Meet the 2020 NSPE Emerging Leaders!
This summer, 20 diverse young professionals from around the country were chosen to take part in NSPE’s Emerging Leaders Program. The unique enterprise is an intensive seven-month experience for promising early-career professionals who are just beginning to lead and think strategically in the profession and their careers. Learn more about these young professionals, their achievements, and their plans for the future.
- Jared Alexander, E.I.
- Jonathan Bossi, P.E.
- Bailey Diacon, E.I.T.
- Oren Gall, P.E.
- Anali Martinez Gonzalez, E.I.T.
- Skyler Helffrich, P.E.
- Steven Jeter, P.E.
- Jacob Maras, P.E.
- Richard (Richie) Matson, P.E.
- Michael McIntire, P.E.
- Kori McKenzie, P.E.
- Haley Michael, E.I.T.
- Priya Mistry, P.E.
- Brian Palmiter Jr., E.I.T.
- Lauren Pins, P.E.
- Shawn Prochaska, P.E.
- K. James Taylor Jr., P.E.
- Marc Vento, P.E.
- Eric Waggoner, E.I.
- Danielle Yoon, P.E.
Jared Alexander, E.I.
Engineer Intern Places High Value on Workplace Relationships
Electrical engineer intern Jared Alexander, of Akron, Ohio, unabashedly admits that upon graduating from high school, he wasn’t sure what type of curriculum to pursue in college. “I always did well in math and science courses, so I gave engineering a shot,” he says. Now working for Akron-based PTA Engineering, which provides mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and telecommunications engineering services, Alexander is less than a year away from taking his professional engineer examination to gain full licensure.
So far, his peak engineering experience is actually one of a partnering nature. “My best experiences have been building relationships,” Alexander notes. “Whether it be a client, contractor, sales rep, or another engineer, I’ve found that when I connect with someone on a personal level, it makes every part of a project successful and fun to work on.”
As part of his career foundation, Alexander values knowledge of his co-workers as well as the “humility to know what they don’t know and the willingness to ask questions and rely on others for guidance.” Moreover, he adds, “I can’t imagine not having others to bounce off ideas.” Similarly, Alexander’s perspective on leadership is one of outreach. “Leadership is spending the time and effort to make an impact on others,” he points out, “to see beyond your own ambition for a greater cause.”
Consequently, Alexander aims to learn the key leadership skills necessary to grow and make a difference not only in his place of employment, but in the community where he lives. As a vehicle for his objective, he currently participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has given me many tools to use as I gain more management and leadership responsibilities at my firm,” Alexander says. “I have enjoyed gaining the perspectives of engineers my age across the country.” Additionally, he hopes to pass along the skills he learns with others at PTA Engineering to build a stronger culture and community.
Alexander further cites the importance of NSPE attracting younger generations into the engineering profession. “I think exposure to engineering needs to be made at an early age and continued throughout primary education,” he explains. “Exposure should stretch across demographics with a focus on minority communities.”
Along with his passion for riding a motorcycle, Alexander reflects that if he hadn’t pursued engineering, he would probably own a bar, or perhaps be a teacher. Aside from his diversity of interests, he contends that he’s still addressing the concept of balancing work with his personal life. “I find it helps to have other commitments during the week to shift your focus away from work, whether that be exercise or a billiards league,” Alexander observes.
Jonathan Bossi, P.E.
Project Engineer Emphasizes Teamwork, Leadership for Success
Ask practicing engineers what attracts them to engineering, and their responses will be as unique as the profession itself. Civil engineer Jonathan Bossi, P.E., of Plantsville, Conn., has a personal, aesthetic perspective on engineering. “It is always a cool experience to see projects that I’ve had a hand in designing be constructed,” he says. “Aside from the sense of pride that our project team has seeing our work be built, seeing the value to the community that many of our projects bring is rewarding.”
Employed as a project engineer by Tighe & Bond Inc., engineering consultants based in Westfield, Mass., Bossi also has a grounded appreciation for teamwork. “I value people who are committed and enthusiastic about projects,” he notes. “It is also important to me that the people I work with are team players.” And for Bossi, leadership is part of the teamwork equation. He regards leadership as using one’s passion to motivate others to get the best out of people. “The ability to influence others for the betterment of our projects and organizations through setting a good example, being accountable, and showing our passion in everyday work is what I identify as leadership,” he explains.
Bossi currently participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“The NSPE Emerging Leadership Program aligns with my career goals to ascend into leadership roles in both my company and professional organizations,” Bossi points out. “My current company position allows me to coach and mentor junior staff and develop project management skills on various projects with a variety of clients. I hope to ascend to a larger role in management.” Having already participated in Tighe & Bond’s internal leadership activities, he aims to ensure the development of his coworkers and promote success of future projects through NSPE’s outreach.
NSPE also plays an important role in future engineering recruitment, according to Bossi. “The next generation coming into the workplace is motivated by making a difference and doing something meaningful in their careers,” he contends. “NSPE needs to showcase how the work of its members and all professional engineers improve society and make people’s lives better.”
Already, Bossi is realizing some of the benefits of NSPE’s leadership initiative. “It has been great getting to know emerging leaders in the engineering field from across the country and learn from each other by sharing our successes, challenges, and thoughts on leadership,” he observes. “In our weekly discussions and video calls, I have received feedback and advice from my peers on how to develop my leadership skills. As a group, we challenge each other to apply what we learn in the program to our everyday work.”
Although now a civil engineer, Bossi had environmental interests in mind when planning for college, but he wasn’t sure if engineering would be his endgame. He reflects back to a few engineering classes in high school where he “really enjoyed the mixture of science and math, problem solving, and technical skills.” He further notes that he was heavily influenced by his father, a civil engineer himself, who offered much “insight on what to expect from a career in engineering. I ultimately chose to pursue an environmental engineering degree at the University of Connecticut.”
Of course, striking a practical balance between work and personal time can be challenging at times, too, Bossi admits. “Even when I am really busy at work, it is important to schedule a break to go to the gym, turn on a ball game, or do something around the house before getting back into work mode,” he says. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and working remotely, “the separation between work and home life has become even more important,” he emphasizes. “It has forced me to create new routines to break up the day and keep me productive both in my work and at home.”
Bailey Diacon, E.I.T.
For Missouri Engineer, Leadership Means Influencing by Example
With both her stepfather and brother being engineers, it’s not unusual that Bailey Diacon, of Chesterfield, Mo., would follow a similar career path in civil engineering. An engineer-in-training, she is employed by Burns and McDonnell, a construction engineering company based in Kansas City, where she serves as a staff structural engineer managing high-voltage transmission construction projects.
