The winners of the ENR Texas/Louisiana Top Young Professionals competition are as diverse a group as the specialties and career paths in the construction industry itself—with backgrounds ranging from senior transportation engineers and planning leads to vice presidents and communication professionals. But all display clear signs of becoming the industry leaders of tomorrow.

Adjectives such as dedicated and inspiring are used to describe the 20 men and women selected from the region, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

Selected from more than 70 submitted candidates, those chosen this year show diversity in many respects. Winners graduated from large universities and small colleges in both rural areas and large cities. Some began their careers at small firms, where they have worked their way up the ladder. Others opted to gain a multifaceted experience in a large company, while still others opted immediately to be their own boss in running a start-up. Most knew the industry was their chosen career path, while others found it by accident. But one thing they have in common: They are the future of the construction sector.

A three-judge panel narrowed the field—with two nominees, WSP USA’s Lauren Taylor and Kyle Weller of Turner Construction—also chosen to advance to the national competition. They will be recognized at ENR’s Emerging Leaders Forum on March 18-20 in Chicago.

The three regional judges—David Hale, director of Manhattan Construction; Eric Kong, Freese & Nichols treatment, transmission and utility team engineer; and one who wished to remain anonymous—said scoring was difficult.

Nominees were judged on three primary criteria: education and industry experience, leadership and service to his or her community. Those who were cited shared details of being mentors to younger construction professionals and active in local nonprofits that serve communities where their firms work, offering their skill, time and enthusiasm.

Supervisors praised Preston Chan for his positive attitude and willingness to tackle difficult engineering problems.
—Preston Chan, 39, Senior Transportation Engineer, HDR

Justin borchardt

Justin Borchardt
Combining business acumen and public service
39, Senior Vice President, Commercial
S&B Engineers and Constructors
Baton Rouge

Borchardt joined S&B in 2008 as its proposal manager, quickly advancing into business development. In 2022, he became a senior vice president responsible for supporting S&B business units focused on energy transition, power and industrial markets. The role also includes acquisition and retention of customers.

For six years, Borchardt was an active member of the company’s corporate quality improvement team for which he led a committee implementing recommendations that resulted in cost reductions, project quality improvements and increased customer satisfaction.

Outside of work, Borchardt is active in the Engineering and Construction Contracting Association—a national group of owners, contractors, suppliers and academics aimed at driving excellence in construction and engineering through networking, education, innovation and outreach. He is a former board committee chair. Borchardt, a University of Texas chemical engineering undergrad, enjoys lending time to his sons’ sports teams and to the Cub Scouts, especially the organization’s Pinewood Derby Work Day, at which scouts learn about physics and aerodynamics.


Preston Chan

Preston Chan
Advanced by tackling projects with positivity and technical skill
39, Senior Transportation Engineer

Chan joined HDR in 2014 as a highway engineer working on a large Texas design-build project, Interstate 35, where he made a positive impression on his supervisors immediately, says Bill Fleming, the engineering firm’s design sector manager. Chan’s hard work and willingness to take on the most difficult technical challenges continue to this day, he says.

Chan has shared his technical knowledge and can-do attitude across many HDR projects globally and domestically and learned new skills.

His initiative led to new roles such as 3D modeler for a Texas highway project and as BIM manager for Florida’s Interstate-395 Signature Bridge in Miami.

Currently, Chan is deputy project manager for the Artcraft Interchange project in El Paso, Texas, that includes unique aesthetics and design requirements.

In addition, he is deputy program manager for design oversight on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project Segment 3B—the state transportation agency’s largest undertaking through the city’s downtown in decades.

Chan is active in his community, including participating in programs for Adopt-a-Drain Cleanup, early childhood education and environmental groups. He also found a different way to advance STEM education by writing a children’s book entitled “Good Morning, Engineers,” which explores engineering fields.


