanigan draws on her many areas of expertise while managing Clark’s $648-million Fort Bliss Replacement Hospital, a joint venture with McCarthy Building Cos.
Upon starting her career as a project engineer at Clark, she pursued a law degree at Steton University College of Law and is now a licensed attorney in Florida and Texas.
Lanigan was promoted to vice president at the firm in 2013 and continues to practice law at Clark while managing the 630,000-sq-ft, seven-story hospital construction project at Fort Bliss and the 42 Clark employees working there.
Some of Lanigan’s other notable projects include the Temporary Unit of Action Facility in El Paso and the San Antonio Military Medical Center.
Lanigan is recognized at Clark for her leadership, mentorship and drive to succeed. She is involved with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and the Junior League and leads Builders at Bliss, a women’s group at Fort Bliss that enhances personal, professional, technical development and community service opportunities.
Lanigan is a 2017 graduate of Leadership Texas.
“I have had the opportunity to learn and apply so many different types of skills: financial, engineering, technical, leadership, negotiation, communication. No day is the same!”
—CARA LANIGAN, 38, Vice President, Clark Construction
26, Assistant Project Manager
Scott & Reid General Contractors
Millennial ready to tackle construction projects large or small
Just five years into her career in construction, Lembke is making impressive strides.
She credits the experience gained while pursuing her Gold Girl Scout status—equivalent to an Eagle Scout for the Boy Scouts of America—as one of the key influencers in helping her develop the skills to attain her goals.
Stepping right out of school and into a large campus project for an Austin technology company, Lembke took the lessons learned to heart and now applies them at her present company, Scott & Reid.
Her recent projects include everything from ground-up buildings and remodels to food facilities.
Lembke is working toward a promotion to project manager while pursuing training to become a Certified Associate in Project Management and a Project Management Professional.
35, Project Manager/Mechanical Design
The path to a construction career starts on the battlefield
Michel’s journey to the engineering and construction business didn’t start in a classroom like many others in the profession, it began on the battlefield.
As a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, he served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he was consistently recognized for his performance, including earning a Certificate of Commendation.
Upon his return to the U.S., Michel sought out industry professionals who helped him learn CAD and mechanical design despite his lack of a formal education.
As he moved up through his career and on to C1S Group, Michel pushed for more responsibility, leading to his promotion as a project manager.
He serves national clients such as Frito Lay and Caliber Collision on a variety of projects across the U.S.
Additionally, Michel is a member of both the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) in Dallas and is frequently called upon by the company to share what he has learned.
Michel is an active volunteer in his community, working closely with Hearts and Hammers to complete design projects for people in low-income neighborhoods.
In addition, Michel takes part in mentoring the next generation of C1S Group’s staff.
35, Project Manager
Trailblazing lean construction techniques in the industry
Musch was a collegiate athlete who earned a scholarship to Loyola University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management. He says that putting himself through school provided a foundation for the skills of a construction manager.
Musch leads Sundt’s continuous improvement committee and was part of the first group in the country to complete AGC’s Lean Certification program.
He is focused on preconstruction and operations and has managed more than $300 million worth of structural, educational, health care, municipal, office and retail, and civil infrastructure projects throughout Texas.
In 2017, he received Sundt’s Relentless Execution Award for strong leadership in completing the Wichita Falls ISD Career Education Center.
Musch is an active member of the nonprofit Sundt Foundation, initially funded 100% through donations from employees, then matched by the company.
“Putting myself through school provided a foundation for the skills of a construction manager”
—DAVID MUSCH, 35, Project Manager, Sundt Construction
Gustavo Rodriguez Jr.
38, Transmission & Distribution Department Manager, Project Manager
Burns & McDonnell
Providing power through better electrical design
Rodriguez helps clients meet their growing demands on the power grid.
Though he worked in Burns and McDonnell’s Houston office, Rodriguez saw an opportunity to improve the electrical infrastructure of North Texas. He advanced a business plan within Burns & McDonnell to provide high-voltage substation design services and then relocated to Fort Worth to develop the group.
He was the first Burns & McDonnell employee-owner at the Dallas-Fort Worth location to provide the design service. Five years later, he manages a team of 15 employees to deliver it.
