The 2022 class of ENR Midwest’s Top Young Professionals is a who’s who of emerging design and construction leaders from the region.
The Top Young Professionals program recognizes individuals who have built industry portfolios in just a few years and donate significant time and expertise to serve their communities.
Nearly 50 entries were received for this year’s competition, and our judges, Kimberly Moore, president and founder of KDM Engineering, and Ryan Moss, project director at McCarthy Building Cos., narrowed the submissions down to 20 winners.
This group of professionals has faced many challenges that are impacting the construction industry including escalating materials costs, supply chain delays and labor shortages. Despite the obstacles the last two years have presented, these up-and-comers have delivered many innovative and noteworthy projects.
Their areas of expertise cover a wide range including traffic and infrastructure analysis, bridge reconstruction, increasing diversity and inclusion in the industry, communications and designing and building airports and sports facilities. They may be based in the Midwest, but their work has taken them across the country and around the world.
The construction professionals, architects and engineers recognized include an environmental engineer who worked her way back from a stroke in her 20s to become vice president at a company that restores and sustains water sources; a designer who has a side gig as a DJ and music producer; a company president who has led the design of global sports and entertainment projects and has informed his designs by working as an event consultant at six Super Bowls; and a company president who applied a design-build methodology to non-traditional industries and opened up a whole new market for his company.
Judges recused themselves if a candidate presented a conflict of interest such as having worked for the same firm as the judge or been a co-worker of the judge previously.
“In my leadership role with HDR, I get the opportunity to work on extremely dynamic teams to solve unique wastewater and drinking water issues for our clients throughout Missouri and Kansas ”
—Jessica Adams-Weber, 38, Vice President, HDR
38, Vice President and MO/KS Area Water Client Development Leader
Engineer leads way for women in STEM careers
Kansas City, Mo.
Much of Jessica Adams-Weber determination and persistence to become an engineer and pave the way for younger women in STEM careers was shaped by her early 20s. During her third year of college, Adams-Weber was diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins. Doctors treated it with gamma knife radiation, but Adams-Weber, just 21, suffered a grand mal seizure and stroke due to side effects from radiation, causing her to lose the use of her right leg. For the next three years, she worked to recover from neurological brain damage and learn to walk again and regain the function in her leg.
Even before the major health obstacle, it was clear that Adams-Weber would lead the way for younger women in STEM. She became a Cisco-certified technician while in high school and was the president of Nevada’s Vocational Industrial Clubs of America section. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Missouri–Columbia, she began her career at SRT Consultants, a woman-owned civil engineering firm in San Francisco.
She joined HDR in 2015 as a project manager and advanced to become client development lead for HDR’s water group in Missouri and Kansas. In 2021, Adams-Weber was promoted to vice president. She is credited at HDR with helping develop a program to attract and certify more treatment plant operators, which is a critical need across the industry.
“Prior to COVID, myself and a colleague came together to create a career engagement group for our office,” Adams-Weber says. “The group is made up of young professionals who meet monthly to talk about different topics with the goal to create more engagement.” Topics have included employee ownership, contract documents and more.
38, Senior Project Manager
The Weitz Co.
Engineer’s career takes flight with major aviation projects
Kansas City, Mo.
Ben Bunge began his career at The Weitz Co. as an intern, and he has quickly risen to become senior project manager in aviation.
Bunge’s current project is the Kansas City International Airport Single Terminal, which is the single largest infrastructure project in Kansas City history and which has opened opportunities for both him and his staff to grow.
Bunge has embraced new technologies such as VisualLive, an augmented reality tool used to maintain schedules and trade relationships. Bunge graduated from Iowa State University in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. While there, he worked on a senior project involving renovation and expansion of the Jack Trice Stadium. Little did he know then that he would bring that project to life at his alma mater nearly 10 years after his graduation.
Bunge has been part of projects in Iowa and Mississippi totaling $874 million for The Weitz Co. He is known as an innovative leader and was an early adopter of BIM during the stadium project. Through the use of BIM, 3D modeling and scheduling technologies, Bunge saved six weeks on the tightly scheduled project.
39, Assistant Vice President-Client Development Lead
HDR Engineering Inc.
Celik combines technical skills with a passion for building client relationships
Jennie Celik specializes in water/wastewater engineering because she wants to make a difference in the environment.
She started her career with Metcalf and Eddy, which was acquired by AECOM, where she became design manager for Akron’s $1.4-billion Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan. In 2013, Celik joined HDR, where she currently is water client development leader for the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia region. In 2019, Celik was named an associate vice president.
