Each year, ENR’s Top Young Professionals competition honors up-and-coming leaders in architecture, construction and engineering. The 2020 winners from California and Hawaii are professors, chief executives and company founders, engineers and business development professionals.
The common thread that connects this diverse class is the use of education and experience to complete both public and private work, but always with a close eye on contributing to the common good. These young leaders mentor their colleagues, develop technologies for fellow citizens and create new structures with climate change mitigation in mind.
Nominees were judged by a volunteer panel of their peers, who considered industry experience and education, leadership and community service.
This year’s judges were C. Kerem Gulec, associate principal at Thornton Tomasetti, Los Angeles; Dan Parker-King, associate vice president, HNTB, Oakland, Calif.; and Michael Boomsma, senior vice president of education and facilities, Cordoba Corp., Irvine, Calif.
Three California honorees also earned a spot on ENR’s national Top 20 Under 40 list. Caleigh Raymer, vice president, director of operations at Lendlease, Los Angeles, is known for inspiring others through mentorship and advocating for women’s and young people’s advancement in construction, engineering and science.
Kim Scott, vice president, business development and marketing at Blach Construction, San Jose, Calif., works with school districts to apply project delivery methods that complement district budgets and timelines.
Aaron Yohnke, vice president and district manager at PCL Construction in Glendale, Calif., advocates for redefining employee performance reviews and rewards.
Congratulations to this year’s class of Top Young Professionals!
Data-driven construction researcher
32, Assistant Professor of Construction Engineering
Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, San Diego State University
A multidisciplinary researcher, Akhavian draws his unique skills from engineering, construction management, information technology and artificial intelligence. Akhavian’s academic and industry efforts focus on leveraging technologies to enhance construction productivity, safety and sustainability. He developed an integrated mobile sensor-based activity recognition system of construction equipment and labor that analyzes project performance and what is believed to be the first-ever data-driven construction simulation system capable of creating simulation models of earthmoving operations for optimal resource allocation.
With more than 30 peer-reviewed articles published in scholarly journals and presented at international conferences, Akhavian is the founder, lead researcher and principal investigator at SDSU’s Data-informed Construction Engineering Research Lab. He previously worked at DPR Construction, Bentley Systems and OpenSpace, for which he continues to consult, and was an assistant professor at California State University East Bay.
Measures success by social impact
Paxon Energy and Infrastructure Services Inc.
Behroyan is an entrepreneur known for building double bottom line companies that measure both financial success and social impact. She is the founder and chief executive of Paxon, which specializes in heavy civil engineering projects including utilities transmission and distribution, pipeline integrity management, construction management and third-party inspection and field quality control services.
At Paxon, she established a research and development department that focuses on energy innovation and technologies for energy-efficient solutions to reduce, recycle and reuse methane emissions at large scales as part of its gas pipeline upgrade and modernization services.
Behroyan’s cross-cultural experience inspires her dedication to gender diversity and workforce equality in the oil, gas and utilities fields, particularly for women engineers and veterans, who account for 20% of Paxon’s workforce.
She serves as president for the National Association of Women Business Organizations and serves on the boards of directors for the American Gas Association and the American Council of Engineering Cos. as well as To Celebrate Life Breast Cancer Foundation.
Expert in building physics
30, Senior Building Physics Engineer
As a youngster, Chaires aspired to be a civil engineer like her grandfather. In pursuit of this dream, she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After graduating, she interned at Lafarge, a French-based industrial company specializing in concrete. While interning at Lafarge, Chaires used her programming experience to develop a JAVA program that calculates thermal comfort for people’s homes.
From there, Chaires pursued building physics to address energy efficiency, occupant comfort and well-being issues in the built environment. In 2012, she joined Arup’s building physics team in its advanced technology and research group. Today, as a senior engineer, she is responsible for delivering projects involving advanced building energy modeling, microclimate analyses, thermal- and wind-comfort assessments, passive and net-zero-energy design measures, and fluid-structure interactions.
