The ENR Texas and Louisiana 2021 class of Top Young Professionals includes a diverse group of engineers, project managers, architects and executives that represent numerous facets of the construction industry.
This year’s competition was highly competitive, making the selection process difficult. Judges reviewed nearly 70 entries before selecting the final list of 20.
These talented up-and-comers all exhibit a commitment to serving the AEC sector as well as their local communities through their work in the field and beyond, making their mark both professionally and personally.
This year’s judges included Lauren Harrell, marketing communications specialist at ABC of Greater Houston; Jing Johnson, president of Prism Renderings; Claire Obgartel, vice president of workforce development at ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter; Tim Pach, senior project manager with Stanley Consultants and a 2020 ENR National Top 20 Under 40 winner; Natalie Pagano, director of marketing and communication at Manhattan Construction Group; Jennifer Snape, owner and managing partner at Batture LLC and a 2020 ENR National Top 20 Under 40 winner; and Silky Wong, lead civil/structural engineer - technical expertise and support at Dow and a 2019 ENR National Top 20 Under 40 winner.
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, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. They also must be under age 40 at the time nominations were due. Companies could nominate multiple people, and individuals could also nominate themselves.
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.
Congratulations to this year’s Top Young Pros!
39, Project Manager
A Texas A&M graduate, Axen has spent the last 15 years working in the field of transportation engineering. He has built a portfolio focused on project management, design, construction and maintenance through his roles as a TxDOT engineer and a project manager for BGE. Axen is known for his ability to visualize projects from start to finish and for overcoming challenges to keep them moving time and again.
Axen is currently serving as project manager on the largest design-bid-build project in Texas, the $341-million I-35 4B project in Waco. He coordinates the activities of BGE’s onsite construction management team, working alongside TxDOT inspection staff. He also served as deputy project manager on the state’s largest design-build project, SH 360 in Fort Worth, for which BGE was general engineering consultant.
Axen enjoys giving back to the communities where he lives and works. He is president of the Villages of Park Hill HOA, serves as a commissioner for the City of Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission and is a board member of the City of Mansfield Construction Codes Board of Adjustments and Appeals.
Anser Advisory LLC
Carruthers provides management consulting, program management, construction management and agency construction management to owners and end users of infrastructure.
A graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, Carruthers has founded three companies in the A/E industry over the past decade and has been involved with more than $50 billion in capital projects and programs.
As CEO of Anser Advisory, he is currently overseeing $40 billion in capital projects. As of June 2020, Anser is the 15th-largest project management firm in the U.S., according to ENR, and the second-fastest growing firm in the A/E industry, according to the 2020 Zweig Group Hot List.
Carruthers serves on the University of Colorado College of Engineering advisory board and has been a Colorado School of Mines senior capstone project judge. He is a board of trustees member of the Austin Waldorf School and volunteers at Doull Elementary. Carruthers was also a founding donor to establish the Washington, D.C., fellowship at the Colorado School of Mines, a program that provides a stipend for students who intern in public policy.
34, Municipal Services & Sustainability Team Lead
A University of Texas civil engineering graduate and Envision Sustainability Professional, Chaney promotes sustainable ideas for project designs and develops programs that enable RPS to practice what it preaches.
Many of Chaney’s projects feature low impact design elements, like the Conrad Sauer Detention Basin, which converted a concrete bottom drainage feature into a community amenity with walkways for recreation and a bridge for vehicular and pedestrian access. She has managed and designed numerous bike trails to provide alternative transportation options and contributed to the design of the award-winning North Houston Skate Park and Dylan Park, which feature bioswales, gray-water irrigation, solar lighting, vegetated erosion controls and pervious walkway materials.
In addition to managing a team of engineers and designers in the office, she is also involved in several professional organizations to expand and share her knowledge base. This has included working with younger members and students through the American Society of Civil Engineering and serving in a variety of ASCE leadership roles.
She serves on the design standards/plan review committee of the American Council of Engineering Companies Houston Chapter. She has also presented to county personnel on the Envision program and participated in the development of the 2020 Houston Climate Action Plan and 2019 Incentives for Green Development plan.
38, President and Principal Engineer
Kenall Geo LLC
As the geotechnical engineer-of-record, Chikyala has worked on several high-profile projects such as the $7-billion North Houston Highway Improvements project, the award-winning TexRAIL Segment 4, TexRAIL Station B and the IAH Terminal C project. He has been inducted into the ASCE Academy of Geo-Professionals as a diplomat in geotechnical engineering, the highest certification a geotechnical engineer can receive.
