These young leaders—the 2021 class of ENR Midwest’s Top Young Professionals—are making a positive impact not only on construction, but on their broader communities as well.
They include a civil engineer that worked in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and has planned and designed some of the longest airport runways in the world. An energy expert who co-authored a plan for the state of Missouri. A project executive that started his career as a laborer and now is leading construction of a 9,000-sq-ft arena for the city of Savannah. A telecom expert who completed her associate’s degree and pursued a bachelor’s degree while forging a path to her current position as principal of telecom engineering at her firm. And a director of special projects who lost a friend in a workplace shooting and is studying psychology to be a colleague other employees can confide in.
Their wide range of expertise and their commitment to the industry should guarantee that the future of the Midwest’s construction industry is in good hands.
While the honorees are anchored in the Midwest, their work has taken them to many places far beyond its borders including New York, Florida, Georgia, California, Canada and a wide swath of the Middle East. Their work, be it an airport terminal, bridge, sports arena or residential apartment building, is not just aimed at improving the built environment but also provides myriad benefits such as saving energy, purifying water and creating paths for cities to become more sustainable.
To select the winners, ENR tapped into the expertise of three outstanding industry professional who are all former Top Young Professionals: Kimberly Moore, president and founder of KDM Engineering in Chicago; Mani Golparvar-Fard, associate professor at the University of Illinois and CTO and co-founder of Reconstruct; and Ryan Moss, project director of the Washington University in St. Louis campus reconstruction for McCarthy Building Cos. Judges recused themselves from voting if a candidate was from their firm or presented any other conflict of interest.
Young superintendent leads on high-profile sports projects
Mary Adams’ passion for construction hearkens back to middle school, when she was inspired by a math and science camp to pursue a career in engineering. She attended Clarkson University, where she studied civil engineering, and, at just 25, moved to San Francisco to work on the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center, where she led site logistics and a team of 50 responsible for the installation of luxury suites and theater boxes—three of the most sophisticated floors in the $1.4-billion arena. Her next move was to Las Vegas, where she led commissioning and testing of all MEP and life safety systems at Allegiant Stadium, driving the complicated project to on-time completion.
Gilbane Building Co.
Team player succeeds by focusing on clients’ core values
Being part of a team is rewarding for Scott Bindel, a project executive who understands construction and has the technical expertise to successfully deliver high-quality, safe projects.
Since joining Gilbane in 2005, Bindel has been a team member on 14 key projects in northeast Ohio worth more than $1 billion in construction costs and totaling 4.2 million sq ft. As a project executive, Bindel currently manages a team of 11, with varying experience levels from construction interns to senior general superintendents. For the last several years, Bindel has been leading construction of The Lumen at Playhouse Square, a 597,000-sq-ft, 34-story residential tower in downtown Cleveland. The use of advanced planning and scheduling techniques have allowed the team to put the final 34th floor in place one-and-half weeks early, reduce manpower and establish various high-rise safety protocols.
Bindel thrives on building long-lasting relationships with clients by focusing on project-specific plans that are driven by their core values.
Mara M. Braselton
Expert in structural steel connections
Kansas City, Mo.
Working internally with Thornton Tomasetti’s structural engineers to design steel connections for the firm’s most complex steel projects, Mara Braselton bridges the gap between design and construction through innovative ways to deliver projects.
Braselton participates in all phases of design projects and is responsible for structural analysis and design, coordination with project architects, construction administration and production of structural drawings.
Braselton joined Thornton Tomasetti in 2006 and has been involved in such projects as U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The new Yankee Stadium has signature steel-supported features that include a 500-ft-wide scoreboard/video board with cantilevered end bays and suite-level and upper-deck seating that cantilevers 50 ft beyond the main level concourse, creating unobstructed views.
Braselton has honed her understanding of fabrication standards, complex connection details for intricate load paths and constructibility issues.
Braselton also believes in mentoring younger colleagues and is part of the firm’s internal Women@TT mentoring team and a member of the community of practice governing board. She is also a member of the knowledge management committee, which is the governing body for all of the firm’s communities of practice.
Architect wins in sports arena
Kansas City, Mo.
Jason Carmello’s passion for sports is playing out in a big way throughout the country. He has participated in more than $2.5 billion worth of arena design and construction during his 14-year career.
Highlights from Carmello’s career include PPG Paints Arena (formerly CONSOL Energy Center) in Pittsburgh, Centre Videotron in Quebec City and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. He is currently the lead project architect for UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.—the future home of the New York Islanders.
Another major project in Carmello’s portfolio is Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, the future home of the Seattle Kraken NHL team. The structure is slated to become the world’s first net-zero-certified arena and serve as a new standard for sporting venue sustainability.