Scott Comley

Scott Comley
Learned importance of teamwork early in his career
38, President, Communications Utilities Primoris Services Corp.
Primoris Services Corp.
Mesquite, Texas

Comley became interested in specialty contracting while working on the LBJ Express Managed Lane expansion of IH-635 in Dallas, where his job was to manage utility relocations on the project. That task entailed constructing more than 450,000 feet of new utility facilities through occupied right-of-way to accommodate the new highway footprint.

When Comley’s former employer was purchased by Primoris in 2021, he led the operations team in adopting necessary practices and procedures to operate as a publicly traded company. These spanned nearly all aspects of the business, including estimating, project management, project controls, safety, fleet management, contract management and licensing, the company says in its nomination form.

As president of Future Infrastructure, which performs all Primoris communications-related construction services, he oversees more than 850 employees and $300 million in annual revenue.

Comley is a board director of the National Utility Contractor’s Association, North Texas chapter, and also participates in fundraising events for the Winners for Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to inspire, encourage and guide at-risk youth to take charge of their lives. He also volunteers in working with disabled adults, children and veterans.


Ali Donoho

Ali Donoho
Striving to include more women in engineering
36, Operations Manager
MW Builders
Pflugerville, Texas

Co-workers call Donoho a trailblazer at MW Builders. They say she is an advocate for diversity in the construction industry, an active servant leader and a volunteer in her community. Donoho is the first and only woman operations manager at the firm, the general building unit of MMC Corp. She oversees more than 30 project managers, superintendents and support staff on light industry design-build projects.

Empowering women in a male-dominated industry is important to Donoho. Her industry involvement has always been aimed at improving outcomes for women, minorities and young people in construction by “being the person I needed when I was younger.”

Donoho is an active member of the National Association of Women in Construction in Austin and partakes in continuing education courses offered by the organization to ensure she is well-equipped to continue supporting women in the construction industry.

She also served as vice board chair this past year of the Playful Child—a nonprofit that supports community members grieving the loss of a child. She recently raised more than $25,000 for the organization.




Cullen Harper
Small town values translate into urban success.
35, Associate Vice President, Highways
Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson

Shiner, Texas

Harper believes in long hours and hard work, something that may emanate from his time mending fences in Sweet Home, Texas. Those experiences have served him well in his current role as a Shiner,Texas,-based project manager. His tasks include implementing long-term staff planning, communicating project goals and needs in the office and improving company profitability and work-life balance while maintaining a quality product.

Harper was selected several years ago to attend the firm’s Lead People Program that focuses on boosting project manager internal and external leadership abilities. He developed a leadership philosophy, which he gives to all new employees so they understand his expectations. Not one to sit behind a desk, Harper often visits jobsites to assess progress.

Growing up in a small town, Harper knows how nonprofit groups depend on volunteers. He was among onsite participants donating time and expertise in a recent effort by a local church to upgrade its parking lot to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.



Amanda kEy

Amanda Key
One of the youngest woman principals in the design firm
39, Interior Design Principal

Key arrived at SmithGroup’s Dallas office in 2019 to lead its interior design discipline after six years in Detroit. She had specific goals to grow its employee number, level of expertise and service offerings. She has since tripled the interior design staff size.

“Joining the Dallas office as one of the youngest female principals in the firm with training in architecture and interior design gave Amanda a uniquely qualified and holistic perspective” to lead design delivery and the integrated interiors practice,” her nomination form says.

Key had the opportunity to define a new culture for interior design at the firm. Her ability to listen to and engage staff at different career points is the foundation of her team-building success, the form says.

She is active in several community groups and activities. In 2022, Key became an advisory council member of the Texas Tech University design department, her alma mater. She also supports charity benefits for Children’s Medical Center Dallas and Hip Hop Architecture’s Dallas Camp and shares thought leadership presentations with groups such as the International Interior Design Association.



Geoff Kornegay

Geoff Kornegay
Love of baseball has led to a ‘cool’ career
36, Associate Principal

Kornegay may have one of the coolest jobs in the industry—designing baseball facilities. As an expert in that practice in the Americas for design firm Populous, he is known for his uniquely strong knowledge of and focus on the sport, including in its minor league and collegiate sectors.