During her tenure at Arup, Chaires has contributed to more than 95 projects, giving her a breadth of building performance experience in mechanical engineering, energy and sustainability as well as building physics. She is also an expert in computer programming and data analytics and has written automation scripts to make analysis work more efficient.
Sabrina M. Drago
Steering her firm back on course
39, Assistant Vice President, Sacramento Office Lead
When Drago joined WSP last year, the firm says she took on an office that “had deviated from course.” Despite her short tenure, colleagues have dubbed Drago a “triple threat”: a talented structural engineer, quality director and growth-oriented business developer who has already managed to increase office morale and top-line growth.
“You can have a lot of business acumen, be a strong project manager, excel at business development, but putting it all together to be an effective manager is extremely difficult,” says Luis Porrello, WSP West region director of business development. “If you’re handed an unsustainable situation and can not only stabilize it, but help it grow. That’s a special talent.”
Drago leads WSP’s statewide Caltrans initiative, which she originated, and is a member of the Funding Strategy Stakeholder Committee for the Placer County Transportation Planning Authority. It oversees regional transportation improvements that utilize tax initiative funding.
Additionally, Drago is active in the Women’s Transportation Seminar, where she participates in its mentoring program as well as the Mid-Career Leadership Program. Her work experience also includes sales and marketing management.
Marisa “Reese” Fortin
Inspiring people to care about safety
34, Area Health, Safety and Environmental Manager
Sundt Construction Inc.
Fortin took quick action when she observed two glaziers improperly wearing fall protection gear at a leading edge on the eighth floor of a building. Because the situation was immediately life threatening, she stopped the workers, brought them to safety and worked with the foreman and subcontractor to educate the crew, improve training and acquire appropriate fall protection. That’s just one example of Fortin’s leadership for the California district of Sundt’s buildings group, where she is involved in projects from preconstruction through commissioning and helps create the firm’s corporate safety policies. Before joining Sundt, she worked for several general contractors in the region, managing more than 20 safety professionals and hundreds of projects.
A certified safety professional, she has a degree in construction management from California State University, Fresno. Fortin stays active in the safety community through AGC and the Association of Safety Professionals. She speaks at women’s events such as Groundbreaking Women in Construction and the Women in Construction West Coast conference.
Art meets math in a road less traveled
37, Preconstruction and Estimating Manager for Special Projects
A former art history student, Gayita started his construction career as a junior estimator for a small Reno, Nev., company, where he spent his first six months counting fixtures in plans. His math skills caught the owner’s eye. Shortly thereafter, Gayita became one of northern Nevada’s first LEED-accredited professionals, just months after he began studying for certification.
Gayita uses his ongoing love of art at Swinerton to streamline cost estimation by combining his visual skills with mathematical field knowledge. He can accurately create a budget from a napkin sketch by visualizing what the parts would be in the construction process.
Gayita is an active member of the American Society of Professional Estimators, the Asian American Architects and Engineers Association, the Urban Land Institute of Los Angeles, Eco-Cons Advisory Group, the Community Corp. of Santa Monica and Los Angeles’ ACE Mentor Program, which supports youth learning about the construction industry.
He also serves as the fundraising committee vice chair for the Architecture & Design Museum, volunteers at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and is currently studying interaction design at Santa Monica College.
Passes her know-how to the next generation
38, Vice President
Clark Construction Group
After starting with Clark as an intern in 2002, Gilman joined the firm full time as a project engineer in the MidAtlantic region when she graduated from George Washington University in 2004. She moved to San Francisco in 2010 and managed several high-profile and award-winning projects, including the Stanford Hospital and Bowles Hall renovation at University of California at Berkeley.
Now as vice president Gilman leads multiple projects, including terminal renovations at San Francisco International Airport and two projects totaling $300 million for the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Gilman says she is especially proud of participating in fast-moving projects that emphasize a collaborative atmosphere, such as 150 Van Ness Apartment Complex, which Clark says is the most rapidly built residential project of its size in the company’s history. Colleagues attribute these project successes to Gilman’s ability to motivate those around her with an “unflagging can-do spirit.”