Carmello joined Populous in 2007 and has taken on key roles in all phases of project delivery, including project planning, architectural design, consultant coordination and onsite construction administration.
“My favorite part of my job is the teaching component. Both of my parents were teachers, so I enjoy opportunities to help guide our team and pass along knowledge.” – JASON CARMELLO, 37, Principal/Architect, Populous
Transportation BIM Program Manager
Nationally recognized leader at the forefront of BIM in the transportation industry
An expert in BIM, Connor Christian has been working with digital twins of projects since he created his first model in 2003. In addition to developing virtual models of projects using advanced 3D software, Christian uses models to manage the design and construction process, leading to more efficient and effective project delivery and more accurate as-built information.
Being at the forefront of BIM is critical for the transportation industry as it begins a paradigm shift from 2D plans to signed and sealed 3D BIM model contractual deliverables and open data standards.
As BIM program manager for HDR’s global transportation business group, he has been the principal adviser on many of the company’s most complex BIM projects in transportation, including the high-profile Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, AASHTO BIM for Bridges and Structures Pooled Fund Study and the ongoing Ontario Line Subway Technical Advisory Services, which is one of the largest projects in North America.
Christian also has implemented BIM at the agency level, where he has led efforts for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation (PennDOT) and the New York State DOT. He combines practical knowledge and the ability to understand digital information at the programming level to find the best technology solutions for his clients.
Christian is among a handful of recognized subject matter experts in BIM for Infrastructure and is a frequent presenter at conferences, including the International Highway Engineering Exchange Program and the TRB Annual Meeting.
“I am lucky enough to have a role in helping solve the application of technology issue for both my clients and my own company.” – CONNOR CHRISTIAN, 38, Transportation BIM Manager, HDR
Principal Telecommunication Engineering
Telecommunications pro climbs career ladder
Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Leslie Freeman, who joined the WT Group in 2007 as a drafter, has experienced a meteoric career rise. Her first promotion was to head drafter on more than 400 site audit projects. Less than two years later, Freeman was promoted to project manager, responsible for more than 2,000 communication sites. Freeman helped to create and manage a new WT Group division, the renewable energy division.
Freeman’s career ascent continued when she was named national director of DAS (a network of distributed antennas), special projects and director of production for WT Group’s Telecommunication Engineering. During 2014, Freeman invoiced more than $1.2 million in high-profile projects, and in 2016, she was made principal of WT Group’s Telecommunication Engineering practice.
Freeman helps to manage three WT Group offices in Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas and oversees 60 employees. She believes in helping employees drive their professional growth by shifting work responsibilities and roles so that team members can focus on areas they are passionate about.
Freeman is also credited with promoting a cultural change at the company and personally wrote new processes and employee-focused rules and guidelines intended to promote a workplace that values happy and healthy employees.
“Telecom is a very male-dominated industry. I have had to learn that confidence is the key to being looked at as an equal in the field.” – LESLIE FREEMAN, 37, Principal, Telecommunications Engineering, WT Group
Gilbane Building Co.
Expertise in architecture and construction management
Trained as an architect, Bridgette Gimpert thought developing an understanding of construction management would give her an edge, and she’s been right about that.
During her 12-year career, Gimpert has risen rapidly through several roles. She is a licensed architect, a LEED Accredited Professional and has completed OSHA 30 training. Gimpert got her start at Harley Ellis Devereaux, where she worked in such market sectors as higher education, health care, residential, high-rise, mixed-use, senior housing and civic.
Gimpert was the LEED AP lead on the Chicago Public Library and lead project architect on the Harold Washington College science department build-out in Chicago. Gimpert was the first person in the Harley Ellis Devereaux office to be accredited as LEED AP and held seminars on the steps needed to gain a specialty.
In 2014, Gimpert joined Gilbane Building Co. and currently is project manager for the Adlai E. Stevenson High School net-zero renovation; she is overseeing construction of a field house and fitness center.
She takes seriously the goals of mentoring and increasing diversity in the building industry. Prior to the pandemic, she developed a plan to host sketching outings, mentoring sessions and field trips for young people interested in the industry.
“We’ve got amazing staff out here. I’ve got a couple of female engineers working their way up. I enjoy helping and being a mentor to them. It’s nice not being the only girl on the jobsite, for once.” – BRIDGETTE GIMPERT, 37, Project Manager, Gilbane Building Co.