Chikyala was one of 60 students selected by the government of India as part of a gifted rural school student scholarship program. He received a full scholarship for undergraduate studies from Telangana State in India and holds a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Chikyala helped to build the geotechnical practice at his previous employer from less than $1 million to $4 million. An advocate for safe and innovative value-engineering practices, he saved several million dollars in soil treatment work for the DFW Airport Terminal F extension project and is one of very few engineers in Houston who uses absorption swells to predict shrink-swell potential of expansive soils.
He served on the board of directors at the North Houston Association and participates in cycling events that support fundraising programs in the local community.
40, Executive Vice President
Embree Construction Group
Delz oversees a staff of 150 construction professionals working on projects from $100,000 to more than $20 million. They range from full site-development ground-up projects to open remodels for Fortune 500 companies. A graduate of Texas A&M, Delz began his 15-year career with Embree as an assistant project manager and is now the firm’s executive vice president.
Focused on continuous process improvement, Delz leads a team of vice presidents who meet weekly to identify construction industry methodologies that continue to push the company’s toolbox and its employees to greater success. This translates to his long-standing relationships with several national clients across various industries.
Landmark projects include the completion of six micro hospitals in Kansas and Indiana and more than 100 Raising Canes restaurants throughout the U.S.
Delz plays a key role in recruiting, training, developing and retaining new talent. He also helps identify university students with an interest in the construction science field. Potential interns and new hires are identified and mentored under his direction.
Delz leads Embree’s efforts to organize local food drives and blood drives and supports the firm’s partnership with several organizations, including Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club.
Dedra A. Ecklund
39, Project Manager
Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc.
Ecklund’s civil engineering career has focused on the management and design of water and wastewater systems for public entities. A Texas A&M graduate, she has designed or managed more than 50 projects ranging in construction cost from $150,000 to $200 million for several cities and entities in Texas, including Houston, Missouri City, Pearland, Kendleton, Harris County and the San Jacinto River Authority.
Ecklund currently serves as the deputy project manager and technical adviser for the Southeast Transmission Line, which will transmit 75 million gallons of surface water per day to eight cities and water authorities.
At LAN, Ecklund manages a team of five licensed professionals and engineers-in-training. She has also served as the instructor for a sanitary sewer rehabilitation training program at LAN and has presented on sanitary sewer rehabilitation for the last three years. Ecklund attends plant visits and arranges tours with her team to Northwest Pipe, where she helps her engineers gain valuable knowledge on pipe material selection, construction methods and pipe manufacturing processes.
In addition, Ecklund created a program that encourages engineers to become comfortable with public speaking, and she also organizes monthly team-building exercises for her colleagues.
Ecklund is the diversity committee co-chair for the Texas section of American Water Works Association and serves as a mentor to engineers entering the industry.
Hudson began his career in 2004 as an associate at Architects-Plus while completing his master’s degree in architecture at the University of Houston. He is a founding partner and principal at Method Architecture, a fast-growing firm with offices in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.
Hudson led the 2017 acquisition of a public-focused firm in Austin and is the partner at Method responsible for keeping the firm on the forefront of new trends and technologies. He also serves as the partner advocate for an internal Method workgroup responsible for peer learning initiatives, mentorship and training.
Born and raised in Houston, Hudson says his community has been essential to his growth on both a personal and professional level. He serves as adviser for the Small Scale Development Council of the Urban Land Institute (Houston chapter); is a board member and governance chair of the University of Houston College of Architecture alumni committee; and serves on the research and education committee of the Austin Real Estate Council.
Method Architecture has donated more than $300,000 in architectural services to local nonprofits such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Creative Dreams Outreach Center, the Houston Food Bank and Austin’s Zilker Outdoor Theater.
Dennis M. Hymel Jr.
35, Transportation Practice Lead
T. Baker Smith LLC
Hymel’s interest in civil engineering began at an early age when he worked for his father’s civil construction business. A graduate of Louisiana State University, he has spent his career focused on projects in the transportation industry. Hymel is a certified bridge inspector and leads the TBS bridge inspection team, serving as engineer-of-record and project manager on more than 20 bridge replacement projects.
Hymel led the challenging environmental assessment effort for a $150-million interchange at the Louis Armstrong International Airport and is currently managing the $55-million I-12 Interstate widening project and 47 bridge replacements.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, Hymel volunteered with his local fire department to rescue stranded residents from their flooded homes. He later joined the volunteer fire department as a certified first responder.
