This year’s Top Young Professionals from the New England region have forged construction career paths in unique ways and, through their example, have inspired and motivated their teams to push the boundaries of what is possible. All have cultivated diverse technical and leadership skills that are an asset to the industry as well as to their communities.
Under age 40 as of Jan. 1, the honorees are based in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The panel of industry judges considered candidates’ experience, education, leadership and community service in making the selections. The 2021 judges were: Adrienne Nelson, associate at Pickard Chilton; Ryan Sauer, construction executive at PC Construction Co.; and Rebecca Greenleaf, CEO of Architectural Engineer Inc.
This year’s winners included Danielle Crafford, a trailblazer and one of the youngest general superintendents at Gilbane Building Co., whose skills range from maintaining project schedules to cultivating open and transparent communication with owners and working with community members concerned about possible utility service disruptions and other impacts related to project work.
Workplace diversity and inclusion has been central for Rebecca Joas in her 13 years in the industry. She has helped develop Turner Construction-Boston’s employee resource group focused on recruitment, retention and professional development for staff in minority demographics. A native of Florida and Puerto Rico, she swiftly coordinated a disaster relief drive to benefit Turner family members impacted by devastation from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The technical leadership of Ryan Marshall, who works for Stantec, contributed to the design of unique structures that include the Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge replacement project over a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority rail line and structural aspects of sculptures erected on Boylston Street as part of the Boston Marathon Memorial.
In community outreach, he regularly spends time with “little brother” Aiden as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts. He has also served as a pro-bono adviser for the Tufts University steel bridge team and has volunteered with the nonprofit Boston Rescue Mission numerous times.
Working in the hospitality sector motivated Kaija Peterson’s penchant for numbers that led her to earn a degree in economics and a field administrator position on a high-profile fit-out project for Structure Tone in Washington, D.C. She quickly learned the ropes and today is lead estimator on a 170,00-sq-ft tech giant’s major office project in Cambridge, Mass., which has enabled her to transition from working at the site full-time to leading the estimating process.
Michael Tupper, another Top Young Professional from New England this year, has focused on engineering design and construction of natural gas pipelines and facilities at National Grid in his 14-year career. He is leading a team of engineers and field construction professionals in the use of drawdown compressors for purging gas mains that are slated to be abandoned as part of the industry’s developing clean energy transition.
Read on to learn more about this outstanding group of up-and-coming leaders.
Jacob Blanton, 38
Leader provides vision for team
Transmission & Distribution Regional Operations Manager
Burns & McDonnell
Blanton’s broad understanding of engineering operations and project management combined with his leadership skills have enabled him to provide a vision for his team that has grown 128% in three years. Blanton has worked with a variety of utility and power clients, serving as a project manager on more than 140 transmission and substation projects nationwide. He has led two of one major utility’s largest multimillion-dollar projects, each involving design and construction of some 100 miles of transmission to provide more affordable power to customers. That led to a promotion in 2019 to become T&D transmission department operations manager in Dallas-Fort Worth, where he grew the team from nine to 13 members and boosted work with local organizations across Texas.
The same year, Blanton led engineering of onshore components for offshore wind installations in the Northeast for a winning proposal and led the project team for a major onshore interconnection substation project for multinational offshore wind firm Orsted. Blanton, also named to ENR’s national Top 20 Under 40 list this year, has helped build a New England training program with 90 customized training elements to suit the firm’s Northeast transmission and distribution group. The approach he developed allowed the team to increase average technical scores on engineering deliverables by 6% in 2020 compared with 2019.
Blanton has also helped raise nearly $290,000 since 2018 for United Way through an annual campaign fundraiser and founded Feel-Good Barbecue, a volunteer group that provides meals to families in need.
Elizabeth S. Brownell, 38
Engineer improves communities
Passionate about bettering communities through structural engineering solutions, Brownell develops strong relationships with her clients, a priority throughout her career, according to her firm. She enjoys collaborating with her clients and finds it “a very gratifying part of her job.” Brownell has designed bridges and prepared construction bid documents for Maine and Massachusetts transportation agencies as well as private owners, with bridge design experience ranging from new construction to rehabilitation and preservation.
Her recent work in Maine includes the 28,500-sq-ft Yarmouth Public Safety Building, a $9-million project for which she was project engineer during design and also managed the construction phase. For the $1-million Staples Bridge replacement project in North Berwick, Brownell serves as project manager on her first design-build project delivery.
Brownell’s transportation agency experience includes investigating concrete ceiling panel connections in the Big Dig tunnels and recommending other repairs to the I-90 tunnel system following a ceiling panel collapse in 2006 that caused a fatality.
Beyond the office and josbite, she has promoted the advancement of women through leadership in the state Women’s Transportation Seminar chapter. Brownell, also selected for ENR’s national Top 20 Under 40 list, has served in a variety of leadership roles since joining the chapter in 2011 and helped grow it from 10 members to more than 60.