Senior Construction Manager
Anser Advisory LLC
Rare mix of soft and technical skills
Working with the marketing department on about 100 requests for proposals and statements of qualifications a year, Matthew Holdren displays a mix of soft skills and technical expertise. He earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA while working full-time as a contractor’s foreman. His previous experience includes stints with the Ohio cities of Westerville and Gahanna. As a project manager, his work has included roadway widening and reconstructions as well as trail, water, storm, sanitary, fiber optic and traffic signal improvements.
Holdren has maintained a track record of ensuring projects are delivered to high quality standards, which has resulted in the retention of repeat clients.
He was promoted within three years at Anser Advisory from a project manager I to the central Ohio regional manager. In that role, he has streamlined operations, retained and attracted clients, and developed staff. Holdren has helped prioritize safety training programs, contributed to lunch-and-learns to address field construction issues and knowledge, and has helped to organize and create study guides for employees to pursue numerous certifications and accreditations.
Senior Integrated Construction Manager
Leader in BIM and VDC
Joel Jacobson’s expertise in BIM and virtual design and construction technology (VDC), along with his planning and leadership skills, have propelled him to Mortenson’s largest, most high-profile projects. Jacobson earned his BArch degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology while also holding jobs as a labor foreman and carpentry and finishing trade contractor.
After joining Mortenson, Jacobson led the BIM/VDC coordination on the $1.9-billion Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. His management of the project’s 3D model served as the single source of truth for hundreds of team members charged with delivering the largest design-build stadium project under the tightest schedule in NFL history. With so many people of different disciplines and experience relying on this technology, Jacobson developed six interactive dashboards to visually translate information into actionable data that was easy to digest and share—and in a manner that was accessible, reliable and intuitive to deploy.
“Allegiant Stadium had hundreds of stakeholders who leveraged 3D model information to facilitate a safer, higher quality, on-time and onbudget project.” – JOEL JACOBSON, 39, Senior Integrated Construction Manager, Mortenson
Senior Consultant AECOM
A champion for America’s cities
Katrina Lewis’ career was sparked in 2013 when she began her graduate studies at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. She focused on economics, policy, climate science and energy technologies while also taking on several other roles including one as an energy and sustainability consultant for the Inova Energy Group, which led to her co-authoring the Missouri State Energy Plan.
After graduating in 2015, Lewis took her expertise to AECOM and now leads the company’s smart energy team, which researches and implements smart city and resilience initiatives around the U.S.
While at AECOM, Lewis has managed and led teams of technical experts to create key strategic municipal plans including the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda, Detroit Strategic Plan for Technology & Data, Resilient Chicago, Seattle-Future City: Resilience Roadmap and Boston Smart Utilities Vision.
These plans recognize the need for pursuing integrated approaches to the complex challenges facing American cities today. Integration is a concept Lewis has championed and pushed forward over the last seven years.
Senior Project Manager
Ryan Cos. US
Senior project manager oversees transformational projects
Des Moines, Iowa
As a senior project manager, Lewton oversees jobs from start to finish with responsibility for design assist/constructibility review, preconstruction, value engineering, owner relationship management and overall management of the schedule and budget.
Lewton is responsible for permitting, construction activities and subcontractor negotiations. He enjoys guiding customers through the construction process and is recognized for the clarity of his communications.
Since joining Ryan Cos., Lewton has been involved in many noteworthy projects throughout Iowa and beyond. Under his leadership, Ryan completed an extensive renovation of American Enterprise Group’s mid-century landmark office building in downtown Des Moines. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the project was one of the first mid-century renovations to qualify for State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service tax credits.
Lewton led the transformation of a two-block area of Des Moines’ historic East Village, where he played a key role in the construction of 111 E. Grand, a six-story commercial/residential mixed-use building, the first speculative office building to be constructed in downtown Des Moines in more than a decade. It is the first modern mass timber building built in the state and the first dowel laminated timber (DLT) multistory office building in North America.
Lewton is a past participant of Ryan Cos.’ emerging leaders program, which aims to identify and enhance the professional growth of future leaders.
“[In 2020] we strengthened our commitment to our field teams by providing additional resources and continuous communication while balancing the health and safety of everyone involved.” – JONATHAN LEWTON , 38, Senior Project Manager, Ryan Cos. US
Matzek leads massive growth for company
St. Paul, Minn.
William Matzek is leaving a long-lasting imprint on the Twin Cities region. As a senior associate for Kimley-Horn, he provides consulting expertise on a variety of project types including prominent mixed-use developments, multifamily residential, single family residential, retail, hospitality, entertainment, health care, industrial, office, K-12 education, higher education and renewable energy.
At Kimley-Horn, which he joined in 2009, Matzek leads a 35-person team and has helped grow the office to more than 200 professionals from 60. In addition, under his watch the firm’s development services practice has grown to more than $11 million in sales annually from $450,000.