During the Great Flood of 2016, which devastated South Louisiana, he and a team of local fire department members were deployed to surrounding communities in Central and Baton Rouge, La. They used their personal boats to conduct water rescues for nearly a week, moving hundreds of people to safety. Hymel continues to serve the fire department as a captain, engine operator and training instructor.
31, Senior Design Studio Manager
Originally from Pullman, Wash., Johnson earned a BFA in interior design from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. She launched her career as an interior and furniture designer and project manager in Manhattan. She is now the senior interior designer and senior studio design manager at NANO, where she manages all of the designers.
Johnson has transformed the budgeting, scheduling and billing processes at NANO into a more user-friendly and standardized system that has drastically improved the company’s level of efficiency. She also consults with the firm’s executives in hiring new staff, expanding NANO’s definitions of internal roles and responsibilities and positioning the firm for future growth.
An advocate for social equity, anti-racism and intersectional environmentalism, Johnson recently established a task force focused on how NANO can work to become an ally for minorities in the AEC industry.
Johnson is a member of the New Orleans chapters of the AIA and IFMA, a volunteer for the Women Build for the New Orleans Habitat for Humanity and a member of the AIA New Orleans 2030 climate challenge committee, which is engaging with local firms to pursue the reduction of carbon-based emissions in their projects through the AIA’s 2030 Commitment.
28, Project Manager
Karsten Interior Services
After graduating from the University of Texas, Karsten returned home to embark on a career in construction at Karsten Interior Services. She had spent summers and holidays working part-time at the firm and growing up in the industry was helpful in many aspects. Mastering drywall dimensions and assemblies was initially a challenge that she worked to overcome by spending endless days on Karsten jobsites. Her effort paid off, and she has managed some of firm’s largest, most challenging projects, including the Houston Center Repositioning, Bellaire High School and Amegy Restack.
Karsten serves on the She Builds It Committee of the American Subcontractors Association and is a resource for connecting and mentoring women in the construction industry. She co-chairs the ASA Business Development peer group and mentors students through Karsten’s internship program. She has assisted with the coordination of multiple job walks, leading groups of 20-30 high school students through active jobsites to experience the vast array of career possibilities in the commercial construction industry.
She is part of the AGC Houston Chapter construction leadership council and a graduate of the ABC Leadership Forum, an intensive 10-week program designed to develop and enhance leadership qualities.
Mary Elizabeth Mach
39, Oklahoma Water Team Leader
Mach manages a team tasked with ensuring the practicality and sustainability of Oklahoma’s water supply. A visionary leader, she has been involved in some of Garver’s significant projects dedicated to the upkeep of Oklahoma’s water and wastewater systems.
Mach holds a bachelor’s degree in biosystems engineering from Oklahoma State University and a master’s in environmental engineering from the University of Oklahoma. She was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt to the 12-member Water Quality Management Advisory Council, which provides recommendations to the Oklahoma Environmental Quality Board on rules governing water quality.
One of her key contributions has been leading teams that evaluate the effectiveness of technologies in the removal of compounds like arsenic and nitrate from groundwater. She helped develop the state’s first arsenic-removal technology implementation.
Mach serves on the OSU biosystems advisory board and is involved in Suit Up, an OU event that helps students purchase professional attire for job interviews. She also provides mentoring to young engineers through outreach programs and guest lectures at both universities. She has also facilitated engineering-focused STEM events for elementary and middle school students through Garver’s $85,000 investment in 16 schools throughout the state.
Samantha Raburn Markham
31, Senior Associate, Project Architect
Markham’s career at Stantec began with a summer internship while she pursued her master’s degree in architecture at Louisiana Tech. Upon graduating, she was hired to provide design and project management services for K-12 and higher education clients.
In 2018, she became one of the youngest associates in the firm. A couple of her key projects include Gunn Junior High School in Arlington, Texas, and Bradfield Elementary School in University Park, Texas.
Markham has a passion for mentoring aspiring architects and played a key role in developing a robust summer internship program that has grown to encompass all four of Stantec’s Texas design offices. Due to the program’s statewide success, Markham worked with firm leadership in 2020 to expand its reach and is helping lead the virtual North American Buildings internship program. The summer program has 23 interns representing four disciplines across 13 offices in the U.S. and Canada.
