From growing up in a rural town or following in the footsteps of a parent to tinkering with robots or working on helicopter engines, every one of this year’s ENR California and Northwest’s Top Young Professionals shares a common love and curiosity for the built environment. They also have a story to tell.
Each year, ENR California and Northwest salutes 25 young professionals from Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington who are under the age of 40 and have shown extraordinary leadership and service.
A panel of volunteer judges evaluates the nominees on their experience and education, career accomplishments and leadership, and community service and involvement.
This year’s judges were Mannie Barnes, Guy F. Atkinson Construction; Michael Boomsma, Cordoba Corp.; Wendy MacLeod, Turner Construction Co.; and Eric Solem, Exxel Pacific.
Motivated by childhood dreams and memories, this group of 25 up-and-comers found their calling in the fields of architecture, construction and engineering. Along the way, they have demonstrated hard work and passion for their chosen fields. They have climbed their way up the ranks of their respective companies, impressing superiors and inspiring peers.
These go-getters lead large teams through multimillion-dollar projects, break ground with new innovations and delivery methods, champion the growth of women and minorities in construction and look to a more sustainable future. Whether tunneling below cities to improve mass transit, building more structurally sound and energy-efficient skyscrapers or forming new companies, they are putting their stamp on the industry and paving the way for the next generation.
While all of this year’s honorees are dedicated to their professions, they still manage to find time to give back to their communities. Some pick up trash at the beach, help feed the homeless or mentor school kids, while others volunteer at the local church, donate bikes or build homes for the less fortunate. Whatever the method, these special individuals display a great level of compassion for others.
The results are in. ENR thanks our judges for their time and hard work and congratulates our regional honorees.
37, Senior Structural Engineer
Dam expert goes from Eagle Scout to engineer
After graduating magna cum lade with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a minor in mathematics, Abela won the prestigious Tau Beta Pi Fellowship award during graduate school. He completed his studies in 2009 with a master’s degree in civil engineering and began working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District.
At the USACE, he became lead structural designer on several features for the high-profile Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway project and soon was promoted to lead engineer. After joining AECOM, he established himself as an expert in the design and evaluation of hydraulic structures, especially Tainter gates.
An Eagle Scout, Abela is no stranger to community service. During college, he volunteered with Engineers Without Borders, helping to build a dam in Honduras, and he mentors and guides young graduates on their senior projects involving hydraulic structures. In his free time, he runs triathlons.
34, Project Executive
Community volunteer is also a skilled project leader
Redwood City, Calif.
Chen began as a DPR intern 12 years ago. Since then, his technical expertise, passion for building and strength in developing and growing client relationships have propelled him through a series of operational roles to the position of project executive, focused on major customer accounts. Today, he leads large teams on some of DPR’s most complex projects throughout Silicon Valley, working with prominent Fortune 100 companies. The projects include large, ground-up development of corporate campuses, research and development space, mission critical data center space and an array of industrial and infrastructure projects.
Chen also is an integral part of DPR’s Bay Area community initiative team. In this role he volunteers in communities where DPR projects are being built, contributing to causes such as Turning Wheels for Kids, which builds more than 2,500 bikes every year for underprivileged children.
32, Project Engineer
Marine vet applies leadership skills on complex projects
Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
As a helicopter jet engine mechanic in the Marine Corps, Elliott quickly rose through the ranks to lead a large maintenance program in Okinawa, Japan, as well as lead water survival training for more than 700 marines. He then went to Afghanistan to lead another maintenance program before heading to college on a leadership scholarship. While in school, he created a military liaison position within the AGC student chapter focused on helping veterans transition from the military to the world of construction and engineering.
Elliott’s career at Hensel Phelps began with a full-time internship working on the Kaiser Permanente Central Campus in San Diego. Upon graduation in 2016, he moved on to bigger projects and responsibilities and was promoted to office engineer and then project engineer.