Matzek and his team have designed and completed more than 600 projects, including approximately 14.5 million sq ft of commercial development and more than 8,000 residential units throughout Minnesota.
Matzek’s influence also extends outside of the Twin Cities. He leads Kimley-Horn’s national e-commerce last mile practice and the firm’s Canada practice. He is also helping to drive the firm’s national growth as a member of the market sector team—a group of leaders who fashioned Kimley-Horn’s five-year growth strategy.
Project executive’s municipal work stands out
Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Nicole McElroy’s résumé reads like a list of high-profile municipal projects throughout the Chicago area. It includes the Glen Ellyn Police Department, West Chicago Park District ARC Center, Hanover Park Police Headquarters, Aurora Police Headquarters and Branch Court Facility as well as the Will County Sheriff’s Facility currently under construction.
Her career began as an intern for Group A Architects. She then joined Leopardo, where she advanced from intern to project engineer, director of business development, project manager, senior project manager and now project executive. In her current role, she leads, manages and coordinates all phases of large and/or multiple projects from business development support and preconstruction to construction execution and closeout.
She also coordinates preconstruction responsibilities, communicates with the project team, establishes detailed master schedules, identifies critical dates affecting project completion, monitors schedules, conducts weekly meetings and administers all owner, consultant and subcontractor contracts.
Vice President-Project Executive
McCarthy Building Cos.
B.J. Peterson likes a challenge—the bigger the better. Peterson joined McCarthy in 2011 as a project engineer and is currently managing the $268-million Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility project, the largest infrastructure project in the history of Johnson County, Kansas. The project involves construction of a 19 million-gallon-per-day wastewater treatment plant with capacity to treat up to 192 MGD of wet weather flows. It includes decommissioning and demolition of the existing 7-MGD treatment plant. Peterson also managed the $130-million Sioux Falls Water Reclamation Facility project expansion in Sioux Falls, S.D. The project is a 12-MGD facility expansion aimed at increasing plant capacity to 30 MGD with a 60-MGD peak.
Principal, Civil Engineering Department Manager
Burns & McDonnell
Engineer’s career soars with focus on aviation
Kansas City, Mo.
In a career spanning just 16 years, Kyle Roberts has worked on five continents and in more than 15 countries. He has worked in Iraq in 2006 and 2018 and in Afghanistan in 2007. Roberts has also worked at the edge of the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the Arabian Desert in Saudi Arabia and the Empty Quarter Desert in the United Arab Emirates as well as in the U.K., Australia and Guam, supporting projects for U.S. military collaboration with foreign allies.
Since graduating from the University of Nebraska in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and from the University of Kansas in 2009 with a master’s in engineering management, Roberts has focused on the aviation and federal industries, having served a variety of clients for airfield and facility projects. Roberts joined Burns & McDonnell in 2004 in the roles of civil engineer, master planner, project manager and currently as civil department manager for the aviation and federal group, which is one of the largest civil engineering teams at the firm. In 2020, he was promoted to the company’s principal group, a senior leadership designation achieved by less than 2% of employees. During his high-flying career, Roberts has designed critical infrastructure solutions for some of the U.S. Air Force’s major weapons systems, including the F-15, F-16, F-22 and F-35 programs.
Five of the runways he has planned and designed are among the 150 longest in the world. He has nearly 30 direct reports, with more than 90 staff reporting to him across nine office locations.
Champion for women in the construction industry
For the first time in Kiewit’s 136-year history, a woman received the company’s prestigious Peter Kiewit Award. Recognizes a manager who exemplifies the company’s commitment to excellence in all aspects of project management, the award was given to Pegah Skarsgard for her leadership and involvement in the AES Southland Project that replaced existing plants to help contribute to California’s clean energy goal of reducing emission rates by nearly 50%. Together, the company reports that Alamitos Energy Center and the Huntington Beach Energy Project have the capacity to power 1.9 million homes with clean and efficient natural gas.
Skarsgard ran the air-cooled condenser (ACC) group, which worked closely with the ACC vendor on constructibility efforts to beat budget and schedule for these projects. The ACC installation outdid Kiewit records on both cost and schedule and also produced the best worker-hour-per-cell rate in the company’s history. Skarsgard also influenced the ACC vendors to improve their design and efficiency.
Skarsgard has been part of some of Kiewit’s largest projects, supporting more than $3.5 billion worth of work across the U.S. and Canada. During her 11-year career, Skarsgard is also credited with making a significant impact both on the job and within the industry. Skarsgard is regularly involved in various engineering and construction events centered around empowering women in the industry. She led a women’s group focused on overcoming the challenge of being a woman in the construction industry and has taught local junior high and high school students about engineering.