Markham is an active member of AIA Dallas and serves as chapter director for the Texas Society of Architects. She is also co-founder of the Plano/Frisco chapter of the Dallas/Fort Worth ACE Mentor affiliate, which awards more than $30,000 in scholarships each year to enterprising high school graduates.
32, Associate Partner
Dedicated to the planning and design of health care projects, Mitchell’s portfolio includes a variety of work, from complicated renovations to new large hospital construction. As the project manager of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s new Biocontainment Unit, he led the design team through extensive research and design considerations to create one of the country’s largest multipurposed Biosafety Level 3 units. He has managed more than 685,000 sq ft of projects, including work for Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston Methodist Hospital System, Memorial Hermann Health System, Valor Healthcare and UTMB-Galveston.
Mitchell graduated from Texas Tech University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. He joined PhiloWilke Partnership while continuing his studies through the Texas Tech University practicum program, which allowed him to gain real-life experience while working toward his master’s in architecture.
Mitchell also mentors a diverse group of young design professionals, coaching them on the technical aspects of architecture, design principles and professional development. He was the team lead for PhiloWilke’s 2016 Canstruction sculpture “Meal of Fortune,” a 6,400-plus can sculpture that helped create 4,000 meals for the Houston Food Bank. He has also completed multiple mission trips to Africa. As a consultant for a local church and school campus, he traveled in 2015 to Kenya, where he guided a team in water treatment and gathering techniques as well as in the design and installation of a new water tank. He even introduced a community to its first flush system.
36, Director of Business and Finance
Patel’s 15-year career with Jacobs began as a chemical engineering intern. He has since worked on a variety of projects in roles including executive advising, financial planning and analysis, project coordination and process engineering. He has been actively involved in future strategy groups at Jacobs’ and is leading the North American region for an employee network project. He has also supported Jacob’s business management systems, helping the firm implement various process improvements.
Patel has a master’s degree in chemical engineering and an MBA in finance, strategy and international business from the University of Houston. As a process engineering lead for Jacob’s BP refinery project near Chicago, he helped save the client $200 million. He was part of the Operational Canadian Crude Oil project and led the process team for one of their ultra-low sulfur projects.
Patel is a passionate supporter of Pratham, an NGO that provides education for children in Southeast Asia, working to end the vicious cycle of poverty by transforming the educational landscape in the slums. He also volunteers for programs that promote education and nutrition services for children in the Dallas area.
36, Architect and Design Researcher, Vice President
Peavey is a passionate advocate for the power of place to heal, connect and serve vulnerable populations. She first came to HKS as a visiting scholar at the firm’s non-profit research arm, CADRE. She now serves on its local teams and as a national resource elevating research and design to improve how HKS serves its clients. Before joining HKS, she was a senior researcher and medical planner at HOK in New York and a research consultant with the Center for Health Design and Georgia Institute of Technology.
Peavey recently served as planner, researcher and job captain on the $300-million surgical tower for Texas Health Resources in Fort Worth. She is a frequent speaker at national conferences, winning a coveted spot in the SXSW 2020 lineup, and her writing has been published in academic journals and industry magazines.
Peavey earned a master’s of architecture at Texas A&M. She is an Industry Scholar at Cornell University and served as an adjunct faculty member at New York School of Interior Design and Pratt Institute. She was also research chair and trustee for the Academy of Architecture for Health Foundation for close to a decade and was the youngest board member in its history.
She was also recently named to ENR’s 2021 national Top 20 Under 40.
32, Deputy Project Manager
A civil-environmental engineer, Saldanha has worked on water and wastewater treatment design projects in India and North America. She serves as a deputy project manager and technical lead assisting cities, counties, river authorities and municipal utility districts in building, maintaining and improving their water and wastewater treatment plants and related facilities. She oversees all aspects from technical to project management, including cost estimating, interdisciplinary coordination and subconsultants. She also mentors and guides younger engineers on their projects and professional development.
Saldanha has a bachelor’s degree of engineering in biotechnology from Manipal University, India, and a master’s in environmental engineering from the University of Southern California. She recently led an asset management and condition assessment project at one of the largest water treatment plants in Houston, managing AECOM and multidisciplinary teams in the field during the pandemic. During Hurricane Harvey, she served as part of AECOM’s rapid-response assistance team, helping clients deliver drinking water to their communities.
Saldanha is involved in several STEM and water-related organizations and is vice president of the Water Environment Association of Texas. She is also a contributing author for technical newsletters and magazines and has presented at several state and national conferences.
