Winners of ENR Southwest’s 2020 Top Young Professionals competition include architects, engineers, project managers and executives. A common theme among them is a commitment to serving the AEC sector and their local communities.
Several of the winners have grown up in the construction business, and others have already started their own companies. This year’s class also includes several immigrants making a marked difference in their fields.
All have demonstrated a mastery of new technologies and worked hard to teach their colleagues and other young professionals about better design and smart construction practices.
The competition remained highly competitive this year. Companies or individuals were allowed to nominate more than one person, and individuals could also nominate themselves.
Nominees must be working full time in some aspect of the commercial construction industry in the Southwest region, which includes Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Entrants must also be under age 40 as of Jan. 1, 2020.
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 consistently doing volunteer work across the industry and within the community.
This year’s judges were: Kelly Kaysonepheth, marketing director, AZTEC Engineering; Cherilyn McCabe, estimator, Mortenson; and Tony Illia, public information officer, Nevada Dept. of Transportation.
The following pages contain profiles of the winners, describing their achievements and goals in a tribute to excellence, success, quality, family and community.
Congratulations to the winners.
34, Associate, Architectural Designer
Originally from the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, Bighorse is interested in the impact of the built environment on culture and how architecture helps to shape the urban environment. Bighorse graduated from Arizona State University, where he was the co-student leader of the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design program in 2011.
Bighorse has worked on several landmark projects in Gensler’s Phoenix office, including the nearly completed Great Wolf Lodge in Scottsdale and four Great Hearts Academy campuses. He has collaborated with other Gensler offices around the region, including the one in Los Angeles, where he worked on the award-winning renovation and adaptive reuse of the Masonic Temple for CBRE in Glendale.
Bighorse’s passion for helping the community includes serving for five years as co-captain of Gensler Phoenix’s CANstruction, which involves months of planning, organizing and fundraising. CANstruction is a national nonprofit that challenges AEC participants to create large structures out of canned goods, which are then donated to local food banks.
“Being both a detail-oriented and big-picture leader is a tricky balance, and one I am working to master.” – Steve Bradford, 37, Industrial Group Preconstruction Manager, Sundt Construction Inc.
37, Industrial Group Preconstruction Manager
Sundt Construction Inc.
Bradford’s first taste of construction was as a teen, helping a neighbor remodel homes. Later he worked as a framer on residential projects before eventually interning with Morley Builders, Wespac and Sundt Construction. After graduating from Northern Arizona University with a construction management degree in 2007, he was hired by Sundt as a field engineer.
Bradford currently manages Sundt’s industrial division, which at any given time handles from $2.5 billion to $3 billion in work. He has helped to create much of the documentation process for preconstruction at Sundt, ensuring that clients not only understand the scope of a project but also receive the best project for their money.
Bradford is also a graduate of Sundt’s START and LEAP programs, which provide targeted leadership training to a select group of employee-owners. He has mentored people within his own preconstruction team and has the diverse experience—including in water, power and mining—to guide colleagues while also allowing them autonomy.
Bradford, an Eagle Scout, is a volunteer leader and mentor in the Boy Scouts of America. He is also involved in the Sundt Foundation and has been instrumental in the nonprofit’s annual Thirst-Aid Water Drive to combat heat-related illnesses among Phoenix’s homeless population.
34, National Manager
Terracon Consultants Inc.
Bravo has 11 years of experience in civil engineering. He secures teaming opportunities, provides project scoping and performs analyses, calculations and recommendations on large design-build transportation projects for local and national clients.
A graduate of the University of Kansas and Texas A&M University, where he received his master’s degree in civil and geotechnical engineering in 2010, Bravo serves as the relationship manager for multiple DOTs in the region. When he joined Terracon in 2013, Bravo worked on the I-35E Managed Lanes project in North Texas, a $1.3-billion TxDOT design-build project. Since then, he has helped to deliver transportation projects for the Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois DOTs. Recently, he transitioned into the role of Western U.S. transportation leader, overseeing the region from Colorado to the West Coast.
Bravo volunteers with several community organizations. In 2017, he was recognized for planning and building an ADA ramp at the home of four young men. The project was particularly meaningful for Bravo because he utilized his engineering background to provide the residents with increased mobility in their home.