Diacon regards her opportunity to work with multiple disciplines in placing a project into service as a peak engineering experience. “I’m currently at a point in my career where I’m leading a team and trying to expand scope and provide additional value to my client,” she points out. “I’m always looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge base,” she says, which includes professional development beyond her technical expertise.
As one who values honesty among her co-workers, Diacon is focused on honing her leadership attributes. And for her, leadership means influencing by example. Complementing her internal training sessions at Burns and McDonnell, she is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has been worthwhile, according to Diacon, who contends that the outreach initiative has provided “tools to develop my leadership skills as well as relationships with exceptional engineers across the country.” She further observes that NSPE can attract younger generations into the engineering field by “getting them interested early and showing that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) can be fun.”
Had she not pursued engineering as a career, Diacon, a former college cheerleader, says she would have considered becoming a real estate agent. Her engineering colleagues will probably admit she made the right career choice. And on a humorous note, when asked how she balances her work and personal life, Diacon smiles and says, “Still working on that one.”
Oren Gall, P.E.
University Park, Pennsylvania
Penn State Research Professor Honing His Leadership Outreach
Assistant research professor at Pennsylvania State University, Oren Gall, P.E., of University Park, has several roles in his professional career. He teaches digital design to undergraduates in Penn State’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and serves as faculty advisor for the PSU Student Chapter of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). Outside the classroom, he provides engineering design and consulting services through his University Park business, OZG Systems Engineering L.L.C., which develops electronic circuit designs and printed circuit boards.
Additionally, Gall serves as a state director of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers’ Central Region and currently participates in the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
Gall says his participation in NSPE’s leadership initiative provides a valuable opportunity to expand his new engineering practice and assist with ongoing leadership and teaching activities. “I hope to establish valuable professional connections and mentoring from others in private practice,” he notes. “Mentoring from senior engineers and entrepreneurs will help me grow my business, enhance my teaching and leadership at Penn State, and as a result, will allow me to mentor more students, employees, and inspire the next future leaders.”
Skyler Helffrich, P.E.
Civil Engineer Brings East Coast Project Experience To Wyoming
For the last six years, Skyler Helffrich, P.E., of Jackson, Wyo., has engaged in civil engineering projects spanning a broad range of applications — transportation planning/roadway design, commercial and residential site grading, storm water management, septic system design, and construction inspections. Currently employed by Y2 Consultants in Jackson, he previously worked for more than three years on the East Coast for Johnson Mirmiran & Thompson and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. in Baltimore and Boston, respectively.
Through his civil engineering career progression, Helffrich has assumed additional responsibilities. “My managerial roles have expanded over the past two years to grow into presiding over not only my own projects, but the finding, acquisition, management, and deliverance of transportation-oriented projects that Y2 has enabled me to pursue,” he says.
While Helffrich points out that his civil and environmental engineering undergraduate study prepared him for the problem-solving aspect of his profession, more expertise is needed. “I am seeking to bolster my project management, communications, and leadership skills to not only go above and beyond the expectations of our clients but to provide effective and meaningful internal leadership,” he emphasizes.
To help achieve that goal, Helffrich is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
Anali Martinez Gonzalez, E.I.T.
Latina Engineer, Blogger Sees Leadership as Key to Career
Undoubtedly, Anali Martinez Gonzalez, an engineer-in-training from Austin, Tex., was groomed for the profession as part of her family upbringing. After all, her father, a civil engineer and surveyor, is owner and principal of a consulting firm in Del Rio, southwest of Austin. It was expected that civil engineering would be her calling, too. However, her career aspirations were not without a little introspection along the way.
“My passion for the profession didn’t spark until about five years out of college,” Gonzalez notes. “I was struggling with deciding if I wanted to change careers because I felt like I wanted to do more for my community. I didn’t feel like I was doing that through engineering. Then, I realized how much engineers help the community.” With her goal of achieving a public office one day, Gonzalez knew that “her knowledge and experience in engineering is something that not a lot of people in positions of power possess.”
A civil engineering graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Gonzalez is currently employed by Austin-based MWM DesignGroup, an interdisciplinary firm providing engineering and architectural services, land surveying, and landscape architectural services throughout Texas. Not surprising, Gonzalez’s engineering background began at age 16 when she started working for her father. “I started with field surveying and then moved into the office to help with the surveying work,” she says. I then began training on MicroStation software to design small site projects during my summer breaks from college.”
Although not a project manager yet, Gonzalez says she would like to become one after achieving professional engineer licensure. For more than eight years, she has worked in design for roadways, project site development, airports, and utilities. Regarding her co-workers on these projects, Gonzalez says she values their honesty, accountability, and drive, which brings her to another valued trait in the workplace — leadership.
“Leadership means being a member of a team and supporting your team with anything they may need to do their job better,” Gonzalez points out. “Being a leader means understanding that leading a group of people also means being a part of that group.” To help identify and broaden her leadership skills, she is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
Gonzalez believes the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will help her learn ways to apply her engineering knowledge to every aspect of her life. “I want to evolve as an engineer so I can better help the profession, my company, and eventually become a project manager who knows how to manage a team effectively and efficiently,” she emphasizes. “I want to be a great leader, not only a great manager.” Already, Gonzalez admits that she has learned a lot about herself, surprisingly. “I didn’t really give much thought to where I saw myself going in engineering until I started this program,” she says. “I also am more motivated to continue in engineering because I see my role more clearly to help the profession beyond design. There are so many opportunities to give my other skills and insights to the engineering profession that would ultimately help it become more diverse, more open-minded, more innovative, and just better overall.”
Gonzalez contends that younger generations are not pursuing one job or career, exclusively, anymore, pointing out that the “side hustle” is something very real that more and more people are doing. “I think younger generations want stability and the ability to put their degrees to use,” she says, “but they also want to explore their creativity” outside of career boundaries. And Gonzalez does just that — explores her creativity outside the workplace as a blogger or “influencer,” she adds.
“I get paid to write reviews on products, restaurants, and concerts,” she explains. “I love sharing my opinion, but I honestly never thought that I would be getting paid to do so.” Ironically, Gonzalez initially wanted to be a writer of some kind and study journalism in college, but her parents were paying for her higher education and gave her two options: business or engineering. “I started my blog as my creative outlet after I graduated because that passion was still there,” she observes.
In five years, Gonzalez’s expectations are cast. She wants to have her professional engineer license, a promotion at her current company or another firm, two kids, a new dog, and a novel published. For right now, though, amid COVID-19 restrictions, she says working from home has become the daily norm, but, unfortunately, it’s difficult to “log off” at the end of the day because home is now also the workplace.
“I think when working from home or in the office, it is important to set boundaries,” Gonzalez emphasizes. “A lot of us are scared to let our supervisors or colleagues know that we have previous engagements or just want to go home because we feel like we need to prove ourselves constantly.” She suggests that engineers set boundaries from the start of their careers. “When you will be working and when you won’t can go a long way in making your work and private life balance out better,” she says.
