Sometimes the well-known drawbacks to engineering and construction careers—countless hours in front of a computer screen or moving from town to town for new projects—seem to overshadow the inspiring aspects of working in the industry. How can construction emphasize the heroic possibilities? We could talk about, for instance, how Bernard Amadei founded Engineers Without Borders, a worldwide network that helps to lift people out of poverty in developing nations. ENR recognized his effort in 2009.

We can remind people about Kathi Littmann's accomplishment: planning new and improved schools for the children in Los Angeles. She was honored by ENR in 2003. Or think about Robert A. Tintsman, who rallied the staff of Morrison Knudsen Corp. after the firm fell into a financial abyss. He was our focus in 1996.

Construction and all its constituencies have been able to create a good case for what the industry offers young people besides a paycheck: interesting work and a chance to contribute to the built and natural environment. Today's millennials are exceptionally idealistic, however, so it's up to us to provide a narrative that is compelling enough to show that construction is a broad enough field of endeavor with opportunities to fulfill a deep-seated idealism.

Accomplishments, Large and Small

Each year, ENR's editors pore over our web and print pages to select—after considerable debate—the industry's most distinguished accomplishments. Not all of them are skyscraper-sized achievements. Some, like this year's Award of Excellence winner, U.S. Army veteran and Anvil Builders CEO Hien Manh "HT" Tran, combine business management, entrepreneurial spunk and public service. Some are incremental improvements, rather than a single extensive or imposing project.

All kinds of noble human qualities come into play, including fortitude, generosity and innovative prowess. We celebrated Bechtel's Terry Farley in 1992 for quelling the burning oil fields of Kuwait. We singled out contractor Robert M. Thompson, who, after selling his company in 2000, split a $128-million bonus among his 550 or so employees. We gave our top award in 2010 to innovator John Hillman for creating lighter, stronger materials now used in bridges. And who in our society remembers just what engineering pioneer Fazlur Khan accomplished to be recognized by ENR in 1972? Among other efforts, his innovations in structural systems enabled the construction of the 1,105-ft-tall John Hancock Building in Chicago.

Our recipients don't have the name recognition or wealth of a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg. Our winners don't make the front page of The Wall Street Journal. For those who wish to make a mark in life, they prove that engineering and construction hold unlimited opportunities for greatness.