As WTS scholarship chair, she has coordinated, evaluated and awarded $25,000 in scholarships to Maine high school seniors.
Danielle Crafford, 34
Breaks barriers for women
Gilbane Building Co.
As one of the youngest women general superintendents throughout her tenure at Gilbane Building Co., Crafford learned to face challenges head on. After earning a degree in construction management with a minor in business from Rogers Williams University, she launched her career as an intern while still attending school.
Once she landed a full-time position with Gilbane, she was immediately chosen for its intensive two-year internal management candidate acceleration program. She became a project engineer after completing the program but soon realized her passion was working directly with construction trade partners.
At a time when there were few women general superintendents, especially those of her age, the trailblazing Crafford was able to advance her career by assuming more responsibility and has been attaining her goals ever since.
Crafford combines different skills in her approach to leadership, which include those needed to maintain schedules, manage construction teams and cultivate open and transparent communication with owners to provide daily updates of construction activities that will affect their projects. She also works with neighboring homeowners or community members wary of possible disruption of services.
As secretary of the Roger Williams University construction management professional advisory board, Crafford mentors students who are choosing to enter the industry.
A mother of two, she sometimes brings her young children to participate in volunteer activities with organizations such as the Rhode Island Food Bank and others.
Rebecca Joas, 35
Engineer propels advancement
Turner Construction Co.
Joas began her career at Turner as a field engineer on the Fan Pier F building for the Fallon Co. in the Boston Seaport, serving in superintendent and engineering roles for clients. She earned an MBA at Babson College’s evening program after gaining a civil engineering degree at Syracuse University. As a cost analyst for several years, she oversaw financial controls for the business unit. Currently, Joas is project engineer on the Mass Mutual fit-out, a 10-story, 230,000-sq-ft interiors project in the Fan Pier E tower.
Workplace diversity has been of great importance to Joas in her 13 years in the industry. She played a central role in the development of Turner Boston’s inclusion focus group, an employee resource group focused on the recruitment, retention and professional development for staff within minority demographics. In addition to workforce development and self-advancement workshops, Joas enjoys hosting cultural meals as a member of group steering committee.
A native of Florida and Puerto Rico, Joas swiftly took action to coordinate a disaster relief drive to benefit Turner employee family members who were impacted by the devastation caused from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
She has also been involved with STEM programs as part of her Syracuse alumni association and with Turner’s partnership with the nonprofit Sociedad Latina Inc.
Ryan Marshall, 30
Engineer designs reliable bridges
Senior structural engineer
Since childhood, Marshall wanted to become a civil engineer to prevent tragedies like the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis more than a decade ago. Today, as a senior structural engineer, he is fulfilling his lifelong goal of creating safe, reliable bridge designs. In this role, he designs bridge replacements and other structures as well as manages and mentors younger staff members.
On Stantec’s New England region bridge design team, Marshall’s technical leadership contributed to the design of complex and unusual structures, including the Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge for the Massachusetts DOT.
He also worked on the accelerated bridge construction bridge replacement projects of Morton Street over the MBTA Railroad and Massachusetts Avenue over Commonwealth Avenue as well as structural aspects of the memorial sculptures erected on Boylston Street as part of the Boston Marathon Memorial.
He has also conducted bridge inspections on iconic structures, including Boston’s North Station Draw Bridge and the Fort Bayou Draw Bridge in Ocean Springs, Miss. Marshall uses detailed graphic visualization of structures and 3D modeling and renderings to assist owners, designers and stakeholders in understanding how projects will impact their communities.
Community outreach within Stantec and in his personal life is important to Marshall, according to the firm. He regularly volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts, was a volunteer adviser for the Tufts University steel bridge team and has volunteered with the nonprofit Boston Rescue Mission numerous times.
Kaija Peterson, 36
Outsider bolsters diversity
Peterson was working in the hospitality industry when a “love of numbers” motivated her to earn a degree in economics, which led to a field administrator position at Structure Tone in Washington, D.C. When the firm won a large high-profile fit-out project, Peterson was able to learn on the job and help manage the project.
Immediately after joining the firm, Peterson became proficient in the CMiC financial management project program to support her team. She also joined the firmwide technology excellence group, was the pilot user for the Plan Grid cloud-based project management tool and was an early adopter of innovative tools, including Docu Sign.
In less than three years Peterson rose to become a top estimator at her firm. Last year, she became lead estimator on a 170,000-sq-ft major office project in Cambridge, Mass., for a technology firm, transitioning from working at the site full-time to leading the estimating process. The firm says she has proven to have the ability to make informed decisions, foresee challenges and propose viable solutions.