Clark Construction Group
Executive leads largest infrastructure project in Kansas City history
Kansas City, Mo.
Chris Smith’s interest in the construction industry started when he worked as a teen for his father’s electrical company. That experience gave him hands-on knowledge of the construction process and a perspective that still informs his work today.
Smith currently is lead superintendent overseeing construction of the single terminal at the Kansas City International Airport, a $1.26-billion project that is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history.
In recognition of his previous efforts serving as lead superintendent on the $230-million University of Kansas Central District Development project, Smith was promoted to construction executive in August 2019 while on the 1-million-sq-ft terminal KCI project. Smith is directly responsible for 400 crew, a number that continues to grow and will reach 1,500 at its peak.
Smith is a graduate of Clark’s Mid-Atlantic field development group. Smith is also a graduate of Clark’s business unit leadership development (BUiLD) program that prepares managers to take the next step in becoming company executives.
He is currently enrolled in executive MBA training at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
Joel Vande Boom
Director of Special Projects-Midwest
Special director delivers special projects
Gilbane Building Co.
After successfully completing more than 200 special projects at M.A. Mortenson Construction, Joel Vande Boom brought his skills and experience to Gilbane Building Co. in 2015 and now leads the special project group (SPG).
Since the group’s inception in 2016, Vande Boom has grown it from one employee to a team of more than 30 multidisciplinary professionals. Vande Boom has also trained and mentored more than 80 individuals and overseen a rise in revenue and fees of 25% to 30% each year.
His team spans the Midwest, working with such clients as Apple, CBRE, JLL, Fifth Third Bank, Bank of America, Dell and WeWork, and supports numerous national customer agreements. Each SPG project has a 20% diversity and inclusion goal and continually supports small and local M/WBE firms in the Midwest.
Vande Boom has a passion for mental health awareness that stems from an active shooter incident that happened in September 2018 at the Fifth Third Center in Cincinnati. Vande Boom lost a friend and co-worker, Rick Newcomer, prompting him to reflect and focus on work/life balance. He also is studying psychology so he can be someone for his colleagues to confide in.
Certified Planner, Senior Vice President and Central Region Manager
Planning expertise helps manager understand big picture
Joseph Willhite isn’t an engineer by training, but he strives to develop and convey to his team a big picture view of the motivations and drivers behind transportation infrastructure projects.
Willhite has profit and loss responsibility for the transportation business from Ohio/Kentucky to Nebraska (east to west) and Minnesota to Arkansas (north to south).
Willhite is responsible for leading business decisions and performance for clients in the highway/bridge, rail and transit, aviation, maritime and tunneling markets. He is skilled in project planning and prioritization and is charged with setting up operations to effectively deliver solutions with multidisciplinary teams.
Throughout his career, Willhite has displayed an ability to work with diverse teams and to lead through personal influence and with a clarity of vision. Willhite directly manages the business development and operations for the region—the largest geographic area at WSP in the U.S.—and works directly with his area manager reports who lead the client engagement and project delivery in each state.
A couple of his career highlights include being design principal for the Texas DOT (TxDOT) Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Connector, an 8.4-mile section of the reconstruction and expansion of State Highway 114/121. Willhite has also served as project manager for long-range planning for the Austin I-35 Corridor Development, one of the most important corridors in the state of Texas in terms of future growth and economic development.
Willhite attributes his success to his ability to understand issues, relate to and understand the firm’s people and clients, and provide effective planning, design and program management solutions.
“A former client told me that for every 10 engineers we have one planner. It’s an adjacent field so I just sort of organically ended up at an engineering firm doing planning work.” – JOSEPH WILLHITE, 38, Certified Planner, Senior Vice President and Central Region Manager, WSP USA
Project executive scores with arena projects
Persistence has paid off for Patrick Wipperman, who began his career at AECOM Hunt as a laborer and has worked his way up to his current role as a project executive. Along the way, he earned a degree in building construction management from Purdue University.
Today, he is leading the construction of a 9,000-seat arena project for the city of Savannah, which is slated to open in the first quarter of 2022. As the onsite, day-to-day executive, Wipperman’s responsibilities include communicating directly with the client/owner, program manager and architect to keep them informed of progress and performance. In addition, he manages site safety, site logistics, cost management, contract management/execution and QA/QC.
Wipperman’s other projects include the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic; Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts; and the Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds.
Dedicated to improving processes, continuing his education and providing mentorship within AECOM Hunt, Wipperman has also served on steering committees aimed at strengthening policies related to hiring/recruiting, cost management programs and construction management programs.
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