In addition to her technical skills and a passion for building client relationships, Celik is recognized as a thought leader for collection systems and wet weather flow management nationally within HDR.
She also established a Cleveland standing team meeting that encourages local water professionals to network and share information about key projects and pursuits. Attendees pick a topic, based on project experiences or professional interest, and present it to the group, which enhances their technical knowledge and increases their public speaking skills.
“I continually strive to take on new challenges at work, so that I am always learning something new,” Celik says. “Once I am experienced in a particular challenge or task, I strive to pass it forward—mentoring others to take on the task the next time around. This approach results in team building, collaboration and career achievements for not only me, but also those around me.”
“It’s easy to go to work each day knowing you’re one of many skilled professionals working toward a common vision, each bringing unique expertise and value to the process.”
—Geoff Cheong, 36, Principal, Populous
Cheong designs and delivers professional sports facilities
Kansas City, Mo.
Geoff Cheong’s name isn’t on a jersey or a scoreboard, but he’s had an impact on facilities and experiences for many of North America’s professional sports leagues including the NHL, NFL, MLB and MLS.
Cheong was a designer for T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, PNC Park renovations in Pittsburgh and Centre Vidéotron in Quebec City. He currently is lead project designer for Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, which is the most complex arena design in Populous’ history and is the first professional arena in the U.S. on the National Register of Historic Places. Cheong manages a team of 25 architects and designers as well as consultants across multiple disciplines.
Over the last 13-plus years, Cheong has led the design of global sports and entertainment projects totaling more than $2.86 billion in construction value. Cheong’s skill set includes event management, and it informs how he designs sports facilities. He has worked alongside the Populous event group as a consultant on six Super Bowls and two NHL Heritage Classics.
Cheong put himself through college by working part-time at a local deli and volunteered as a teacher’s assistant in CAD drafting and Excel courses.
37, Managing Director of Operations
1898 & Co.
Interest in way the world is built spurs engineering, business career
Kansas City, Mo.
As a young girl growing up in Shawnee, Kan., Sarah Cisper became fascinated with how the world is built, which led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. In 2006, she joined Burns & McDonnell, where she worked on the firm’s transmission and distribution program and rose to become assistant manager at the Kansas City, Mo., headquarters. Participating in an internal group dedicated to improving business operations led to her current role: managing director for operations for 1898 & Co., a business consulting subsidiary of Burns & McDonnell. Some of the initiatives she has managed or developed include a CRM system that syncs thousands of employee contacts, a system of accounting for soft backlog reporting, the firm’s first Launch program, designed to incubate and develop the case for new business ventures, and the firm’s open asset digital asset management system, which centralizes more than 7,000 résumés and 100,000 project sheets.
39, Principal, Client Executive
Costello rises to top of engineering consulting firm
John Costello always wants to learn more and reach higher. Both desires fueled his journey toward leadership of a Minnesota-based engineering consulting firm by age 32 and to his current position as a client executive for IMEG Corp. Costello graduated from St. John’s University with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a minor in math in just three years.
After attaining an engineer in training license, Costello became an in-house computational fluid dynamics software expert, designing a variety of project types including hospitals, clean rooms, schools, offices, worship spaces, theaters and labs. He joined LKPB Engineers as a principal in 2014 while also receiving his MBA after three years of part-time evening and weekend classes. Four years later, Costello led LKPB in its merger with IMEG Corp.
Today, Costello spends much of his time meeting with existing and potential clients and introducing them to the firm’s expanded services. He takes a hands-on approach to projects, focusing on quality control and interacting with senior leadership to help solve issues and challenges. He is involved in Engineering Alliance Minnesota, volunteering as a facilitator and score calculator for a middle school math competition program.
Company president sees unprecedented material lead times and escalating costs
Curt Hargrove’s career path sounds like a Hollywood success story, but it is based on hard work. Hargrove began his career at Gray working part-time in the mail room. He became an intern while studying corporate communications at the University of Kentucky and, upon graduating, became a project engineer. In this role, he worked on U.S. Postal Service projects in California and Oklahoma that totaled more than 1.2 million sq ft combined.
His duties included assisting with procurement of construction materials, scheduling, maintaining databases for quality and safety, coordinating design and engineering between customer processes and arranging construction management activities. Hargrove’s career continued to evolve when he moved into business development. He is credited with helping Gray win a 2.3-million-sq-ft automatic retrieval and sortation facility with one customer that also positioned the company to help the customer with about 20 other projects.
Gray Development, an extension to Gray’s design-build approach, was created in 2015 to provide customers with turnkey project development and financing. Hargrove served as director, vice president and currently is president. His duties include securing capital, underwriting with banking institutions, lease development and negotiation, management of design and general construction and lead customer point of contact.