Steven Jeter, P.E.
Civil Engineer Seeks Greater Minority Inclusion in Workplace
As a black man working in a professional environment, Steven Jeter, P.E., of Queens, NY., believes more civil engineers from minority communities would add value to his profession. He points out, “During the first seven years of my professional career, I have been advocating for more inclusion and representation in the field of civil engineering,” which is highly disproportionate when it comes to Black/African-American engineers.
Jeter further emphasizes that when it comes to business upper management and positions that can enact change, the percentage of minority representation drops even lower. Also, he says that active participation in professional organizations can be challenging at times because as a minority member, sometimes there’s that underlying “fear that your voice will fall on deaf ears. Because of this, it is hard to thrive and seize opportunities for advancement.”
To help bolster his career path and minority representation, Jeter is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully. He says the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will help him both professionally and personally by building his overall skill set to assist his career advancement and improve his social interaction with others.
“More importantly,” Jeter adds, “I believe the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will allow me to pay it forward and open doors for other Black engineers” to better exhibit their talents and skills without hindrances. “So far, I’ve learned a lot about myself,” he notes. “I see where my strengths and weaknesses are from a leadership standpoint. The mentorship has been invaluable. The ability to bounce off things at work with someone who has many years of experience helps me see situations from different points of view to address them properly.”
The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program also has the potential for attracting younger engineer participation in organizational activities. “In order to attract younger generations,” Jeter explains. “NSPE must adjust with the times, as does any company. Representation is crucial. If younger generations do not see themselves in NSPE, they’ll feel as though it’s not for them. Perception of the engineering profession needs to change in order to be more attractive.”
Employed as a structural engineer by parking facility specialists StructureCare and part-time forensic engineering consultant at EFI Global, Inc., Jeter reflects back on what first piqued his interest in engineering. “Growing up, I use to build things out of carboard boxes and other things,” he says. “That was probably my first inkling that engineering was for me. My confirmation was watching residential and commercial buildings being built from the ground up when I would spend time with my father in Atlanta.” Jeter’s first engineering experience was during high school as a summer intern, serving as a rodman for a local surveying company. Looking back, he cites his peak engineering experiences as overseeing the demolition of the old Goethals Bridge in Staten Island, N.Y., and transitioning into forensic engineering two years ago. In the near future, he plans to have a more stable personal life and continue enjoying his work in the field of structural/forensic engineering, in addition to pursuing more autonomous, consulting projects.
On the lighter side, Jeter admits that if he weren’t an engineer, he’d probably be doing something involving wildlife or zoology. Fortunately, the great outdoors’ loss is engineering’s gain. To strike a balance between work and his private life, he tries to take a few annual vacations amid honing his culinary skills. “I am a very good cook who enjoys practicing new techniques,” he says, “and I enjoy musicals and Broadway plays.”
Jacob Maras, P.E.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Engineering Public Servant Maps Out Improved Leadership Skills
Successful engineers often climb their professional career ladders with a particular niche in mind. For civil engineer Jacob Maras, P.E., of Sioux City, S.D., public service has become his venue. From his first position as a city project manager for Sioux Falls to engineering supervisor for the Minnehaha County Highway Department, he manages the majority of the county’s transportation construction projects. However, as engineering supervisor, Maras has additional responsibilities, primarily leading two technician employees and being a role model for his maintenance team.
To gain more effective leadership skills in project management, Maras is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“On a personal level,” Maras notes, “I have also maintained a city alderman seat for three years and am looking forward to another two now that the election has concluded. I expect my skills earned through the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will greatly benefit my role within my community as well.”
Richard (Richie) Matson, P.E.
Electrical Engineer Seeks Leadership Role as Department Head
Leadership is a standard established through expectations of professional, technical, and ethical behaviors, according to electrical engineer Richard (Richie) Matson, P.E., of Taylorsville, Miss.
“Leaders are not necessarily made by titles or positions they hold, “he contends. “Instead, leaders are defined by how they treat others, manage difficult situations, and respond to adversity. A leader’s actions are what sets him or her apart from others.”
Currently employed as a system engineer by Southern Pine Electric Cooperative, Matson aspires to lead an engineering department in the future. “Our utility has a family atmosphere that gives one a sense of belonging,” he notes. “Regardless of the situation, we are always able to come together to work for a common goal. Be it at home or work, it is good knowing you can always depend on your co-workers.”
Matson cites an example of his co-worker dependability. “Recently, our utility has challenged our engineering department to perform work in-house which, historically, has been contracted out,” he explains. “As a result, our department has performed two large planning studies. I was able to play a role in both by contributing to the coordination study and the arc flash hazard assessment. I am most proud of this contribution because studies of this kind require tremendous amounts of knowledge, time and attention to detail to complete.”
Reflecting back on his early childhood, Matson says he always wanted to be an engineer and follow in his father’s footsteps. He was a mechanical engineer who worked for an investor-owned utility that employed both mechanical and electrical engineers. “As I got older, I was able to spend time with him and his colleagues in the workplace,” Matson recalls. “That experience shaped me into the electrical engineer I am today and taught me the value of an engineer’s contribution to the community.”
Regarding his own leadership qualities, Matson points out that he is responsible for a team of individuals on a daily basis and has been involved in the development and direct oversight of formal training for newly hired engineers. “I have gained a vast amount of technical and project management experience to aid in preparing me to be a strong candidate to lead the engineering department in the future,” he says, “but I would like to gain formal training on leading a larger group of people.”
In another five years, Matson will have logged a dozen years of professional engineering experience in the power industry. “I look forward to that experience creating leadership opportunities that could result in management positions,” he adds. Coincidentally, Matson is now participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has afforded me the opportunity to increase my knowledge in various areas of leadership,” Matson emphasizes, “and it has aided me in taking a different approach to projects and situations I’m faced with on a daily basis. The program has been very beneficial, and I would recommend it to any engineer who has a goal of being in a leadership position in the future.”
On recruiting younger students into engineering, Matson notes, “Studies show that younger generations entering the workforce value self-development. As a result, I believe it’s important for NSPE to market the engineering profession and provide opportunities for younger people to learn the role engineers play in designing, analyzing, and planning products and services that consumers use daily.”
Matson has interests outside the engineering community, too, and claims that if he were not an engineer, he would be a teacher and coach. “Growing up, I was a passionate athlete and had the opportunity to be coached by some very influential coaches,” he says. “Because of the impact those coaches had on my life, I strongly considered pursuing a career that would allow me to have that same kind of impact on others.” However, Matson admits that he is far too impatient and technical minded for a full-time career in some fields. “Instead, I make a conscious effort to impact the learning of others by presenting at conferences or coaching little league,” he says.