Kornegay is one of the company’s baseball market leaders, splitting his time in handling marketing efforts, relationship management, business development and leading projects through design phases, the company notes in its nomination form.

“In this role, Kornegay helps clients develop and ultimately realize the design vision for their facilities,” the submission form says. He works with minor league teams, municipalities and other groups who are developing, funding, owning and operating venues. Kornegay says the projects are designed to be community amenities that spur growth and bring people together.

Kornegay also is active in several Populous committees, from sustainability to recruitment. In addition, he is office representative of the New Grad Advocate Committee, a program for recent graduates transitioning into the workplace. Kornegay is the first point of contact for networking opportunities, support for professional development and other measures to facilitate a positive experience.


Hannah E. Leppla

Hannah E. Leppla
Engineer is her profession, community service her passion
34, Professional Engineer
Plummer Associates Inc.

Leppla knows water. Over the last decade, she has contributed to a variety of water and wastewater projects, including planning, modeling and detailed design of new wastewater treatment facilities, activated granular sludge processes and anaerobic-anoxic-aerobic nutrient removal.

Leppla’s work has involved water quality data analysis, design of wastewater process treatment units and GIS mapping, among other tasks. Her experience in project management and construction administration and inspection has been crucial to overall project success, her nomination form says.

While engineering is her vocation, this emerging leader has a passion for service. She is a leader in the American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Association of Texas and the Community Engineering Corps.

Leppla also is a mentor for students, from elementary school level to university. Her interaction with high school students through the Austin Breakthrough program exposed first-generation college applicants to a science perspective in environmental engineering. She also has volunteered at the University of Texas Austin Girl Day and has set up tabletop water experiments for elementary-age girls.

Recently, Leppla did pro-bono preliminary engineering work for a new water distribution system in the rural central Texas town of Mullin.

From elementary school to college and university classrooms, Leppla tells students about the joys and adventures of engineering.
—Hannah E. Leppla, 34, Professional Engineer, Plummer Associates Inc.

Kalman Nagy

Kalman Nagy
Building tree houses started his architectural career
38, Principal Architect

Nagy has come a long way from designing and building tree houses in his backyard. While the structures he now designs are more advanced, his passion for a successful project has not changed. For more than 15 years, Nagy has continued to aim for design excellence for projects while also improving the built environment.

As a SmithGroup principal architect, Nagy now creates projects for clients in business, higher education, recreation and wellness and campus athletics. He provides design leadership through all phases of project development, from interviews and planning through construction administration, photography and award submittals, according to his nomination form. “I love the intersection of crafting beautiful work and making our clients more successful,” Nagy says in a company post.

As a leader, Nagy uses his experience to help the firm win new projects and execute that work. “His visual and collaborative style enables him to mentor teams to achieve design excellence,” the nomination form says. Last year, Nagy was nominated as “best team player” by his SmithGroup colleagues. His management style is simple: Every voice should be heard, and throughout the creative process, all input leads to dynamic solutions with big impacts. Nagy is a member of the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects, where he actively serves on committees. He is also involved with his daughters’ school.

Kalmal Nagy has come a long way from building tree houses in his backyard to designing schools, recreational areas and wellness campuses.
—Kalmal nagy, 38, Principal Architect, SmthGroup


Thomas Packer
Leading by recognizing industry benchmarks
38, Associate Principal

What makes Packer an emerging leader is that he regularly researches industry benchmarks, focusing on potential gaps and areas for new solutions for his health care projects that will not only meet clients’ goals, but also improve the healing environment for both patients and staff, according to his co-workers.

One example of his contributions to overall industry improvement and leadership is his work as the assistant project manager on the $1.5-billion Harris Health System Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Hospital expansion project.

“LBJ is a community hospital funded by Harris County for those most in need,” according to his nomination form. The expansion goals are to create a facility that is “resilient to weather events and equipment failure, flexible for future expansion and economically feasible to operate and maintain.”