“I really enjoy having a hand in improving rail infrastructure that is relied upon by so many on a daily basis for shipping goods or movement of people.”
—Lisa Hoekenga, 39, Dept. Manager, Rail & Transit, Michael Baker International
Elizabeth (Lisa) Hoekenga
3, Dept. Manager, Rail & Transit
Michael Baker International
Dedicating her career to railway and bridge safety
Lisa Hoekenga was hired as Michael Baker’s first dedicated bridge/railway engineer and embraces the value that the specialty brings to the firm. While her initial focus was on making a local impact by developing a new core competency within the Cleveland office, she quickly expanded her connections and influence throughout the company.
Hoekenga has shared her expertise and won projects in several different states. She has dedicated her career to maintaining and modernizing rail infrastructure, with particular emphasis on bridges. Some clients she has worked with include Norfolk Southern, the Denver Regional Transportation District, Chicago Transit Authority, the Michigan and Ohio Departments of Transportation and the Illinois Tollway Authority.
Hoekenga is also passionate about introducing young girls and women to engineering and supporting an interest in STEM for all young people. She volunteers as a mentor at her high school, where she helped develop a two-week transportation engineering course.
36, Resources Strategic Communications Director
Expert says clear communication can solve many project problems
Saint Louis Park, Minn.
Emily Hyland arrived at HDR as an environmental scientist, but her career took a different turn. She earned a master’s degree in strategic communications from Concordia College-St. Paul and advanced into the roles of vice president and strategic communications director for the company that serves power, waste and industrial clients from Hawaii to St. Louis.
Hyland has worked across many markets, including transportation, waste, wastewater and oil and gas, but energy continues to be her focus. In collaboration with Minnesota Power from 2012 to 2020, Hyland led the communication strategy and execution for the Great Northern Transmission Line, a 500-kV, 240-mile project.
Crafting internal communication strategies and workshops for executive-level audiences is another of Hyland’s skills. Knowing how crucial communications are for career and project success, she has helped engineers increase their public speaking skills. She was involved in a local Eloquent Engineers Toastmasters Chapter composed of engineering professionals across the Twin Cities.
Frank (Sonny) Jaramilla
39, Assistant Vice President Construction Services
Breadth of experience is key to Jaramilla’s success
Sonny Jaramilla began his career at WSP USA as an overnight inspector working on evening transit outages and single-track operations on Chicago Transit Authority projects.
He was promoted to lead inspector and then chief inspector on the Wacker Drive Reconstruction. His success is tied, in part, to his breadth of experience. He has held every key role for the firm’s construction services team.
Jaramilla graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree focused on civil engineering and transportation. His portfolio features projects with more than $450 million in construction value including the CTA Red Line/Purple Line Modernization, the Albany Park Stormwater Diversion Tunnel and New York City’s Second Avenue Subway Tunnel Systems project.
He currently leads the Chicago Dept. of Transportation Wells Wentworth Connector Section 3 project. As assistant vice president, Jaramilla practices a philosophy of collaboration and knowledge and experience sharing beyond the project team. He is passionate about public education and developed a STEM mentorship program with Chicago Public Schools that helps students learn about STEM careers and projects that impact their communities.
36, Business Center Operations Leader
Johnson rises through the ranks with five promotions in seven years
Tyler Johnson has been promoted five times in seven years at Stantec, where his experience working on large multi-million-dollar water and drainage projects and his success growing and managing teams and leading national initiatives have made him stand out.
Johnson started in 2014 at Stantec as a project manager on the water resources team, where he focused primarily on flood control and water quality projects. Currently, he serves as the operations leader for a business center covering Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois and North Dakota. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the center, which has about 183 full-time employees and brings in more than $30 million a year in net revenue. Johnson created a business plan and became technical lead on projects that involved green infrastructure across the U.S. He also founded the Developing Professionals Group (DPG) chapter in Stantec’s Minneapolis office, which provides staff with opportunities to connect with leadership, each other and the community.
31, Project Manager
Engineer evaluates transportation infrastructure
Abbas Kachwalla leads multiple transportation engineering projects for a portfolio of clients including the U.S. Dept. of Defense, airports, railroads and ports across the U.S. and the world. His area of expertise is in evaluating existing transportation infrastructure and developing future long-term improvement plans and capital needs valued at more than $100 million.
Kachwalla collaborates with internal and external teams across multiple business lines on complex asset management projects to provide simple solutions that preserve transportation infrastructure and deliver projects on time and within budget.