In balancing his time between work and home life, Matson observes, “Unless one is intentional, a work/personal life balance can be hard to achieve. For me, I try to be intentional with my workday. I do my best to prioritize, so that all necessary tasks can be completed during my time at work. Doing this allows me to be comfortably at home without workplace distractions, spending meaningful time with my family.” Moreover, away from the workplace, Matson was a guitarist in a country/blue grass/gospel band, which played songs from artists such as John Denver and the Osborne Brothers to gospel hymns such as “Amazing Grace.”
Michael McIntire, P.E.
From Oil To Public Service, Kansas Engineer Balances Work, Life
Although he began his engineering career in the oil industry, civil engineer Michael McIntire, P.E., of Manhattan, Kan., eventually reset his longer-term goals to become a city engineer and public works director. “A few years out of college, I rose to be a district technology manager in the oil industry,” he says. “The oil industry then crashed, and I decided to move on from that industry and jump back into civil engineering.”
McIntire, currently a design engineer for the city of Manhattan, is one who aspires to “implement new processes, standards, and specifications, while rising internally and building a stronger foundation for future engineers.” Attracting younger generations into the engineering field is a worthy challenge, according to McIntire, who believes that an organization such as the National Society of Professional Engineers can play a vital role. “NSPE should engage young people early on regarding the many different types of engineers, what they do, what they create, what they do for the world,” he says. “Engineers often get lumped together, but there are vast differences between each specific engineering type.”
Like many engineers, McIntire’s interest in the field began at an early age. He was invited to join a gifted program in elementary school that aggressively promoted math, science, and engineering initiatives. “I really grasped onto them at a young age,” he remembers. “Who doesn’t like building with Legos?” Though engineering became his profession, he admits that if he couldn’t have achieved that goal, he definitely would have pursued the medical profession as a career, specifically sports medicine.
As one who values hard work and honesty among his co-workers, McIntire also appreciates the quality of leadership, which he defines as “bringing people together and achieving a goal or translating a vision into reality.” To broaden his leadership mindset, he is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored NSPE. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
McIntire finds the NSPE Emerging Leader Program to be quite productive, citing one valuable lesson regarding teamwork. “Don’t be afraid of conflict,” he says. “Conflict is good for a team, yet too many people are scared that conflict hinders a team. Without it, a team will never grow or change. It will keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, also known as insanity.”
The Manhattan design engineer further emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between work and home life. “Stop working at five and enjoy your family,” he says. “If you can’t get it done between eight-to-five, then you need to readjust your day and find a way to become more productive in the time allotted.” McIntire explains, “This could be an internal struggle with yourself (distractions or procrastination) or an external struggle with too much work, where you require more people or need to better distribute the workload and trust your co-workers.”
Kori McKenzie, P.E.
Dallas Engineer Looks Toward Serving Greater Leadership Roles
Although her high school dream occupation was to design homes, market conditions changed that course for Kori McKenzie, an engineer-in-training residing in Dallas. “The housing market crashed when I was in high school, which thoroughly freaked me out,” she says. “So, I started looking into careers with more job security and decided to get an engineering degree, with a focus on water resources.”
A civil engineering graduate of the University of Florida, McKenzie is employed by Dallas-based Jacobs as a site development engineer, with experience in hydrologic and hydraulic modeling. With a staff of more than 55,000, Jacobs serves clients worldwide with a full spectrum of professional services — engineering and design consulting, technical, scientific, and project delivery for the government and private sectors. McKenzie previously worked as a water resources engineer and is certified in floodplain management by the Texas Floodplain Management Association.
McKenzie is not hesitant in stating what she expects from those with whom she works. “I value honesty and integrity above all,” she points out. Equally noteworthy, she holds herself to high standards as well. “Throughout my academic and early working career, I worked hard to ensure that any work done in my name would be regarded as exemplary,” she says. However, McKenzie also understands that individual integrity is only part of an overall leadership equation.
“While I have been successful in developing a good reputation as an individual,” she continues, “I know that individual success means very little if my team is faltering.” As she nears professional engineer licensure, McKenzie recognizes that soon she will be called to lead and delegate to a team of young engineers. “Because I have experienced firsthand the impact that both good and bad leadership can have on a career,” she says, “I believe it is my responsibility to develop my skills and become an exemplary leader for the next generation of engineers.”
Not surprising, McKenzie’s overview of leadership is brief and to the point: “Leaders go first. Leaders set the example. Leaders open doors. Leaders do not belittle or blame or stifle.” She is a past participant of the Professional Engineer Leadership Institute, an initiative sponsored by the Texas Society of Professional Engineers and facilitated by The Cross Group. Now she is engaged in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
NSPE’s leadership initiative is also facilitated by The Cross Group. “I know their guidance in the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will provide me with the tools to be an effective team leader and a more capable manager and mentor to other engineers who cross my path,” McKenzie notes. Already, she has made an interesting observation that “as engineers, we are inclined to fix problems, but it’s hard to fix a problem you can’t name.” She says The Cross Group has armed her with a working leadership vocabulary and empowered her to identify problems by name.
McKenzie further emphasizes that NSPE can play a significant role in attracting younger generations into engineering fields. “Beyond continuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach,” she points out, “teaching existing engineers how to manage people is tantamount to retaining new talent. The skillset required to manage a project is vastly different than the skillset required to manage people. Bad people managers make people leave the field.”
In striking a balance between workloads and her private life, McKenzie says it’s simple. “I use my paid-time-off, and I don’t feel guilty about it,” she admits. “PTO is a benefit of the job, and it is something you earn. You’re not doing yourself any favors by not using it.”
Haley Michael, E.I.T.
Former Barista Targets Engineering Licensure As A Career Goal
Having served as a barista for six years before entering the engineering field, it’s not a stretch to claim that Haley Michael, an engineer-in-training (EIT) living in Juneau, Alaska, is a “people person” from the start. And although she has left the barista world behind, she still admits, “There is something about the vibe, smells, and beautiful sunrises you experience in a coffee shop early in the morning that I sometimes miss. Not to mention it fueled my caffeine addiction!”
Michael currently works on the environmental engineering staff for NORTECH Inc., an Alaska engineering firm serving environmental, energy, and health and safety clients. Having earned her EIT certification after graduating from Northern Arizona University, she is earnestly preparing for engineering licensure within the next two years. “I grew up passionate about the environment and sustainable living,” she reflects. “I wanted to be involved in solving the types of problems related to those topics, and since I both have strong skills in and enjoy math and science, I got my undergraduate degree in environmental engineering.”