Packer realizes the importance of community project work. As an avid runner, he has participated in several running clubs and initiatives that raise money for charities. These include participating in the 180-mile Texas Food run, a three-month-long challenge to support food banks.

He has also raced in the 10K Rodeo Run, which is hosted by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a group that promotes agriculture and provides educational support to the community.

Pope is a doer; those who do, often end up leading.
—Brett Pope, 38, National Director Transportation and Infrastructure, Terracon


Brett Pope
Turning ideas into action and actionable plans
38, National Director, Transportation and Infrastructure
Terracon Consultants

Pope is a doer, and often they are the ones who end up leading. At Terracon, he has led several company initiatives that ended with successful results.

Pope established Terracon’s Texas transportation team—a unique model that has become a best practice for the company. It used resources from 25 Texas offices to create a project delivery approach that works directly with clients across the entire life cycle while maintaining a consistent point of contact, his nomination form says.

His leadership skills also were on display when he led initiatives to develop industry-leading traffic control safety practices. The initiative, which identified 26 traffic control subject-matter experts, was rolled out across Terracon, the company says.

Pope also implemented a tool for tracking supplier diversity, which also was shared companywide. It also involved training more than 100 people in how to be more effective in meeting supplier diversity goals for Terracon.

When he is not leading some initiatives for the firm, Pope is helping his community, mainly the Dripping Springs Youth Sports Association. As a head coach for girls youth recreational soccer teams, he initially stepped up due to a coach shortage but discovered a deep passion for it. He has since pursued soccer coaching certification and has been actively involved in coaching over multiple seasons.



Leah Read

Leah Read
Returning to school to land new environmental position
38, Structure Engineer VI
Baton Rouge

Louisiana is stepping up its focus on coastal restoration and non-structural hurricane resilience systems, such as supporting wetlands and barrier islands.

To meet the growing demand for professionals in this field, Read is increasing her knowledge of these systems to seek out new project opportunities.

For two years, Read returned to college at night to earn a graduate certificate in coastal engineering at the University of New Orleans. She also gained a license as a structural engineer of record—using it in Texas to support a first-of-its-kind river stabilization project. It involved constructing structural bendway weirs in a sharp curve of the Brazos River, which has been eroding a levee system and infrastructure at an alarming rate, her nomination form states. Read also gained that license in Kentucky. The added education has propelled her to become deeply embedded in flood risk reduction work in greater New Orleans.

Read also is invested in her community in other ways, assuming a volunteer role as regional Mathcounts event coordinator. For more than 10 years, she was a volunteer test proctor and grader for the group.



Riley Seahorn
Advocating for more women in the construction trades
39, Project Manager
McCarthy Building Cos.
Richardson, Texas

Seahorn became a leader in McCarthy’s Partnership for Women to empower her female project partners to boost their own career development and seek greater opportunities. As part of her commitment to the group, she helps mentor women in the company and increase their number in project engineering positions. From 2020 to 2023, Riley served as the group lead for Dallas-Fort Worth, then becoming southern regional lead to oversee activities in other McCarthy Texas locations and in Atlanta.

She is also heavily involved with the National Association of Women in Construction in Fort Worth. During the 2021-2022 term, she served as chapter president and oversaw its 12-member board. Riley has organized events for Women in Construction Week and worked to champion fellow women in the industry.

Seahorn volunteers at McCarthy charitable events, including Our Daily Bread in Denton, Texas, a nonprofit that works to feed, shelter and care for people who are homeless and at risk.


Amy Shadowens

Amy Shadowens
Learning and listening are key to her success
36, Project Manager
DPR Construction

Core to Shadowen’s leadership philosophy is the belief in continual self-initiated change to develop herself and those around her, including the communities in which she is building. She seeks to learn something new every day—about leadership, high-performing teams or anything that will grow her skill set and knowledge.

Part of that continual growth is being vulnerable, getting feedback and seeking advice from her mentors, she says.