35, Preconstruction Manager - Texas Region
A graduate of the University of Texas, Simon has led preconstruction efforts on complex projects such as a $55-million orthopedic hospital; a landmark veteran’s home for the Texas Land Office; and a high profile, fast-paced stadium project for the University of Texas football team.
She oversees a team of estimators and manages the preconstruction process for all Kitchell projects in the Texas region and is known for establishing deep relationships with local subcontractors. Her expertise has directly translated to Kitchell being awarded multimillion-dollar construction projects.
Simon is vice president of the Institute in Leadership and Capital Projects, which promotes leadership excellence in the planning, design, construction and operation of capital projects. She is also active in the Construction Owners’ Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Lean Constructors Institute and the Society of Marketing Professional Services.
Each year, Simon participates in the American Heart Association’s signature Go RED for Women initiative, which increases women’s heart health awareness and acts as a catalyst for change to improve women’s lives. Upon learning that 80% of heart attacks in women can be prevented, she became determined to learn about early warning signs and encourage others to do the same.
Simon is also passionate about helping the homeless; she volunteers with Community First!, a nonprofit organization that has created a 27-acre village of tiny 500-sq-ft houses for the homeless in Austin. She is also a court-appointed special advocate in the state’s child protection system.
36, Senior Project Manager
Project Management Advisors Inc.
Smith has planned and implemented more than $6 billion in projects during his 15-year career. A graduate of North Carolina State University, he served as a project manager for Brailsford & Dunlavey on the Dekalb County School District SPLOST Program, one of the most ambitious programs in the Atlanta metropolitan area. In Texas, he worked on B&D’s $4.5-billion Austin Independent School District facilities master plan, an effort that included project planning for more than 130 district facilities.
At PMA, Smith plays a significant role in the professional development of staff, interdepartmental leadership related to firm-wide initiatives and regional business development. He also works with the Austin ISD NE Middle School Campus architectural team, guiding the design of an innovative middle school as a part of a $1.1-billion bond program, the largest in Texas history.
Smith is currently managing St. Austin’s $140-million, dense urban mixed-use public-private partnership development. His other projects include a $75-million off-campus student housing development for UT, a unique mid-rise office-repositioning project with an international REIT, a consulting assignment evaluating expansion options for a state association and an opportunity-zone multifamily development.
33, Project Manager
Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc.
Sober’s interest in water engineering began at age 15 while collecting water samples with her mother for a local water authority. Even then, she knew she wanted to do something to care for the earth’s most precious resource.
Sober, a civil engineering graduate of the University of Texas, has worked on numerous infrastructure projects in North America, Europe and Asia. These include the first reclaimed water project for the downtown Austin Capitol grounds, a first-of-its-kind $300-million water project for the Brushy Creek Regional Water Authority in Central Texas, the Thames Tideway Tunnel sewer overflow project in London and numerous large-diameter water and wastewater projects in North Texas.
Sober was one of 10 graduates of LAN’s 2018 leadership institute program. She went on to serve a year on its leadership advisory board, where she helped implement the firm’s employee recognition strategies, firm branding and mentorship opportunities.
She is currently the president of the North Texas chapter of the Water Environment Association of Texas, where she has helped raise more than $30,000 annually in scholarship checks that help members and their families attend college. Sober also supports local science fairs and programs that inspire students to pursue a career in wastewater.
39, Southwest Regional Leader
Upon graduating from Drexel University in Philadelphia with a degree in civil engineering, Williams was hired by Urban Engineers to design large-scale multimillion-dollar engineering projects in the firm’s aviation department. He later helped grow Urban’s site development department. As senior project manager, he led the firm’s business acquisition and execution efforts in the Southwest region office in Irving, Texas. Today he heads up Urban’s airport and site development design and construction program.
A professional engineer and LEED AP, Williams’ management expertise was put to the test on a runway extension project at Philadelphia International Airport, which involved multiple phases and intricate sequencing to include directional drilling under both an active runway and taxiways to install utilities. His day-to-day oversight of pavement evaluation at Trenton-Mercer Airport led to an analysis that recommended the use of less construction material for the airfield, resulting in more than $2 million in savings to the client. Other projects have included work for Dallas Love Field, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Texas Dept. of Transportation.
Williams will serve as president-elect of the ASCE Dallas Chapter in 2021. A certified personal trainer and an ordained minister, he is also engaged in many volunteer and community-related endeavors.
He was also recently named an ENR 2021 national Top 20 Under 40 winner.