Mentoring and teaching has been an integral part of Gilman’s leadership style. As she has done for more than a decade, she teaches courses through Clark Corporate University and Clark’s Boot Camp program, which is geared toward rising young leaders. In 2017, Gilman helped create and launch the Leadership Development Group, a strategic initiative for Clark’s Western region that aims to foster leadership skills in future leaders.
Using skills to help those in need
35, Project Engineer
Geotechnical and earthquake engineer Goff couples his growing list of responsibilities at Langan with a dedication to helping his community. With four degrees and 10 certifications under his belt, Goff was named as the primary project geotechnical engineer for the $1.8-billion Las Vegas Raiders stadium after impressing his employer in similar roles for the $1.6-billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and the $350-million Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
He has impressed industry colleagues as well. “Jason is a highly responsive and thorough professional; he is a good collaborator under high pressure,” says Lanson Nichols, vice president of sports architecture at HNTB.
As a board member and fundraising event planner for the Orange County Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders, Goff assists with its annual corporate challenge event and helped the group collaborate with Corazon, an organization that works with low-income communities in Mexico to build, repair and maintain homes.
Goff also is active in the Red Cross and other groups where he assists in disaster recovery and hazard mitigation. Last year, Goff was named the Orange County Engineering Council 2019 Young Professional Engineer of the Year.
Water-quality expert leads on multiple fronts
34, Senior Engineer
Recognized for her research on geochemical processes while earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s at UCLA, Havens in 2008 joined Geosyntec, where she has focused on stormwater quality and management. Since then, Havens has gathered diverse experience in geographic information systems analyses; hydrologic, hydraulic and surface water-quality modeling; and green infrastructure planning.
In her current role, Havens provides stormwater management-related services to clients throughout California as well as nationally. She also assists on climate-resiliency projects, including a large storm-surge resiliency project in New York City, sea-level-rise analyses for clients in San Francisco and water-supply resiliency studies for clients on California’s Monterey Peninsula.
In 2018, Havens led an internal research project on utilizing global climate model data in hydrologic modeling. She also is involved with the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agency Association.
Since 2010, Havens has been active in the California Stormwater Quality Association, including acting as moderator for the group’s 2019 conference. Havens has also delivered five technical presentations at four different conferences.
Project manager on landmark transportation projects
39, Senior Project Manager
With more than 18 years of civil engineering and design management experience, Holmquist has worked on mega-transportation projects throughout the Western U.S. During his career, he has supervised multidisciplinary teams of engineers and architects and served as both the contractor’s design-build manager and the engineer’s design manager on a wide variety of projects.
In 2018, Holmquist joined STV as deputy project manager for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Purple Line Extension 2. After proving himself on the landmark job, he became project manager for Purple Line Extension 3, the last segment of the massive rail project.
Eager to continue learning, Holmquist is currently preparing for the Envision Sustainability Professional exam to earn his ENV SP credential. He is a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Construction Institute. He also volunteers at his alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, where he helps guide the civil engineering curriculum through periodic review, suggesting changes in course syllabi.
Civil engineer excels as business leader
39, Director of Business Development
With strong experience on major projects dating back to a freshman year summer internship in Anaheim, Calif., Law began at Webcor in 2016 as a project manager on the Metropolis megaproject in downtown Los Angeles. A natural mentor, Law’s guidance on the job impressed engineer Robert Hackl. “He took the time to help the new engineers and managers, like myself, understand the importance of our unique roles as well as the bigger picture,” Hackl says.
A year later, while working on the SONY Gate Improvement project, Law was called upon to assist Webcor’s preconstruction and business development teams—and quickly excelled. Despite his lack of previous experience in the role, Law’s efforts impressed Webcor CEO Jes Pedersen, who promoted the former project manager to director of business development for Southern California. Since taking on this role, Law’s combination of field experience, outstanding communication skills and technical prowess with customer-relationship management software has noticeably enhanced Webcor’s industry connections and solidified the award of numerous projects, the company says. “Working with Keith in the BD role is a breath of fresh air,” says Webcor marketing director Kristen English. “Keith couldn’t be better suited for the job.”