36, Project Executive
Constance began his construction career with a regional general contractor, working full time while attending Arizona State University. While completing his studies in construction management, he worked for two Arizona electrical contractors, gaining onsite and estimating experience.
After graduation, Constance went to work for two national general contractors before joining Rosendin in 2016. As a project executive, he oversees Rosendin’s Arizona data center and sports-entertainment work. His department generated more than $25 million in revenue in 2019, an increase of 178% from last year and up more than 300% from 2017.
Constance has been involved in a large number of landmark projects, including the Phoenix International Raceway Bobby Allison Suite Expansion and Emergency Tunnel Addition in Avondale, Ariz.; Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport In-Line EDS Deployment; Northern Arizona University Science and Health Building in Flagstaff; Tempe Center for the Arts; Scottsdale Stadium renovation; and the Arizona State University Student Pavilion in Tempe.
Constance is an active participant in the Arizona Energy Consortium and the Design Build Institute of America as well as the Association for Computer Operations Management and 7X24, two organizations focused on data centers and IT infrastructure.
32, Senior Virtual Construction Engineer
Sundt Construction Inc.
Cylwik has brought new technology into Sundt’s office and field activities for 12 years. He began his career in construction 13 years ago while obtaining his degree in design studies with an emphasis in digital visualization from Arizona State University. His father, a project manager at a large construction company, introduced him to problem-solving in construction as a child and impressed on him the important legacy of a life’s work.
Cylwik focuses on adapting technologies like real-time speech translators, virtual models of projects and the use of drones on every Sundt project. He presents talks on construction technologies for industry groups across the country and has written articles in ENR and Civil Engineering News.
Cylwik’s development and application of technology has been a launching platform for him as an industry innovator. In 2012, he traveled around the country with the Federal Highway Administration, speaking about how civil constructors can use 3D technology to build better infrastructure at less cost. He is a founding member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ consortium on civil information modeling, has presented at several AGC of America conventions and received an AGC Innovation Award for development of the Civil Construction Toolkit—a digital tool for civil construction estimators.
37, Associate, Landscape Architect
Dekojova recently served as a site and landscape designer on the renovation of Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque, a project that won a 2019 ENR Southwest Best Projects award. A native of the Czech Republic, she launched her career working on ecological revitalization in Europe and went on to earn a master’s degree in landscape architecture and a certificate in urban design and regionalism from the University of New Mexico. Her goal is to design landscapes that are both aesthetically pleasing and ecologically sound.
Dekojova spent several years working for HeadsUp Landscape Contractors in Albuquerque, where she connected design development with construction and long-term landscape maintenance. The experience of evaluating her designs from both the end-user’s and contractor’s perspectives informs her design work today.
An urban cyclist and promoter of alternative modes of transportation, Dekojova participates, along with her colleagues, in urbanism projects and activities such as the upcoming PARK(ing) Day installation by University of New Mexico students, helping connect Dekker/Perich/Sabatini employees and their communities.
In 2009, “there was no sustainable movement at the time. Sustainability was not the buzzword it is now.” – Ali Fakih, 39, Principal, Sustainability Engineering Group
Sustainability Engineering Group (SEG)
Born and raised in Beirut, Fakih has a master’s degree in civil and water resources from Lebanese University and a master’s degree in construction management from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan. He received his PhD in sustainable pavement design at Arizona State University in 2017. In 2009, he founded SEG, a full-service civil engineering and architectural consulting firm that has completed 275 land development projects throughout the country.
Fakih partnered with the U.S. Embassy to allow him to travel twice to drought-worn Angola and three times to Qatar. In Angola, he visited 12 provinces where he developed and installed gray water treatment systems for individual homes. He traveled to Qatar to work on government projects and present sustainability advancements at green building conferences.
Fakih is serving his second term as commissioner on Scottsdale’s planning board. He served on the city’s design review board for four years and was elected president and vice president for the Arizona Association of Environmental Professionals. He also has been a speaker and mentor for engineering students at ASU. He has presented his thesis topic, “Sustainability in Pavement Design,” at multiple statewide forums, including the Arizona Conference on Roads and Streets.