An Asian American who considered herself an “outsider” when she entered the industry, Peterson led formation of the firm’s local diversity and inclusion committee—broadening its scope from focusing just on gender to include diversity and inclusion issues related to ethnicity and sexual orientation, among others. She now sits on the companywide diversity and inclusion steering committee.
Philippe Santos, 33
Problem solver with positive outlook
Honing his skills as a rail track engineer, Santos proved his dedication to his position and went on to serve on many complex Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority projects throughout the state.
His rise through the ranks of HNTB’s Massachusetts rail practice group led to involvement in some of the MBTA’s most complex programs and projects. Those included the $239-million Cabot Yard Rebuild, which led him from technical lead to deputy project manager, and the $82-million MBTA South Station Tower 1 Early Action project, for which he serves as deputy project manager. He also works on a mix of projects for state transportation agencies and for Amtrak.
His firm says he has exhibited strong commitment to its rail transportation group. Regularly working with less-experienced engineers, Santos also mentors entry-level college graduates.
Staff seek him out as one who is knowledgeable and consistent in his positive approach to problem-solving, according to the firm. He often provides other engineers with advice about complicated technical drawings. Santos successfully completed a master’s degree in civil engineering while working full-time.
He has also tutored new students at Lesley University, raised money for the Lupus Foundation by running the Boston Marathon and volunteers at the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Michael Tupper, 37
Engineer focused on clean energy
Tupper supports key initiatives around renewable natural gas, hydrogen blending and emission reductions for the natural gas system that aligns with the utility’s clean energy transition.
He is developing and implementing technologies and processes to guarantee a safe, reliable, efficient and clean natural gas distribution system, the utility says. Tupper oversees liquid natural gas and compressed natural gas engineering departments as well as gas quality and materials laboratories, research, development and demonstration.
Since his appointment as technical secretary for National Grid’s engineering assurance committee, Tupper works directly with its global chief gas engineer on initiatives supporting advancement of natural gas engineering and mentors younger engineers.
In concentrating on engineering design and construction of natural gas pipelines and facilities at National Grid, Tupper leads a team of engineers and field construction professionals in the design and advancement of technologies for the gas system, including use of drawdown compressors for purging gas mains slated for abandonment. National Grid considers these technologies key to supporting the industry’s clean energy transition.
Tupper also has found time to volunteer for a Future City engineering competition for middle school students, which was sponsored by the Boston Society of Civil Engineers, and he is an active member of Rebuilding Together, an organization that rebuilds and renovates homes for families in need.
Derek Ullman, 30
Leader focuses on quality
Senior Operations Excellence Manager
Gilbane Building Co.
Ullman cut his teeth at Gilbane as a drawing clerk working with industry veterans on the $95-million Lowell General Hospital project in 2010.
In the following decade, he quickly rose through the ranks at the contractor, working as a superintendent, project engineer and project manager. Currently, he is responsible for quality in construction.
Ullman oversees all projects in the division and his workload can include more than 50 concurrent projects. He is responsible for quality in construction oversight for all New England projects.
The firm says he developed a system to gather, analyze and use data across all projects. Soliciting feedback from a variety of company clients, internal developers and other departments, Ullman’s improved system enables Gilbane teams to extract client feedback and provide the client with an easy-to-use platform, according to the company.
The firm says that despite his demanding workload, Ullman is willing to share his knowledge and experience with others. To date, he has helped 25 Gilbane employees take and pass the Massachusetts Unrestricted Construction Supervisors License exam.
Ullman devotes more than 30 hours per year to continuing education and also volunteers with many charitable organizations throughout Boston. He serves on the leadership committee for United Way BoSTEM, where he spearheaded the BoSTEM Teacher Externship Program at Gilbane and mentored for the Boston chapter of the ACE Mentor Programs of America.
Michael Wulforst, 36
PM moves people safely, efficiently
Project Manager, Associate Vice President
Wulforst was drawn to the dynamic field of transportation engineering as a sophomore in college and has had the opportunity to work on a range of projects in cities ranging from Los Angeles to New York City.
Currently working in Boston, he is leading the traffic microsimulation efforts for a $3-billion to $7-billion interchange reconstruction project for the Connecticut DOT I-84/Route 8 Mixmaster interchange reconstruction in Waterbury, Conn.
Wulforst is also passionate about traffic modeling and simulation. When he was a junior traffic engineer, he completed a one-day training session to learn traffic microsimulation.
When he was based in New York City, Wulforst worked on the Bus Rapid Transit projects for the New York City DOT. As a deputy project manager, he coordinated a three-firm consultant team for planning and design of Bx41 Select Bus Service in the Bronx, leading to role of team project manager of a comprehensive traffic and transit planning and design initiative to develop select bus service along a 10-mile bus corridor in Brooklyn.
Wulforst has also volunteered as a mentor for middle school students for the Future City design competition in Chelmsford, Mass. His team placed third overall and won the best model award, among other accolades.