In 2019, Kachwalla co-authored a research study to develop a statistical-based quality control tool. Pavement Data Quality Management performs comprehensive quality checks and analyzes large databases of pavement condition data. This study has been used on multiple projects, leading to better data quality and greater client satisfaction. As a member of the Chicago chapter of the Architecture, Construction, Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program, Kachwalla mentors high school students from 72 schools around the Chicago area, setting up technical workshops and learning sessions to encourage students to consider a career within the industry.
“I am very proud of our recent work in the (engineer, procure and construct) space.... The owner is paying a premium for turnkey solutions, typically on a tight schedule.”
—Luke Karels, 38, Project Management Dept. Manager and Sr. Project Manager, Stanley Consultants
38, Project Management Dept. Manager and Senior Project Manager
Structural engineer finds success in power delivery projects
Luke Karels took an unusual path into the electric utility industry. A licensed professional structural engineer, he began his career with Stanley Consultants in 2007 designing heavy civil and water resources projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), mainly in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
Occasionally, Karels provided structural and geotechnical design support for energy projects. He meshed well with other engineers and clients who appreciated his structural background. He was soon regularly proposed as lead structural engineer for transmission and distribution projects, designing steel structures and foundations for transmission lines substations.
In 2012, Karels became assistant project manager of the CapX2020 Brookings-Hampton 345-kV Transmission Line Project, a 270-mile-long transmission line with a $16-million design fee, which was one of the largest transmission design projects in company history. He had already designed the project’s 1,685 drilled pier foundations, and when the project manager resigned, Karels stepped in and brought the four-year design to completion on time and under budget.
Karels also is a project portfolio manager overseeing the financial performance of more than 150 power delivery projects. He monitors up to $15 million in gross revenue a year.
32, Department Manager - Bridge
Michael Baker International
Klenke relishes seeing how her career impacts the world
The best part of Anna Klenke’s job is seeing how her work impacts communities, both large and small. She joined Michael Baker in 2012 as a civil associate, then advanced to civil engineer and currently is the bridge design department manager in the Louisville office, a role that calls for her to provide engineering related services for all stages of a bridge’s life cycle, from environmental studies and public involvement to preliminary and type selection studies, design, construction support, document control, inspection, maintenance and load rating. She has served on signature projects that were completed in some high-pressure situations. The Brent Spence Bridge Repair in Kentucky required a five-day turnaround to construction letting after a vehicle struck the structure and caused a fire. It took 41 days to return the bridge to service. Another prominent project was the repair of the Hernando de Soto Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River. The project is currently in the construction phase following the discovery of a mechanical fracture and an emergency closure. Klenke also volunteers for Michael Baker’s Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a nonprofit organization dedicated to constructing footbridges in remote, underdeveloped areas of the world. Klenke was part of a team that built a 190-ft pedestrian bridge to benefit more than 2,000 people in Nicaragua.
“One major challenge has been the need to bring a new idea to communities to help improve transportation outcomes.”
—Jon Markt, 32, Traffic Engineer/Transportation Planner, HDR
32, Traffic Engineer/Transportation Planner
Traffic engineer looks to the future of autonomous vehicles and their infrastructure impact
During his 11-year career as a traffic engineer and transportation planner, Jon Markt has established himself as a regional and national expert in dynamic traffic assignment models, predictive safety analysis models and planning for autonomous and connected vehicles.
Markt received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a master’s from the University of Texas at Austin.
Markt served as project manager for the Interstate 80 Automated Corridor Study, which looked into the impact that connected and autonomous vehicles will have on how agencies and transportation professionals approach future infrastructure investment and the planning and design of corridor projects. Markt led all project elements across a national team for this project with a $300,000 budget and was primary author for the project report. Markt also is passionate about promoting driver safety and presents at area high schools on the topic of teen driver safety.
39, Assistant Vice President/Midwest & Plains Traffic & ITS Manager
Transportation planner focuses on equity and social justice
Jennifer Pangborn is a transportation planner and engineer who manages mobility, complete streets, multimodal planning, traffic modeling and last-mile connectivity projects.
She is sought by clients and project teams across the country for her expertise in bringing innovation, ideas and a focus on people and mentoring to teams. Her enthusiasm for improving communities through transportation and connecting people to places and people to people is evident in her approach to problem-solving. Leading a team of nearly 50 engineers in the Midwest, her portfolio features projects geared to improve the quality of life for communities, including Armour Road Complete Streets in North Kansas City and the Interstate 270 North project in St. Louis.
Pangborn helped the St. Louis develop a Complete Streets Manual to help orient how all transportation modes fit into the city’s system and surrounding land issues. It also highlights best practices and addresses mobility for all people. She is also working with the city of Milwaukee to develop a complete streets guide that focuses on health and social justice.