“In early 2019, I ... started my own practice, Ikthus Design. I currently have one employee and two projects, both of which focus on multifamily housing.” – Kyle Fischer, 29, Principal, Ikthus Design
Fischer received his architectural license just two years after graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a master’s degree in architecture, which is seven years sooner than the national average. In 2019, he launched his own practice, Ikthus Design, where he is involved in two multifamily projects.
Fischer recently led two teams of architects and other professionals in the AIA Las Vegas Blueprint for Better Housing Charrette. The teams designed two mixed-use, multifamily developments in Las Vegas that aim to overcome the hurdles plaguing affordable housing. The teams presented their findings to the mayor, city officials and the Las Vegas Planning Dept.
In 2019 Fischer participated in an AEC Cares project that renovated a gym and chapel at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. He helped create the design documents and participated in the reconstruction and refurbishment of each space.
Fischer is currently director of the Emerging Professionals Young Architects Forum on the AIA Las Vegas board of directors. The forum is the largest membership group in the AIA, encompassing students, recent graduates, interns and associates and young architects.
39, Vice President of Preconstruction
Tutor Perini Building Corp.
Frank grew up working for his family’s construction company. While attending the University of Kansas, he interned with J.E. Dunn Construction and worked on one of the first LEED-certified projects in the state, which later received a historic preservation award. Shortly thereafter, he joined Tutor Perini Building Corp. and spent three years working on the $8.5-billion CityCenter Las Vegas as a field engineer. He was part of the team tasked with introducing and executing the first large-scale, fast-track hospitality and gaming green building project in the Las Vegas market. Frank currently oversees preconstruction in Nevada, Arizona and California and is a member of the company’s corporate technology governance committee, where he guides the use of emerging technologies.
Frank’s portfolio includes $10 billion in projects and 20 million sq ft of built space. Two notable projects include the $3.9-billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and the $12-billion Hudson Yards project in New York, where Frank spent seven years managing the estimating of more than 5 million sq ft of office, residential and retail space to be built over an active railroad yard on the west side of Manhattan.
32, Systems Administrator
In a design firm with staff ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, onsite and remote employees—all with varying technological savvy and stress levels—Gutierrez excels at getting to the essence of problems and finding solutions. He faces a constant stream of technical challenges while supporting more than 200 staff in four offices; however, he takes an educational approach to his work, using his IT skills and rapport with people to identify opportunities for innovation.
Gutierrez is proactive about process innovations that improve staff morale and the company’s bottom line. He also helps with the firm’s recruiting by networking with industry peers and streamlining the onboarding process for new staff. He’s also an enthusiastic organizer of and participant in wellness programs in the office.
Gutierrez is a dedicated volunteer with TEDxABQ, focusing on community outreach and technical leadership relating to pre-event planning and logistics as well as day-of-event support for TEDx events that foster dialogue around important community issues. He also is heavily involved in volunteering and fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He has organized fundraising events, participated in larger LLS events and champions many internal company efforts in support of the charity.
“I continue to try to gain new experience and learn as much about the industry by requesting to be on different types of projects and to work in new roles.” – Melanie Lincoln, 34, Preconstruction Project Manager, AECOM Hunt
34, Preconstruction Project Manager
A 2007 graduate of Bucknell University, Lincoln has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering but ultimately decided to pursue a career in construction management. She spent seven years working on large projects at Turner Construction in a variety of roles such as field engineer, assistant superintendent, project engineer and document and cost control manager. At AECOM she has been an assistant project manager and project manager and is currently a preconstruction project manager focused on large sports projects. She has been the champion for LEED projects at both firms.
Lincoln was nominated for and participated in a subgroup of the AECOM High Potential Program, an intense seven-month development program for a select group of employees. After undergoing special training and completing a team action learning assignment, the group created a solution for a real-life problem within AECOM and presented the findings to senior leaders at the firm.
39, Principal Electrical Engineer
In his 10 years at Spectrum Engineers, Ricks has been involved in more than 250 projects. As the local lead of the firm’s Higher Education Center of Engineering Excellence, more than half of those projects have been completed for higher education clients, including a wide range of work for his alma mater, Arizona State University.
Ricks became a principal of Spectrum Engineers when he was only 31, and his colleagues say his ability to remain calm under pressure brings stability to the entire project team.