25, Emerging Technology Manager
Innovator volunteers her time as a student mentor
Skanska USA Building
Gemmell started at Skanska as a project engineer. Her passion for innovation and construction soon led her to the role of emerging technology manager, responsible for driving innovation and new technology adoption on all Oregon projects. She has introduced more than 11 new technologies to Skanska’s Portland office, including virtual reality training, Matterport scanning and worker wearables.
Gemmell also enjoys helping others. In college, she learned about volunteer opportunities to guide visually impaired athletes. She now volunteers at the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes as a ski guide and instructor. Gemmell also volunteers as a mentor with the ACE Mentor Program of Oregon, teaching high school students about careers in architecture, construction and engineering. Most recently, she guided students through a semester-long project to design a new student housing complex on Portland State University’s campus.
28, Transportation and Environmental Planner
Transportation expert supports growing role of women
Besides being a transportation expert, Gross loves helping others and has volunteered for multiple organizations, including Women’s Transportation Seminar - Los Angeles, one of the largest WTS chapters, and SPARK Los Angeles, which introduces students in grades six through 10 to STEM careers in design, construction and engineering of public infrastructure. She also supports Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated people, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of the community.
At STV, Gross serves as project manager for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s gender action plan, which evaluates the specific needs of female riders. She also provides project management support and environmental services on transit and major design-build projects throughout Southern California. Gross’ expertise includes geographic information system mapping and analysis.
Entrepreneur spearheads change
A force for change and an entrepreneur in the construction industry, Farrokhyar began his career at Siemens Building Technologies, becoming the firm’s youngest director-level manager. He also worked at Southland Industries, a premier national design-build mechanical firm. From Southland, Farrokhyar moved on to Total-Western, a subsidiary of Total-American. He began as vice president and general manager and was promoted to president within his first year. At Total-Western, he transitioned a traditional services organization for the oil and gas industry into a turnkey design, build, operations and maintenance contractor focused on emerging industrial clientele.
Throughout his career, Farrokhyar has mentored young talent. He was appointed young professional liaison for the Western Pacific region of the Design-Build Institute of America and has been a member of Vistage professional development. For the past 13 years, he also has been a volunteer with the American Cancer Society.
39, Senior Structural Project Engineer
Leader tackles high-profile projects
Born in India, Kadam earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Mumbai and received the department’s excellence award. She earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from University of Missouri by working as a research assistant and receiving the chancellor’s nonresident award scholarship. She also received the American Concrete Institute Missouri chapter’s outstanding graduate student of the year award.
Kadam currently manages the structural design and construction administration for HNTB on the LAX automated people mover project, which includes a multistory, post-tensioned concrete garage. She has more than 15 years of design experience on high-profile projects totaling $7 billion.
Kadam has served as the youngest president and director of Structural Engineering Association of Kansas and Missouri and is currently part of SEAOSC Women-in-Structural-Engineering committee. She also serves as an ACE program mentor.
39, Senior Construction Manager
Safety expert exudes goodwill
As one of the youngest senior construction managers at AECOM, Kalhoro has served as resident engineer on several high-profile San Diego projects, including the North Coast Corridor, one of the largest construction CM/GC delivery projects in Southern California. When a bluff collapse jeopardized the stability of the second-busiest intercity rail corridor in the nation, Kalhoro and his team quickly deployed to repair the collapse and reestablish the stability of the rail line.
He also is a member of American Railway Engineering & Maintenance of Way. Its members devote their time writing and publishing new standards for railway infrastructure.
Outside his professional life, Kalhoro and his family serve as an ambassador family for the Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s Miracle Network, where they raise funds for the hospital and connect with others that need support.
37, Project Executive
BIM specialist helps kids
San Jose, Calif.
Kala has spent most of his career at DPR working on iconic projects with some of the Bay Area’s most prominent health care providers and high-tech companies. His project portfolio includes delivery of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and other large corporate campuses and research and development spaces. He brings a unique skill set to his work—a structural engineering background combined with strong BIM and scheduling skills—and he’s focused on implementing lean methodologies for work packages.