Her passion for environmental engineering is not an understatement. As one of the few female engineering students in NAU’s honors program, Michael moved across the country to Alaska pursue her dream. At NORTECH, she manages many different responsibilities from providing client services to community outreach. This, too, has been a challenging experience in learning how engineering translates to different fields, such as consulting, construction, industry, government, and education. “I am currently working towards project management and learning how engineering works from a business perspective, which is not something I was ever exposed to in college,” she notes.
To help advance her employer’s mission, Michael cites the importance of teamwork and leadership in her professional workplace. “I value team members that are understanding, hardworking, and detail-oriented,” she says. And while leadership “means trusting your team,” she contends, “it also means you are willing to do the hard work yourself.” Michael further adds that leadership requires accountability for team members because “you have invested in them, and you must have self-confidence and a strong intent.”
As a vehicle to help hone her leadership qualities and business transition, Michael participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program is Michael’s first experience with NSPE, and she regards the program as a “worthwhile opportunity to learn from industry professionals nationwide about taking on more responsibilities and preparing for future leadership roles.” She firmly believes that becoming a successful leader is the next step in her professional development. “I aim to learn about solving complex problems, leading seamlessly, and thinking strategically from a business perspective,” Michael emphasizes. “By enhancing these skills, I will be able to offer more in my current and future roles at my company.”
Additionally, NSPE’s training program allows Michael to learn more about productive team development and networking, something that’s “invaluable for creating and maintaining professional relationships with the diverse group of environmental professionals, regulators and clients in my field,” she says.
On a broader scale, to attract younger generations into the engineering profession, Michael suggests that NSPE provide value and outreach specifically aimed at younger engineering prospects. One possibility, she notes, is to “raise awareness of the lesser-known engineering fields, and how the professional engineer’s stamp is important in those fields.”
Michael’s five-year future plan not only includes her professional engineer license as expected, but also (at least) one dog and a garden. Aside from her Gamma Phi Beta alumna status, she serves as a coach for Girls on the Run, a philanthropic initiative serving Juneau and the greater Alaska area. In striking a balance between work and her private life, Michael points out that in order to find work, she moved to an isolated location, with no roads in or out of the city. “I now have an amazing group of friends here that I like to spend time with,” she says. “One of the best things to do where I live is to leave — leave the persistent rain and the dark and the cold. So, I also try to travel more than a couple times a year (not for work) and explore places I’ve never visited.”
Priya Mistry, P.E.
Texas Engineer Regards Leadership as Key to Career Advancement
Engineers climbing the career advancement ladder often have unique methods in their approach. Civil engineer Priya Mistry, P.E., of Frisco, Tex., believes leadership development is the key to her future success. “As a leader, it is important to communicate effectively, provide constructive feedback, and be a positive influence for those around you,” she says. “Whether you are part of upper management, a project manager, an engineer-in-training, or a technician, you are setting an example because leadership occurs at every level of an organization.”
Mistry currently serves as a project manager for the Houston-based engineering firm Cobb, Fendley & Associates Inc., with offices throughout Texas and across multiple states. Early in 2020, she joined an emerging leaders program at CobbFendley as a steppingstone towards leadership within the company. “We have covered topics related to networking, civic responsibility, and communication across regions to name a few,” she points out, “as well as keeping an open line of communication with our mentors who are CobbFendley leaders.”
Additionally, Mistry is active in the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, serving on various committee and board positions within the TSPE Preston Trail Chapter. Now she is engaged with another emerging leaders program, a broader effort sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
Mistry considers NSPE’s leadership outreach program to be the essential complement to her current involvement in TSPE and with CobbFendleys leadership initiative. “The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has provided me with various tools and methods to take my leadership to the next level,” she notes. “Through thought-provoking questions, forum discussions, and monthly meetings, I have found more clarity in what skills I need to develop and build upon in order to become a better leader. Now, it is my turn to take ownership of the path forward, to hone my skills related to communication, constructive feedback, and being a positive influence for others.”
As one who values trust in her working relationships, Mistry says NSPE’s program will connect her with individuals who have different levels of experience and allow for mentorship and professional development outside of her current circle of peers, all of which will further her endeavors toward leadership within CobbFendley, TSPE, and the engineering profession.
Reflecting back on when her interest in engineering first surfaced, Mistry observes, “Growing up, I had always been fascinated by math and sciences. But it was my high school AP physics teacher that played a big role in why I chose engineering.” Aside from physics and engineering, she expresses some personal satisfaction in being able to handle a manual transmission when driving, not mention her special outside interest in yoga. In fact, Mistry has completed 500 hours of a yoga teacher training program, which leads to an important issue among many professionals — how to strike a balance between work and personal life.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past year or so is that there really is no true work/life balance,” Mistry contends. “We work in a state of limbo because things are always changing around us, whether that is with work or in our personal life. It’s really about how we readjust the sails of our boat in the midst of a storm.”
Brian Palmiter Jr., E.I.T.
On-The-Job Experience Assists Pennsylvania Engineer’s Prowess
One of the inherent traits of engineering is flexibility. Because of their core education and experience, engineers can often transition to other disciplines or fields of practice with limited interruption to their careers. Take for example, Brian Palmiter Jr. an engineer-in-training from Kingston, Penn. Upon graduating from Wilkes University, where he pursued environmental engineering, he began his career as an environmental scientist working for a small firm. He is now employed in the civil engineering field by the Pennsylvania-based engineering firm Borton-Lawson Engineering Inc.
“I essentially had zero minutes of civil engineering working experience when I started my second job as a civil designer, prior to starting at Borton-Lawson in the same position in 2014,” Palmiter reflects. “I have had years of on-the-job training to learn the civil engineering discipline, leading to my current position as a project manager.” Indicative of his continued environmental engineering prowess, he is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Associate, a credential designating those who have a documented, up-to-date understanding of the most current green building principles and practices.
“There are many qualities that I value in the people I work with at Borton-Lawson,” Palmiter says. “Culture comes first. We treat each other well, either succeed or fail as a team, and always have a little bit of fun in the workplace. I admire the leadership qualities of many of my colleagues and just how many great engineers I work with. I am inspired by my coworkers to improve upon myself and be a better engineer every single day.”
During his career transition, Palmiter’s passion for engineering and advancing the public’s welfare have remained steadfast, complemented by his goal of achieving professional engineering licensure. His peak experience as an engineer to date was in 2019, when he received the Young Engineer of the Year Award from the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers. He observes, “For me, it was a celebration of my first several years of working — the on-the-job training, all the late hours, the numerous projects completed, and volunteering with PSPE.”
Palmiter’s appreciation of leadership qualities serves him well as he participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program “will enable me to network with likeminded young engineers across the country,” Palmiter notes, “and add to my skillset to allow me to make present and future impacts within the profession.” He further adds, “Leadership starts with taking responsibility for your projects, clients, and team, and involves having both the easy and difficult conversations about successes and failures.” And sometimes, Palmiter admits, leadership means taking “the bull by the horns” and leading others to achieve a common goal.