His responsibilities also include business development, project management, conceptual design, equipment specification, equipment layout, construction estimates and request for proposal packages.
Rodriguez and his team support six clients and manage more than $3.6 million in projects. He has been involved in the design of more than 150 electrical power transmission and distribution projects for more than 15 utility and industrial clients.
He helps train and mentor new engineers to fill the experience gap created as many longtime professionals retire from the power industry.
34, Senior Estimator
Brasfield & Gorrie
Dallas office offers opportunities for organic growth
As one of the first Brasfield & Gorrie employees tapped to help establish the Dallas office, Sumrell has managed more than 25 projects valued at nearly $750 million.
He followed family tradition by working in construction. His grandfather was a contractor and his father an electrical engineer.
Sumrell has spent his career at Brasfield and Gorrie, where he has served in both project management and estimating roles, becoming a senior project manager before being asked to help lead Brasfield & Gorrie’s Dallas preconstruction team in January 2016.
He spends much of his time mentoring junior estimators while remaining active in workforce recruiting.
Sumrell credits positive relationships for his success. He says that doing the right thing and treating people fairly result in new business and better-built projects.
“Doing the right thing and treating people fairly result in new business and better-built projects.”
—BENNETT SUMRELL, 34, Senior Estimator, Brasfield & Gorrie
40, Senior Architectural Project Manager
Cross-cultural experience exposes high schoolers to good design
Toffer, originally from Mexico City, earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Monterrey Tech and a master’s degree in architecture from Texas A&M University.
She is a licensed architect in Texas and Mexico.
Toffer was the first in her family to choose a career outside the family tradition of accounting, and she’s been a trailblazer ever since. Her design expertise includes higher education, adaptive reuse, museums, aviation, corporate, hospitality and medical office.
Toffer champions grassroots initiatives such as Latinos in Architecture (LiA), which is part of the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
She puts much of her passion for design into organizations that promote the architecture profession, including serving as a mentor for high school students.
Additionally, she is the co-founder and advisory board president of CityLab High School, an open-enrollment transformation school that is part of the Dallas ISD Public School Choice initiative.
CityLab’s vision is to create an urban school where students use the city itself as a laboratory for learning while working on real world issues. It is the first public high school in the Dallas area to emphasize design.
32, Senior Safety Manager
Manhattan Construction Co.
Safety experience that is saving lives
Vollenweider was originally hired as the safety manager for the L’Auberge Casino and Hotel project in 2012 and was shortly thereafter promoted to senior safety manager of Manhattan’s Houston office.
Under his leadership, the L’Auberge project totaled more than 2.5 million man-hours and had no lost-time incidents.
During his 13 years in the construction industry, Vollenweider has completed projects for higher education, aviation, federal and corporate clients.
Safety is ingrained in his everyday duties, while his experience as an assistant coach and volunteer firefighter are a natural complement to his work.
His CPR training proved invaluable when he helped save a co-worker suffering from cardiac arrest for more than eight minutes until medical personnel could arrive.
Vollenweider is in charge of safety for the $250-million United Airlines New C North Terminal project, the $150-million United Technical Operations Center project and the $50-million Alvin ISD Football Stadium.
35, Project Manager, Firm Associate
Parkhill, Smith & Cooper Inc.
Bringing code expertise and international experience to West Texas
After Wilkins graduated magna cum laude from Texas Tech University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and completed a master’s degree from the College of Architecture, he began working at Parkhill, Smith and Cooper Inc. (PSC).
He was named a firm associate in 2013, and the following year, Wilkins was selected to participate in PSC’s one-year Leadership Academy program.
As part of a community initiative, the 2014 Leadership Academy participants received support from the PSC board of directors to create the PSC Community Investment Initiative, which gave $425,000 to select organizations in its first year.
Wilkens served as a member of the Texas Society of Architects’ state codes committee, where he gained a broader understanding of building codes and the impact that design has on the health, safety and welfare of the public.
He served as an architectural liaison to PSC’s civil-engineering aviation team and helps PSC manage projects in Europe, Japan and the U.S.