Kala has a passion for giving back. Each year he volunteers at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital for Halloween trick or treat, where he dresses up and gives gifts and candy to kids in the hospital. He also volunteers at his local library to help kids write stories and teaches meditation for the nonprofit Art of Living.
37, Project Manager/Partner
Engineer builds global projects
Plant Construction Co.
Keileh graduated with honors from UC Davis with an undergraduate degree in civil and environmental engineering, then earned his master’s in structural engineering and mechanics and materials from UC Berkeley. His vast project portfolio includes design and construction management of office and residential structures, multiuse mid- and high-rise buildings, seismic retrofits, historic preservation work, laboratories, U.S. embassies, airports and complex multibuilding developments around the world.
He volunteers at local food shelters during the holiday seasons, is an active member of his church and teaches children how to build sand castles in the Sand Castles for Kids program. He also volunteers on the natural disaster response inspection team for the California Office of Emergency Services’ safety assessment program and has acquired OSHA 30 and CPR certifications.
35, Senior Vice President, General Counsel
Attorney rises to top of profession
Kirby is passionate about his role as Webcor’s general counsel because it allows him to visit project sites and interact with a broad cross section of the workforce, from laborers and project managers to senior executives. He also likes seeing firsthand how the advice and counsel that he and his team provide help buildings and infrastructure get built.
After graduating from UCLA School of Law, Kirby began his career practicing public law, labor and employment litigation and commercial litigation. Next, he went on to represent large general contractors in all aspects of contract negotiations. He soon connected with Webcor and joined the firm’s in-house legal department, where he quickly rose to vice president and deputy general counsel, becoming one of the youngest vice presidents in Webcor’s 50-year history. In his free time, he cycles along Northern California’s coastline and enjoys wine tasting in nearby Napa and Sonoma counties.
35, Assistant Professor and RC Wilson Faculty Scholar
Teacher furthers innovations
Oregon State University
Louis is an assistant professor of construction engineering in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University, where he leads the simulation, automation and monitoring of construction operations lab that focuses on transforming the construction industry through technological innovations.
His industry experience includes working as a project engineer and software developer. At Oregon State, he teaches heavy civil construction management, construction estimating, project risk management and simulation and visualization of construction operations.
Louis also helps curious high school students enter the construction industry through educational and training initiatives. Louis also conducts workshops using an augmented reality sandbox he built to engage high school students in problems relating to building and maintaining infrastructure.
40, Global Facilities Group Manager in California
Leader makes time for community
Burns & McDonnell
Since joining Burns & McDonnell, Lorenzo has excelled. In less than two years, he grew his team to 11 employee-owners and has been promoted several times. Last year he was tapped to lead the global facilities group in California. He answered the challenge by growing the team to nearly 20 employee-owners within one year. Currently, Lorenzo leads 40 projects in manufacturing, mission critical, life sciences and aerospace.
Outside work, Lorenzo is a member of United Way Leadership. He also loves cleaning up local beaches with the help of his daughters. When the pandemic hit, he became a mentor for the 2021 United Way of Orange County’s e-Mentorship program, where volunteers helped more than 300 disadvantaged Orange County high school seniors.
David Robert Ojala
37, Vice President
Forensic expert embraces change
Ojala grew up in Illinois with his five sisters, the only son of a naval architect. His interest in the nontraditional aspects of structural engineering started with his college research, which included finite element analysis of acoustic guitars and development of the soil sampling tool for NASA’s proposed lunar rover.
After graduation, Ojala worked in San Francisco designing tall buildings and landmark structures. Next, he joined FEMA Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 4 in Oakland, where he realized he could make a career out of investigating and repairing damaged buildings. He then transitioned into forensics and joined Thornton Tomasetti. The firm was looking for someone who could help grow its San Francisco forensics practice, and Ojala liked that he could also be involved in design while working with the firm’s forensics team.