As part of NSPE’s training program, Palmiter cites the importance of discussing weekly topics and collaborating with the other participating engineers. He points out, “I am humbled by how successful my cohorts are in their respective positions. I’ve learned more about myself while I’ve been self-reflective about leadership, my career, and what I honestly find most important about being an engineer. The class is helping me to advance my life in engineering.”
Palmiter also emphasizes that NSPE can play a larger role in attracting younger generations into engineering. “I believe it starts with education and sharing the joy of what it means to really be an engineer,” he says. “As engineers, we are in the unique position to help grow the structural world around us. We need to share our passion for the profession and show how much engineers impact the growth and improvement of society.”
Pondering what his career choice might be if he weren’t an engineer, Palmiter says, “Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a big sports guy. I’m a huge fan of both professional baseball and football, but I just love sports in general. If I were not an engineer, I picture myself working for ESPN as either a broadcaster or fantasy sports analyst.”
Whether a “sports guy” or an engineer, Palmiter is obviously an extrovert, which means balancing his work and private life can be difficult. “In 2020, I have improved at striking that balance,” he contends, “and it really is because so many of my extracurricular activities — recreational sports, volunteering opportunities, and monthly meetings with my local NSPE chapter — have been put on hold because of COVID-19.”
Consequently, Palmiter says he forces himself “to take a bit more time for myself and detach from work every evening,” adding that it is refreshing to decompress from the daily stress that is engineering. It is certainly a habit I will continue to keep long after COVID-19 is a thing of the past.”
Lauren Pins, P.E.
Civil Engineer Touts Teamwork as Path To Successful Projects
Appreciating the work ethic and creativity of those with whom she works is a valued trait for civil engineer Lauren Pins, P.E., of Louisburg, Kan. “My team members are always willing to go the extra mile on projects to make them successful and exceed the client’s expectations,” she notes. “The group I work with is dedicated to each project, but we also make sure we have fun and get to know each other better by doing activities outside of the workplace.”
Pins attributes much of her engineering project team experience to her current employer, Burns & McDonnell, a construction engineering firm headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. For the past six years, she has worked as a staff civil engineer in the company’s aviation and federal division. “The diverse range of projects has given me the opportunity to interact with multiple clients, manage my own projects, and work on larger projects with other engineers and disciplines,” she says. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on various-size projects, and each day is filled with new challenges and opportunities.”
She regards her peak career experience to date as passing the professional engineer examination and becoming a licensed P.E. Pins says she’s also had the privilege of visiting multiple U.S. Air Force bases across the country as part of her career, something “I never imagined myself being granted such an opportunity.”
Interestingly though, Pins points out that if she were not an engineer, she would be a math teacher. “Teaching math is what I originally envisioned myself doing until I researched engineering careers,” she adds. “Math was my favorite class, and I enjoyed tutoring my peers on the subject.” Eventually, after being inspired by her parents to consider engineering, Pins did her research, attended a few summer engineering camps, and learned about the many different disciplines or specialties. “I discovered I enjoyed civil engineering,” she explains, “so during high school, I decided to participate in a ‘job shadow’ with my local county engineer’s office. This reaffirmed my inspiration to pursue engineering.” Consequently, the job shadow program led to two summer internships in the county engineer’s office and transformed her inspiration into a career.
Outside the workplace, Pins began participating in the Western Chapter of the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers a few years ago, with the goal of connecting with other engineers, enhancing her professional knowledge, and strengthening her leadership abilities. She currently serves as a chapter director and events arrangements chair, but is also expanding her business skills as a participant in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
Leadership is the ability to guide, motivate, and inspire a team, according to Pins. “A leader has credibility and trust within the group, which drives the team towards a common goal,” she contends. “Key aspects of leadership are inspiration and development of others to guide them on the path to success.” She believes the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has already enhanced her leadership skills and techniques. “I have been able to apply them to my daily activities and will continue to use them throughout my career,” she says. “I have learned how to approach challenging situations that might arise at work. Therefore, I have learned what forms a great team and how to improve team member interaction and morale.” Additionally, Pins notes that NSPE’s program has granted her “the opportunity to meet some great engineers across the country,” and she hopes to continue networking with them after completion of the program.
Not surprising to some, there’s an athletic side of Pins — a stark contrast to her engineering talents. Growing up in Iowa, she was a competitive gymnast and had the opportunity to compete against 2008 Olympic gold-medalist Shawn Johnson at a state meet.
Shawn Prochaska, P.E.
Nebraska Electrical Engineer Aspires to Team Leadership Role
Successful engineers can often recount someone from their past who was influential in making their career choices. For Shawn Prochaska, a professional engineer from Columbus, Neb., his inspiration was his cousin, who became a mechanical engineer. “I always looked up to him,” he says. “Also, growing up on a farm, I think we could fix about anything, but I wanted to know more than just the nuts and bolts. I wanted to know what things were made of and how they were designed.”
Prochaska is employed by Columbus-based RVW Inc., which specializes in telecommunications engineering and electric power engineering, with a support staff of nearly 100 employees serving clients nationwide. As a self-proclaimed die-hard electrical engineer, he notes, “I actually intended to be a mechanical engineer,” but humorously adds, “Those electrons will get you!” Had he not become an engineer, Prochaska admits he probably would be a mechanic or an auto body repairman, restoring old muscle cars.
Regarding his co-workers and their team projects, Prochaska says, “I value the relationships I build with them, plus their integrity and hard work.” He also finds great personal satisfaction in completing a large project and points out that “learning new things and implementing them in a project is very rewarding.” Having been part of the electrical engineering field for eight years, Prochaska is looking to move into a supervisory role in the near future, knowing that such a move will require relevant leadership training and insight from professionals who have experience in supervisory positions.
For Prochaska, leadership means “being able to lead people by inspiring, motivating, and maintaining balance. By balance, I mean keeping things relaxed enough that work is enjoyable, but also having enough intensity to keep everyone and everything progressing efficiently.” To gain an edge in leadership knowledge and practices, he is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“I think the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will help me understand the complete picture of what it means to lead employees,” Prochaska says. “If the time comes, I want to be able to effectively lead my team while giving them the opportunity to advance themselves and the company. I also want to be able to provide professional and efficient service to our clients.”
So far, NSPE’s initiative has provided Prochaska with a different perspective of what he considers leadership. “Leadership is so much more than assigning people work,” he observes. “It is developing relationships, earning trust, gaining technical knowledge, being confident, and a whole slew of other things that make a well-rounded individual. He adds that the program has also given him several tools to help him become a more effective leader. Prochaska’s five-year goal is to grow his professional and personal relationships with all of his company’s clients so “they can be confident and comfortable enough to call me not only about projects, but about the hunting experience they had over the weekend.”