Knowledgeable about the diverse electrical design needs of a multitude of building and project types, his areas of specialization include medium voltage power distribution, SCADA system design and power and lighting systems for buildings as well as roadway and site lighting.
When Ricks isn’t designing integral electrical systems, the father of five volunteers for organizations focused on elevating the lives of children and their families through his work with the Boy Scouts of America and Feed My Starving Children as well as performing with his own children at their dance studio.
He also participates in endurance competitions like Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac and Spartan Races.
36, Director of Business Development
After graduating from the University of Kansas, Schleicher’s first job was in group sales for Colorado’s largest hotel and casino, where he organized the largest event in the casino’s history. He moved into a financial adviser role for a large corporation and was soon ranked in the top 10% of his division. Later, Schleicher transitioned into Arizona’s largest REIT, Cole Capital, where he oversaw the financials of five properties that included 40 tenants.
Schleicher moved into a sales position for a REIT in Chicago, where he met many owners, including one who asked him to join a financial firm and help grow the market in the Southwest region. Within a year, Schleicher had outpaced his job objectives and landed two national accounts with Fortune 100 companies.
Today, he leads business development for SmithGroup in Arizona and Utah and has helped the firm win eight projects totaling $215 million in just three years.
In lieu of corporate holiday gift giving, Schleicher recently created a program at SmithGroup to work with a local K-12 school that caters to disadvantaged and at-risk children.
His firm is providing landscape material, design and construction to improve the school’s curb appeal, including adding a new playground and more shade trees.
37, Office Leader/Structural Engineer
Meyer Borgman Johnson
Schultz is known as a team problem solver who develops creative solutions. She serves in multiple roles on projects for the firm, including structural engineer of record and structural project manager. With a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Purdue, her project experience includes higher education, multifamily developments, government buildings, athletic facilities, health care structures and semiconductor manufacturing facilities. Notable projects include the Mayo Clinic East Campus Expansion and ASU Sun Devil Stadium renovations.
Schultz is also the program director for ACE Mentor’s Phoenix chapter, an organization that mentors and educates high school students about career opportunities in the AEC industry. Committed to inspiring the industry’s next generation of professionals, she has been a mentor since the program started in Arizona 12 years ago. Schultz also leads her firm’s annual involvement with CANstruction.
“Building stronger communities goes beyond constructing spaces where people live, work and play.” – Sean Slawson, 37, Project Director, McCarthy Building Cos.
37, Project Director
McCarthy Building Cos.
Slawson grew up in construction. His father was a developer and general contractor who built custom homes and light commercial projects. Slawson did not originally intend to follow in his father’s footsteps; however, his love of complex problem solving and passion for building led him to do exactly that.
A 2005 graduate of Arizona State University, Slawson enjoys every phase of project management, from design through construction, and has gained experience with a wide range of work, from stadiums and hockey arenas to complex hospital work.
His landmark projects include the Arizona Cardinals Stadium in Glendale; Wenatchee Convention Center in Wenatchee, Wash.; Honor Health Sonoran Medical Center – Integrated Delivery Project in Phoenix; and several projects for the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.
Slawson is also charged with developing McCarthy’s internal talent and recruiting new talent to the company. He serves as the McCarthy Project Engineer Peer Group Training Champion and coordinates quarterly training sessions for nearly 85 project engineers in the Southwest division.
30, Senior Project Manager
Architectural Resource Team
Solorio grew up in an underserved neighborhood where he experienced poverty, health inequity and discrimination, all of which inspired his career choice. A graduate of Arizona State University, he leads his firm’s housing studio, where he works to improve the lives of people in low-income communities.
During the past year, Solorio has managed more than 800 units of affordable housing across the valley, touching the lives of homeless veterans, new mothers, victims of domestic violence and others. He is currently developing a 297-unit affordable-housing project with Catholic Charities for the Solano neighborhood in Phoenix.
Solorio has volunteered with the Be a Leader Foundation for more than 11 years, mentoring dozens of students and providing hands-on support with college applications, scholarship essays and preparation help for exams.
He also established the Clarendon Architect Program in the Osborn Elementary School District to introduce middle school students to architecture and its career paths.