Shadowen’s co-workers describe her as a “progressive leader who engages her team members in a personal and connected way” to establish a foundation of trust.

“Her drive for continual improvement is evident in how she’s constantly finding ways to make things happen. Amy is great at doing what she says she’ll do, and meeting and exceeding client expectations,” her nomination form says.

What started as a way to give back and connect families to their newborn babies in the hospital has grown into a life-changing mission to help those in her community.

Shadowens is the DPR central region community involvement leader. In that role, she supports each company community involvement champion in its Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Denver offices.


“I am continually seeking to better myself as a professional and as a leader, and have taken various courses to master these skills.”
—Amber St. Julian, 35, Technical Designer, Gensler

Amber St. Julian

Amber St. Julian
Young designer realizes education is key to management
35, Technical Designer

While relatively new to leadership positions, St. Julian knows skills are required that often need additional education. “I am continually seeking to better myself as a professional and as a leader,” she says in her nomination form. St. Julian is currently enrolled in management programs offered by her employer to boost her understanding of leadership.

Her learning is going beyond company-offered classes. She is currently in the process of taking the Architect Registration Examination. St. Julian also uses YouTube and LinkedIn learning to improve her skills in various design software programs such as Revit, SketchUp, Photoshop or Illustrator.

St. Julian is a member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, assisting in career fairs to boost recruitment. Her efforts also include representing Gensler in Project Pipeline, a program intended to introduce Black and other minority students to careers in architecture.

Recently, she directed a pro-bono project for Lockhart Elementary School in Houston by beautifying its campus with a STEM-themed mural. In 2022, Gensler presented the project with a corporate Give Back Award, which recognizes teams of volunteers for their dedication to serving others in ways that make use of their design skills.


Edwin Tamang

Edwin Tamang
Family immigration story led to volunteer work
38, Vice President
San Antonio

Tamang has a strong commitment to improving processes that has contributed to industry advances while enhancing his skills and abilities. From 2008 to 2010, Tamang excelled in Kimley-Horn’s land development university program that provides young professionals with instruction and practical application in technical, financial, project management and other core skills.

In 2010, he introduced an innovative approach to airfield pavement evaluations. It integrates airfield pavement engineering, geospatial map development procedures, smart device applications and GPS-enabled tools to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements, according to his nomination form.

Known as Intelligent Navigation Mapping Tools, the approach was successfully used to evaluate 95 public-use airports in Florida. More recently, Tamang helped develop its framework and identify technical services and products related to infrastructure management.

Considered an aviation sector thought leader, he has presented to groups that include the Florida Dept. of Transportation, Florida Airports Council, National Association of State Aviation Officials and Airport Minority Advisory Council.

Tamang’s connection to airports as a gateway to opportunity is rooted in his own family’s immigration journey to the U.S. It fuels his passion for supporting organizations and inspiring careers in STEM, particularly within at-risk communities.



Lauren Taylor
Has a passion to help minorities learn about transportation
33, Deputy Texas District Planning Lead
San Antonio

Taylor began her career at the Federal Emergency Management Agency before moving to the Texas Dept. of Transportation and to her current role, where she is involved in operations, team building and client relationships.

Her achievements include being part of the effort to grow the WSP Texas transportation planning practice from two to nearly 30 people in six years.

“Overall, Lauren’s commitment to improving company processes and outcomes, contributing to overall industry improvement and improving her own skills demonstrate her leadership abilities,” WSP says. “Her involvement in industry groups and professional organizations, and participation in industry certifications and accreditations highlight her dedication to professional development and continuous improvement.”

As a Black woman planner, Taylor says she is passionately involved in helping minority transportation professionals connect through organizations such as the Conference for Minority Transportation Officials and the Central Texas Association of Environmental Professionals. President of the latter group, she has organized scholarship fundraising events.

Taylor also has boosted membership in the minority transportation group’s Austin chapter, creating a networking luncheon series that featured industry leaders. She also was named to the ENR national list of the Top 20 Under 40 for 2024.