Using data and collaboration to succeed on complex projects
39, Project Director
Turner Construction Co.
MacLeod, who emigrated with her parents to the U.S. from Beijing when she was 9 years old, went on to earn a doctorate degree in construction engineering and management. During her studies, she created an accessible metric-based framework for improving project performance, backed by case studies that demonstrated an improved ability to predict client satisfaction.
Today, MacLeod serves as project director at Turner Construction, where she led the process and devised Turner’s approach to a more than $1-billion CM at-risk project, among other ventures.
MacLeod has worked on such projects as the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the Apple Campus in Cupertino, the BART/VTA Silicon Valley Extension rail project, the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center and Shanghai Disney.
Industry colleagues note her collaborative skills. John Worley, a principal at Arup who worked with MacLeod while she was at Skanska, said she earned the respect of the team she managed. “Wendy demonstrated strong leadership by collaborating, communication and problem-solving through many complex issues and difficult situations,” he says.
Transmits technical guidance
38, Transmission and Distribution Projects Manager
Burns & McDonnell
A Nebraska native, McCall leads 18 project and program managers and oversees project management practices—including execution of plans, budgets, procurement, sales and construction—that provide safe, reliable and efficient power and gas systems.
Before taking on his current role, McCall provided technical guidance and project management for utility-scale project design and analysis and managed $300 million in projects for the electrical and gas transmission and distribution industry. McCall’s expertise includes analysis and design of transmission line structures and steel design for standard and site-specific equipment supports, including transmission foundations such as spread footings, slab on grade and drilled piers. He explores energy-storage opportunities in renewable natural gas, hydrogen, battery and gravity storage and helps utilities navigate their use of solar energy.
McCall is a member of Western Energy Institute, American Society of Civil Engineers, California Municipal Utilities Association and the Project Management Institute. He has a master’s degree in engineering management from Kansas State University and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Oklahoma State University.
Building culture for this generation and the next
American Technologies Inc.
Moore’s experience at American Technologies dates back to when he was a 12-year-old helping in the mail room of his father’s small restoration and reconstruction firm. One business management degree later, Moore joined ATI as a project manager, progressing through every division at the company.
During a three-year stint that began in 2016 as the company’s executive vice president, he oversaw a doubling of ATI’s revenue. In 2019, he was appointed president, alongside his brother Jeff.
As president, Moore is responsible for strategic planning as well as overseeing the company’s Western area, human resources and recruitment and training. He has unveiled several staff development initiatives, including ATI Cares, which improves employee engagement. He also created ATI University to provide continuing education, certifications and career planning for employees as well as outside craftspeople and business partners.
To aid with recruitment efforts, Moore established a trade-apprenticeship pilot program with local high schools, with most successful participants receiving a job offer after graduation.
Boosts morale through mentorship
33, Vice President, Director of Operations
When the 2008 recession hit as her career began at Gerardi Construction Inc. in Florida, Raymer stepped up and into a dual role of project manager and chief estimator at age 24. Responsible for bidding more than 100 projects in one year, with a 30% capture rate, she managed projects from Florida to New York totaling roughly $80 million.
After stints at Bernard’s, Build Group and the Walsh Group, Raymer joined Lendlease three years ago and now oversees operations and preconstruction on all jobs in planning and execution for the Los Angeles office.
Known for inspiring morale through mentorship, Raymer advocates for women’s and young people’s advancement in construction and regularly speaks at community colleges to women in engineering and science. Among her favorite sayings: “If you want my job, come get it! Nothing would make me happier than to work for you one day.” Raymer is a member of the National Association of Women in Construction and holds a bachelor’s degree in meteorology, environmental science from Northern Carolina State University, a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of South Florida and a doctorate in structural engineering from Florida International University.
Skilled consultant and lifelong learner
37, Executive Vice President
Anser Advisory LLC
Santa Ana, Calif.
Sarhangian began his career in the construction industry at one of the country’s leading contractors, working on utility projects throughout the U.S. and Canada in various roles, including field engineer, project engineer, superintendent and project manager. In 2013, he joined DHS Consulting as a project manager and was instrumental in the company’s growth from five people to 135 full-time staff before the firm was acquired by Anser Advisory.