Alicia Loh Ortiz
37, Project Manager
Inspires women and young adults
Newport Beach, Calif.
Ortiz has more than 16 years of experience managing complex life science projects, mid-rise ground-up, core-and-shell campus projects and progressive commercial office renovations. In the past year, she has led training programs for project managers and project engineers to engage in competency and skill development conversations between managers and employees, while also assisting in the development of employee resource groups. This is all in addition to her full-time responsibilities in leading a team of seven on a $70-million core-and-shell campus building.
To change perceptions of women in construction and highlight the variety of roles within the industry, Ortiz participated in a career panel through Youth Employment Services (YES). She also participated in YES’s virtual mock interview program providing feedback, training and coaching to high school students. The nonprofit prepares at-risk youth and young adults for meaningful careers.
37, Project Executive
Skilled sailor leads project teams
Pratt joined DPR directly out of college as a project engineer, began working on health care projects and was soon promoted to project manager. After a stint at a construction management firm, she relocated to Seattle and rejoined DPR Construction as a senior project manager. In her current position, she leads several projects teams, along with project management operations, career development and coaching initiatives for DPR’s business unit.
With a passion for sailing, she serves on the board of directors for Sail Sand Point, a nonprofit dedicated to making sailing available to everyone regardless of age, income or ability. Sail Sand Point is in the process of designing and building a new facility, and Pratt is offering her expertise as a construction manager to the organization.
32, Project Executive
Engineer cares for community
Clark Construction Group
Quigley has played crucial roles on megaprojects totaling more than $5.3 billion of work from Texas to California to Washington. As a board member for the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco, Quigley helped build a fence for a baseball field, taught cooking classes, raised money for scholarships, donated clothes during the holidays and hosted students on jobsite tours. She organized the Clark Cares charity golf tournament for five years in Northern California, raising more than $1 million for various organizations.
While leading construction on The Long Beach Courthouse project, Quigley spent many of her lunch hours volunteering at an elementary school across the street, where she would mentor students in science, technology, engineering and math. “Hopefully, it helped to inspire some young kids to be engineers,” she says.
39, Vice President, Digital/Director, US West Region
Thought leader values innovation
Siranosian accelerates the use of digital innovation and technology in engineering. As a key leader of AECOM Ventures, she helped to launch the first global innovation challenge and led the development and commercialization of two ideas that changed the way AECOM conducts scenario planning and asset management. They are Mobilitics, a connected and autonomous vehicles scenario planning tool, and a Google partnership project that demonstrated how artificial intelligence and machine learning can assess the condition of infrastructure assets.
As a board member of the Los Angeles chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar, she launched a mentorship program that connects professionals with executive leaders. She also participates in Transportation, Engineering and Design Academy informational interviews with local high school engineering students.
34, Project Manager
Leader solves waste challenges
Growing up in rural India, Singh saw firsthand the environmental challenges that rural communities face, such as an open-sewer wastewater system or the lack of organized waste management. His passion in addressing environmental challenges helped him become an engineer with a focus on solid waste management.
In 11 years with HDR, Singh has become an industry leader in waste management, and he currently manages projects worth more than $25 million while assisting clients with unique environmental challenges across the U.S., Canada, Chile, India, Australia and the Maldives.
Outside work, Singh has delivered numerous technical presentations, moderated sessions and led initiatives to engage young professionals in the solid waste industry. He is active with the Solid Waste Association of North America, where he mentors students and young professionals.
39, Associate Principal
Engineer also serves as a disaster services worker
ZFA Structural Engineers
After college, Sommer moved to Melbourne, Australia, and worked at a structural engineering firm for a year between travels to Thailand, New Zealand and most of Western Europe. Back in the U.S., she joined ZFA in San Francisco as an engineer in 2011, rapidly advancing to senior engineer, then associate and then associate principal. Besides being an engineer, she also is a registered disaster services worker as part of the California Office of Emergency Services’ safety assessment program.