Experience as a DJ informs the design of public spaces
Kansas City, Mo.
Adam Paulitsch believes that thought-provoking, innovative and functional design can bring progressive change to society. Paulitsch has held senior design roles on more than 15 projects around the world totaling more than $2 billion in value.
Currently, he is lead designer for the $500-million BMO Centre Expansion in Calgary, Alberta, which will increase the total floor space to nearly 1 million sq ft and, when completed in 2024, will be the second-largest meeting facility in Canada.
Prior to joining Populous, Paulitsch worked at MANICA Architecture on such international sports venues as the Workers Stadium Renovation and Masterplan in Beijing and Dynamo Sport Academy Training Facility in Moscow. In his spare time, Paulitsch is a DJ and music producer, performing under the name Longer Days. He released his first self-produced album titled “Sonic Love” in 2020. His performances at music festivals have given him an insider’s knowledge of how the design of public buildings and spaces can create optimized, flexible experiences for guests and performers.
Stellakis builds a company’s success one Topgolf at a time
Leonidas Stellakis joined ARCO/Murray in 2007, a time when the company, which was established in 2003 as a stand-alone regional firm within the ARCO family, was relatively new to the Chicago market. Originally focused on utilizing the design-build methodology to optimize construction of warehouses and distribution facilities, ARCO was looking to spur growth in a receding market, and Stellakis answered the challenge. He saw the potential of applying the design-build methodology to non-traditional industries. He spearheaded construction of the first ground-up Topgolf. Undertaking this task was a risk to ARCO/Murray’s credibility, and the firm’s survival was tied to the success of the first Topgolf. Ten years and more than 50 Topgolfs later, Stellakis’ leadership is credited with transforming ARCO/Murray from a $30-million firm to a $720-million company where innovation is central to the organization. Stellakis also has led ARCO/Murray to be not only a leader in helping customers build sustainably, but also to become an industry leader in sustainability on its own. The firm recently installed solar panels and improved HVAC distribution at its office to reduce air pollution, help fight climate change and minimize its dependence on nonrenewable energy sources. Stellakis also helped establish a team that works with customers to outline options for incorporating green building practices.
“A challenge that I face every day in my role is to continue to find ways to provide access and opportunity to women and the minority subcontractors we partner with.”
—Marcus Thompson, 36, Diversity and Outreach Manager, Skanska USA Building
36, Diversity and Outreach Manager
Skanska USA Building
Thompson strives for diversity and inclusion in the construction field
Increasing diversity in the construction field is an industry-wide priority, and Marcus Thompson is playing a leading role in that mission at Skanska USA Building.
Thompson is charged with forming strategic relationships with community partners to facilitate the achievement of diversity and inclusion spending and participation goals. Thompson spearheaded the company’s proprietary Construction Management Building Blocks program, formed a local diversity and inclusion committee and helped select Skanska’s first senior vice president and head of diversity and inclusion.
Skanska’s construction management Building Blocks program is an intensive training course designed to familiarize minority- and women-owned firms with the business management tools necessary to become strong enterprises.
The program provides training in construction business management fundamentals and opportunities to network with other contractors with the goal of developing and sustaining relationships within and without the construction industry. Under Thompson’s leadership, 23 individuals, representing 16 companies, graduated in the spring 2021 class.
“When I am teaching a design studio at Kent State University, it is always those moments of “discovery” by a student that inspire me.”
—Adam Yaracs, 38, Project Manager, IKM Architecture
38, Project Manager
IKM Cleveland’s first hire excels as an industry leader
Adam Yaracs was IKM Cleveland’s first hire and continues to prove himself as an architect, educator, volunteer and industry leader. He is an advocate for the design profession community in northeast Ohio. As project manager, Yaracs leads the design and construction of several projects in Pittsburgh and northeast Ohio. He is also responsible for business development in Ohio. One of Yaracs’ first tasks at IKM was to work with Jonathan Lusin, principal, to grow the Cleveland office. The office has flourished and Yaracs’ role has expanded. He serves as the Ohio higher education lead and plays an integral role in expanding IKM’s regional footprint, expanding IKM’s client base and recruiting top talent to join the Cleveland team. Just recently, Yaracs led a team in completion of two new projects at his alma mater high school located in Butler, Pa. The projects included a new auxiliary gymnasium as well as a 12-classroom addition with a new STEM space, large group instruction room and renovated locker rooms, fitness center and athletic department offices. Yaracs was elected American Institute of Architects Cleveland chapter’s youngest president in its 125-plus year history in 2017.