In 2018, Solorio traveled to Mexico City and Medellín, Colombia, to research public architecture for the good of the community. Solorio presented his research at Arizona State University last fall.
“My time in college taught me how to learn, and my career at Rosendin has taught me how to lead.” – Brandon Stephens, 37, Division Manager, Rosendin
37, Division Manager
Stephens started visiting his father’s electrical contracting business when he was just 8 years old. At first, he did it to hang out with his dad, but later he became an apprentice and got paid to help when he wasn’t in school. By the time he graduated from high school, Stephens had learned to estimate work, deliver parts and operate heavy equipment.
A graduate of Boise State University, Stephens has been with Rosendin Electric for nearly 15 years and is now responsible for the firm’s Southwest region operations as well as some national and international projects.
As division manager, Stephens was the general contractor for a data center project in Texas for which Rosendin incorporated a modular design that saved significant schedule time. He also has incorporated a number of lean and integrated concepts at the project level and supported remote operations in Reno, where Rosendin has been building for a mission-critical client since 2014, averaging roughly $50 million a year.
While pursuing a degree in architecture at Arizona State University, Strong spent a summer internship with Enric Miralles’ office in Barcelona, working on design modeling for the Scottish Parliament. He went on to combine a love for music with his passion for design, focusing his master’s thesis on modes of music performance as forms of urban analysis. After graduation he worked at Substance Design Consortium, collaborating on a new performance facility for Phoenix Theatre and a new classroom building for Glendale Community College. From there he worked with HMC Architects on several health care clinics, a lean IPD hospital and a competition-winning 9/11 memorial for the city of Rancho Cucamonga.
At Gensler, Strong is the spec liaison to Southwest region leaders, ensuring the Phoenix office complies with the latest Gensler standards and that the documentation produced by project teams meets or exceeds strict quality requirements.
Strong has championed conversations about acoustics and sound design, giving presentations and serving as a guest lecturer at ASU interior design studios.
Strong is a local lead organizer for Sofar Sounds, a global community of artists and hosts that help enrich their local music scenes. While at HMC, he was an elected board member for Designing Futures Foundation, a nonprofit that funds an annual scholarship for students in underserved communities who want to pursue an education in design.
Clifford W. Toliver
36, Project Director
Toliver has worked in construction management for 14 years and currently oversees a $1-billion megaresort job on the Las Vegas strip. His career with AECOM began as an intern during his senior year at Arizona State University, and he currently mentors the firm’s interns and new engineers on projects.
As project director, Toliver provides overall administrative and technical direction for large and mid-size construction projects. He is responsible for the full project life cycle, from bidding and negotiations to subcontractor procurement and management to project delivery. He ensures that schedules, budgets and policies are met and that client and owner relationships are upheld.
Toliver managed construction of the San Antonio Convention Center, a design-build project that won the 2017 AIA Design Award, the 2017 San Antonio Mayor’s Choice Award and a 2016 Design-Build Award. His other notable projects include the Isleta Resort and Casino in Albuquerque; Cal State Long Beach PH3 Science Lab in Long Beach, Calif.; Twin Arrows Casino and Resort in Flagstaff, Ariz.; and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.
“Anyone is at their personal best when they are surrounded and supported by their friends, family and the community that they have, and I really feel that I’m at my personal best with HDR.” – Milos Vasiljevic, 38, Program Manager, HDR
38, Program Manager
Vasiljevic’s fascination with infrastructure and civil engineering began when he packed everything he could fit into one suitcase to start a new life in America. He arrived in the U.S. in 1999 as an exchange student from Serbia at a time when conflicts in the Balkans had torn apart the former Yugoslavia.
Vasiljevic found his career motivation after seeing firsthand the destruction of infrastructure in his homeland. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in engineering mechanics from the University of Illinois and the University of Arizona, respectively. He began work for HDR in 2008 as an engineer in training for bridge design. He was hired on an H-1B working visa and credits the support of many people at HDR for helping him navigate the complicated immigration process to become a U.S. citizen in 2017.
Now, more than a decade later, Vasiljevic manages HDR’s large transportation projects (over $1 billion), including tollways, highways, bridges, transit and municipal infrastructure improvements.