In 2018, he took over the energy division for the company and helped the unit approximately double its revenue in less than two years. Today, after six years and six promotions at the company, he has risen to the title of executive vice president and national managing director.
Sarhangian created the first distribution engineering practice at the company, which today has 18 distribution engineers providing a variety of services. The new contracts have allowed many engineering graduates to begin their careers working on electric utility assignments. He earned his PMP certificate from the Project Management Institute and CCM certification from the Construction Management Association.
Grew firm’s largest market
39, Vice President, Business Development & Marketing
San Jose, Calif.
Scott joined Blach Construction in 2004 and today leads the company’s business development and marketing pursuits for corporate, education, institutional and mixed-use sectors as one of the firm’s youngest vice presidents.
Prior to her current role, Scott led project teams and client relationships as Blach’s director of education services. The firm credits her for being “single-handedly” responsible for growth in this sector, which is the company’s largest market, accounting for roughly 80% of annual revenue.
Colleagues say she is passionate about finding solutions to cost escalation and scheduling. Additionally, as an expert on design-build, Scott assists school districts with delivery methods that work with district budgets and timelines.
Scott participates in community organizations, including the California Association for School Business Officials, where she serves on the Northern Section chapter board, the Community College League of California and California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing.
Translating business success into helping others
38, CEO and Founder
Combining experience working in the construction trades for residential specialty contractors with know-how from his previous job as a research associate in the investments group of Brandes Investment Partners, Slager knew that the construction industry had technology gaps—particularly for workers in the field. Inspired to solve that problem, he spent a year developing an application to make construction workers more productive while also leading to more efficiency in the office and the C-suite.
Five years later, his company serves clients in 92 countries, with his company’s service used on more than 350,000 projects. After raising $10 million in funding in 2018, he introduced an offline mode that lets users save information when they are not connected to the internet as well as a Spanish language function for everything on the app.
Slager translates business success into helping others through his involvement with Habitat for Humanity; Fresh Start, a group that helps fund surgeries for children born with disabilities; and the Defy Ventures program, which trains incarcerated individuals in business skills and entrepreneurship to prepare them for life outside prison.
Magna cum laude engineering graduate
Geosyntec Consultants Inc.
Culver City, Calif.
While studying at UCLA, Wessel graduated magna cum laude from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and earned a master’s degree with a focus on water resources engineering. In 2010, he joined Geosyntec Consultants as a staff engineer working on green infrastructure design and planning, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling for watershed planning and compliance-driven support for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
At Geosyntec, Wessel has established himself as a valuable engineer adept at helping clients navigate the complex regulatory environment of Los Angeles. He was the primary author of technical content in the city of Los Angeles’ groundbreaking LID Handbook, which established user-friendly guidance for low-impact development throughout the city. He also managed the Stormwater Infrastructure Master Plan as part of Los Angeles’ One Water LA Project
Wessel is currently Geosyntec’s project manager for environmental on-call services for Los Angeles World Airports as well as for the optimization of eight Proposition O projects for the City of Los Angeles. Last year, he became one of the youngest principals in the history of Geosyntec.
Born construction leader
39, Vice President and District Manager
Yohnke grew up around construction and by his early 20s he was vice president of his family’s business, honing his skills as an estimator and project manager. He moved on to PCL, where he began as a field engineer and advanced to project manager within six months. Three months later, he transferred to Edmonton, Alberta, as manager of special projects. Soon, he became the youngest district manager for PCL’s Saskatoon branch in Saskatchewan. There, he helped launch Canada’s Young Leaders in Infrastructure as a founding board member and established educational and networking opportunities for young professionals.
After 14 years with PCL, he was recently named district manager for the firm’s Los Angeles office in the company’s fast-growing district and was also named to the position of vice president.
Yohnke serves as PCL’s social media steering committee chair and also serves on the company’s performance management committee, where he advocates for redefining how employee performance is viewed and rewarded.