Overall, Lauren Taylor's commitment to improving company processes and outcomes, contributing to overall industry improvement and improving her own skills and abilities demonstrate her leadership skills and abilities.
—Lauren Taylor, 33, Deputy Texas District Planning Lead, WSP USA


Kyle Weller
Youngest general manager in Turner Construction history
37, Vice President and General Manager
Turner Construction Co.
San Antonio

Weller graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in construction engineering in 2008.Fifteen years later, his accomplishments are numerous.

He has played a pivotal role in expanding Turner Construction’s presence in various cities, with a particular focus on San Antonio for nearly a decade. “Kyle has held multiple positions within Turner, gaining valuable experience in the Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, Austin and San Antonio markets,” the company says.

Weller’s role in steering the growth of Turner’s San Antonio business unit led him to transfer to the city and assume the role of special projects division manager. In that position, he developed its staff and expanded business—overseeing projects worth up to $40 million. Over four years, the division grew to generate $60 million in revenue.

One current project is the $131-million University of Texas-San Antonio’s Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Careers building, also known as San Pedro II, set to complete in 2025. The seven-story, 180,000-sq-ft structure will be a collaborative space for programs in business, computer engineering, hardware-software development and sciences, says the firm.

In 2020, Weller was promoted to business manager in San Antonio, and to general manager one year later, making him Turner’s youngest GM in Texas. He manages a team of 200-plus professionals and oversees unit annual revenue that Turner says is now more than $300 million. Weller was elevated last year to corporate vice president, in addition to his role as GM.

Weller, who was also named to the ENR national list of the Top 20 Under 40 for 2024, makes a positive impact in his community. He volunteers with numerous programs across Austin including ACE Mentoring, several small business mentor/protégé groups, San Antonio Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and Haven for Hope.


Christine Wood

Christine Wood
Balancing multiple positions and mentoring young women engineers
29, Vice President
Burns & McDonnell

Wood firmly believes the axiom, “work hard, play hard,” which she learned at an early age. Her team of more than 100 professionals provide design and construction services. Additionally, she is a key leader of its 240-person mission critical group. Wood holds an undergraduate engineering degree from Villanova University and a master’s degree from Columbia University.

Wood has managed multimillion-dollar design-build and mission-critical projects for global clients in manufacturing, commercial and industrial sectors since joining Burns & McDonnell in 2016,

“I have marveled at her ability to lead and develop successful projects and deepen relationships with clients. This includes her data center design work for three tech giants,” says Diamond Dixon, marketing business partner at the firm.

When she’s not with clients, Wood is mentoring others. As a woman structural engineer, she takes an active role in reaching out to future women leaders at the firm and, more broadly, helping to confront gender biases associated with careers in the construction sector.



Dakota Zimmerman
A move from Kansas to Texas to land the big job
33, Texas Construction Services, Regional Director
Frisco, Texas

There’s no truer demonstration of commitment to a career and industry than a willingness to move a family. That’s what Zimmerman did last November, leaving Kansas when leadership of the design firm asked him to head its operations in Texas.

One year later, Garver hired five new professionals and launched new project links to the Texas Dept. of Transportation and El Paso Water. Zimmerman has acted as project manager for more than $1 billion of U.S. work, the firm says. It now has more than $100 million in projects for the state transportation agency.  

Garver officials say Zimmerman’s diverse background brings an innovative approach, making him a valuable resource for clients during a challenging time of material shortages and delays.

“Since construction engineering spans client bases, Dakota is continuously pursuing industry knowledge and skills,” they say in his nomination form.

But the busy boss finds time to be active in professional organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, Water Environment Association of Texas and American Public Works Association as well as some in Kansas. He was selected to be part of the 2023 American Council of Engineering Cos. Texas Leadership Academy, joining 35 peers to develop leadership skills, learn from prominent industry leaders and grow their statewide networks.

Community volunteering is also important to Zimmerman. He is active in Habitat for Humanity, assisting in multiple build projects and sourcing donations to fund a home for a local family.