Right now, finding the right balance between work and personal life is a challenge, according to Prochaska. “It’s tough, especially if you plan to take a leadership role or further educate yourself to move up in your career,” he says. “I’ve tried to make a sort of mental switch, so once I leave the office the switch goes off. It’s not really that easy to do, but I find if I don’t try, I’ll get caught up in something work-related when I should be spending time with my family or doing something else I enjoy.”
K. James Taylor Jr., P.E.
From Legos To Project Management, Engineering Leadership Is Key
Countless engineers fondly remember their childhood days of building with Legos. For some, that fun mental exercise spurred their first interest in engineering. And for others, that youthful enjoyment has never faded. Civil engineer K. James Taylor Jr., P.E., of Wilmington, Del., says, “I love building Legos. It provides for a relaxing and calming experience, while still being able to use my brain a bit.” Specifically, he leans toward building the Lego Architecture series, noting that it ties him a little to the engineering world. “My offices at home and at work are decorated with the sets,” he adds.
Building Legos during childhood was not his only engineering influence. At a young age, Taylor very much enjoyed math and science. “When I was in middle school,” he recounts, “we had to do a ‘job shadow,’ and one of my parents’ close friends was an engineer. He offered to show me around, and although I didn’t have a great understanding of what engineering was, I thought this would be my future.”
And what if engineering had not become Taylor’s career? “I’d like to think I would be involved in sports broadcasting somehow,” he says. “In college, I got involved with the student radio station and then the commercial radio station, which broadcast the football and basketball games. I was even part of an ESPN broadcast as a spotter for a college football game.”
His broadcasting interests notwithstanding, Taylor remained steadfast in his civil engineering pursuits, graduating from the University of Delaware in 2012. Six years later, he earned his engineering licensure and became a project manager for Duffield Associates Inc., which specializes in civil and environmental engineering projects. Headquartered in Wilmington, the company has other office locations in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Taylor places significant importance on his work relationships. “We spend more hours with the people we work with than anyone else, besides our family,” he points out. “I value hard workers, but I also love people that are fun to work with. It takes a good balance to get there, but I feel that the team I work with everyday has developed that type of rapport.”
Outside the workplace, Taylor has honed other relationships through volunteer outreach — namely the Delaware Engineering Society, an affiliate state organization of the National Society of Professional Engineers. Better known as NSPE-DE, Taylor currently serves as president of the organization, a role aimed at rebuilding Delaware’s participation in NSPE. As a newer member, he recognizes the value of leadership at both the state and national levels. For him, leadership means getting in the trenches with fellow co-workers and showing them how to perform. “Many people consider leadership to be a top-down approach, where the leader is the boss that stands up top and tells everyone what to do,” Taylor contends. “However, I want to be right there by your side and lead you through it.”
To gain relevant insight on how to be more successful at higher levels of leadership, Taylor is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by NSPE. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has provided so much material that it takes a lot of time to digest,” according to Taylor. “I’ve been paired with a great mentor with who I’ve been able to connect, and I look forward to continue that relationship.” Moreover, he says he’s learned much about leadership styles and working with teams, something that helps in his day-to-day work at Duffield Associates.
Aside from NSPE’s leadership initiative, Taylor says there are numerous STEM programs in action that encourage younger generations to enter fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. “NSPE should look to team with some of these organizations to focus on the engineering aspect,” he suggests. “I know many in NSPE assist with the MATHCOUNTS program and other initiatives. It would be great to see engineering platforms promoted more at the middle school to high school level.”
Within the next five years, Taylor aims to engineer and design many projects in Delaware and the surrounding states, in addition to mentoring younger engineers to achieve professional engineer licensure. Making an impact on the world around him is always foremost, he says, along with maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal time. “With a young child at home,” Taylor notes, “I know how important it is for me to be with him to watch him grow and not miss out on the things going on in his life.” Over the past two years, Taylor admits that he’s managed to schedule his time better. “I set what I can as an ‘ideal week’ as well as workday startups and shutdown routines in order to keep boundaries between work and home,” he explains. “During COVID and working from home, that has been even more important to do. There are always times that I will have to work late, whether for meetings or to meet a project deadline, but for the most part I try to keep to the schedule. This way, both work and home get my undivided attention during those time frames.”
Marc Vento, P.E.
Locust Valley, New York
New York Civil Engineer Transitions to New Business Startup
One of the many advantages in being a licensed engineering professional is the possibility of becoming a self-employed business owner. Such an opportunity surfaced for Marc Vento, P.E., of Locust Valley, N.Y., who after nearly a decade in the heavy civil construction industry, took a leap of faith in late 2019. He left his position with New York-based Skanska USA and founded his own construction engineering and project management consulting firm — Vento Engineering Services. This has been a major challenge for him, undoubtedly, trying to build a business from the ground up during a pandemic. Nevertheless, he remains confident that he will consistently satisfy or exceed his annual sales goals, working on projects throughout the tri-state area and other venues.
Vento’s road to construction engineering was not a direct route, though. As a child, he always had an interest in gadgets and gizmos. “I was fascinated at how things worked and loved to disassemble and reassemble everything I could get my hands on so that I could better understand it,” he remembers. He enjoyed playing with remote-control cars, eventually progressing to small engines, and then to cars and trucks. “This led me to a mechanical engineering degree in my undergraduate study,” he says. “After graduating, I ended up working for a heavy civil contractor, which had me leaning more towards construction and civil engineering for the next 10 years.”
One of the side benefits reaped from Vento’s past project experience is network development. “Over the years and throughout the projects, I met and worked with dozens, if not hundreds of people,” he notes. “They had various backgrounds and experiences. Each person provided a different perspective into the business, and I tried to learn as much as possible from everybody, regardless of age or position.”
From a direct project standpoint, Vento’s accomplishments at Skanska were rewarding, too. “I worked on more than a half-dozen projects throughout New York City and Washington, D.C.,” he points out, citing various client agencies such as Amtrak, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Long Island Rail Road, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. “The experience gained during this time was more than many engineers get in a lifetime,” he adds.
His career tenure at Skanska notwithstanding, Vento believes his leadership skills are primed for advanced tuning. As president of his new company, he regards leadership as being able to successfully guide and support a team to completing a task. “You may not always have the answers or even know how to find them,” he says, “but as a good leader, you must be able to plan and delegate to have your team work together to achieve the required results.”
With exposure to leadership best practices and networking opportunities as a current objective, Vento is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully. Vento says he would like to share the knowledge and experience gained during the program with his future employees to encourage them to continue their pursuit to higher levels of leadership.