In her spare time, Sommer has co-owned a wedding writing business since 2010 that helps people create custom wedding vows, speeches and ceremonies. She is also heavily involved in three organizations: Structural Engineers Association of Northern California, National Council of Structural Engineers Associations and Commercial Real Estate Women San Francisco.
34, Project Controls Manager
Expert solves transit problems
Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Tascioglu started his career as a project controls engineer, working in various industries, including upstream oil and gas, health care, education, government and infrastructure, supporting and managing multiple engineering teams.
A native of Turkey, his love of the built environment led him to the U.S. and a master’s degree in civil engineering at Michigan State University.
At LA Metro, Tascioglu works with medium to long-term forecasting of capital projects and preparation of fiscal year reports by performing financial analysis.
Tascioglu has been heavily involved with American Society of Civil Engineers and U.S. Green Building Council and served as treasurer and secretary for ASCE’s SSJV Branch Younger Members Forum Executive Board and as the Emerging Professionals National Committee Strategic Initiatives chair at USGBC.
39, Senior Superintendent
Leader advocates for safety
Clark Construction Group
Tuerk has spearheaded construction on more than $1.2 billion of work throughout California. Recently, he led delivery of the landmark North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego, a $500-million, 1.6-million-sq-ft mixed-use residential project.
Committed to building safely, he led Clark’s companywide adaptation of the emergency action plan smartphone application, which allows users easy access to an emergency contact list and action plans in case of fire, vehicular accidents, medical injuries, serious accidents and other emergencies.
He has lent his time and talents to local Rebuilding Together chapters, performing much needed repairs and updates to homes in underserved communities. During his stint at the UCSF Sandler Neurosciences Project, he helped complete the five-day remodel of a family home in Oakland.
Diego de Veyga
37, Senior Project Manager
Project manager builds houses for the underserved
Myers & Sons Construction
Before joining Myers & Sons Construction, de Veyga spent five years as an associate professor with the civil and mechanical engineering departments at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
With both field experience and classroom knowledge, he has strived to mentor new and future engineers. He has been involved in many technically complex projects throughout the U.S., using his expertise in design, construction, tunneling and management skills to help agencies and contractors improve standard operating procedures, develop project innovations and complete projects on time and budget.
While working in Virginia, de Veyga volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for underserved residents. The work reminded him of watching his father build houses for less fortunate families in Argentina. He was also part of Volunteers in Protective Services, where he developed soccer camps and planned Halloween and Christmas parties.
39, Operational Vice President
Volunteer cleans up communities
Skanska USA Civil West
Since his first job at a hardware store, Waguespack knew he wanted to work in construction like his father. After Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana, he took a position as a mechanical contractor involved in reconstruction to help his community.
Waguespack later transitioned to Skanska, where he has worked on a variety of civil projects across Southern California. His biggest project is the $1.2-billion Regional Connector Project, which he began work on seven years ago as a station manager and was recently elevated to project director. He helps lead a crew of roughly 70 staff, 250 union workers and 260 subcontractors.
When not at jobsite, Waguespack and his family volunteer at their local church, helping out with fairs and other activities. His family also volunteers to pick up trash twice a month in the community.
31, Bridge Engineer
Bridge expert also educates others about recycling
As alternative-delivery resource manager, Zheng has established herself as a process-improving engineer who is sought out for the company’s largest, most complex projects. Zheng has helped deliver more than $15 billion in large-scale alternative-delivery infrastructure projects.
Her experience includes delivering large-scale bridge programs, managing cross-disciplinary design squads, collaborating with subconsultants and contractors, and coordinating complexities with stakeholders in design-build environments.
Zheng regularly volunteers for the Pear Blossom Place Family Shelter and has been certified through the Thurston County Master Recycler Composters Program, which trains volunteers to educate residents about the life cycle of trash, recycling and composting.
In 2018, Zheng challenged her office staff to engage in a holiday competition that was focused on donating items to the Pear Blossom shelter. She also is in the process of converting her house to net-zero energy.