“The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has been a great learning experience,” Vento emphasizes. “Our group Zoom sessions are an excellent form of networking, bonding, and education especially during COVID-19 times. Being able to interact with others is critical for growth, and the open discussion forum is also a great tool.” After reading the articles and books, he explains, exchanging opinions with others brings to light the many different interpretations of the topics.
“It’s important we understand all possible viewpoints in order to get the most out of what we are reviewing,” he says. “So far, I think I have gained the most out of reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I saw a lot of myself and my current and former teams in these examples. By being able to tie the book back to real-life experiences and interactions, I will be able to grow into a better leader.”
Although Vento says he’s still getting familiar with NSPE’s programs and events, he contends that “the earlier we get younger people interested in and involved in engineering, the better chance we have at retaining them.” He further adds that having high school or college activities detailing and explaining the many fields of engineering may help undecided students select engineering as a career. “There’s much more to engineering and its many fields than the basic overview I was given when I was younger,” he observes.
As one might expect being self-employed, striking a balance between work and personal time may have some obstacles to clear. “This was a struggle that I was always losing when working in the field for a contractor,” Vento confesses. “The hours and the commute made it nearly impossible to balance anything. One of my main motivations to starting my own business was to be able to achieve a better work/life balance.”
Not every day can be perfect, Vento admits, but his strategy is to set aside a minimum of one hour of physical activity every day, along with one hour of learning, and one hour of current events. “I also try to have dinner with my family as many nights as possible each week and see friends at least once or twice a week, even if it’s just for lunch,” he says. Of course, COVID-19 has made all of these planned activities much more difficult, he adds, but also much more rewarding when they are possible.
“I also feel that it is very important to travel and experience everything the world has to offer to help us grow, both physically and mentally,” Vento notes. Perhaps that is why he says if he weren’t an engineer, he’d like to be a seafarer or maybe a ship captain. “I love the idea of being able to travel the world and spending lots of time on the water,” he reflects.
Eric Waggoner, E.I.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Engineer Intern Approaching Licensure, Honing Leadership Skills
Since he was 18 years old, Eric Waggoner, a civil engineer intern working in Oklahoma City, has aspired to become a professional engineer. Having passed the PE examination, he expects to attain licensure early next year in February, which he says will be one of the most rewarding experiences of his career. He is currently employed at the Oklahoma City office of Freese and Nichols Inc., a full-service consulting engineering firm serving clients across southeast and southwest United States.
As a young engineer, Waggoner recognizes that advancement in his professional career will call for additional learning about the project manager role for his company. “This will require expertise in leadership and networking to prepare for additional responsibilities,” he says. Additionally, he values and appreciates the experience and knowledge of his co-workers and project team members, pointing out that “training, communication, and team culture are imperative, especially when the project workload becomes hectic.”
Waggoner defines leadership in the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the venerable German writer and statesman from centuries ago: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.” To further understand higher levels of leadership theories and better practices, Waggoner is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“The NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has taught me many aspects of what it takes to become a leader,” Waggoner observes. “It has humbly reminded me of qualities I already recognized but wasn’t practicing efficiently. This program has many benefits for individuals that inspire to positively lead a team.” He says the knowledge learned will also serve a great advantage through application to everyday work tasks and enhance his abilities to be a positive and productive member of his team, adding value to client projects.
Complementing NSPE’s special leadership training is Waggoner’s participation in the Oklahoma Society of Professional Engineers and its Central/Southwest Chapter, where he holds both a vice president and planning coordinator position. “Being an active member and board member of this organization has taught me basic and vital skills such as dependability, communication, and relationship building,” he emphasizes. Waggoner also advocates for NSPE’s expansion of student chapters at more universities nationwide to help “raise awareness about NSPE and illuminate the importance of what this organization has to offer early on in the engineer’s career.”
Waggoner’s passion for engineering began in elementary school where math and science piqued his interest and, consequently, were his strong subjects all throughout school. “I wanted to find a way to combine those subjects with another interest — giving back to the community,” he notes. His lifestyle was interrupted at age 17, however, when he was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (abnormal rapid heart rhythm). Corrective heart surgery, his best option for a normal, healthy life, put him back on a path toward achieving his engineering career goals. Perhaps not surprising, Waggoner says if he weren’t an engineer, he would like to be either a teacher/coach or a certified personal trainer.
Striking the right balance between a work schedule and private life can be a challenge. Waggoner’s strategy involves careful planning and coordinating. “I am an extrovert by nature,” he explains. “My friends and family time are very important to me. Prioritizing events and activities with my work and personal life helps facilitate balance.”
Danielle Yoon, P.E.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Michigan Engineer Sees Project Funding, Leadership As Key Issues
One of the challenges often facing communities and their public infrastructure initiatives is securing adequate project funding. For Danielle Yoon, P.E., a civil engineer employed by Fishbeck Inc., an architectural/engineering firm headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., this common challenge has become one of her career passions. With that goal in mind, she also serves as a grant and funding specialist for Fishbeck.
“Too often, I’ve seen projects get shelved due to a lack of funding, even when the project demonstrates a critical need,” Yoon notes. In the future, she wants to help broaden the ways civil engineers can help municipalities beyond their typical roles of identifying, designing, and building infrastructure projects. “Our infrastructure is failing, and I believe that civil engineers can help communities identify and apply for the funding to begin rebuilding the road, bridges, and utilities we all rely on,” she adds. Already, she has discussed with her previous Michigan State University professors the possibility of offering courses on funding mechanisms for municipal projects, and she is currently working to develop and market funding services at Fishbeck.
Reflecting back on her early engineering experience, Yoon had the opportunity to work in Flint (Michigan) during the onset of their local water crisis. “Watching the eyes of the world turn towards the city’s infrastructure was a humbling reminder of the responsibility engineers have to the public,” she says. “During this time, I worked on several state and federal funding applications, not knowing this work would light a fire in me and shape the direction of my career.” Receiving word that Flint was awarded a $20 million grant for its water infrastructure improvement remains the high point in her career to date.
To help expand her career outreach, Yoon is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training program targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that focuses on the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully. She believes that the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program offers a rewarding challenge, and she hopes to identify and rectify her weaknesses.
“Each month has provided valuable training and insight, but I was particularly struck by our in-depth discussions on personal ownership,” Yoon points out. “I’ve often envisioned leadership as the outward actions we see in the leaders around us without realizing the internal discipline and commitment that needs to come first.” She further notes that although NSPE’s program is virtual, it has given the participants the opportunity to interact with and learn from other young professionals nationwide.
An interesting footnote to Yoon’s personal life is her musical talent. Specifically, it’s her musical love for the saxophone. “I was able to perform at Carnegie Hall twice, and although I haven’t played the saxophone very much in recent years, I will always remember being able to perform with our high school band on a world-famous stage,” she says. “This meant even more coming from a small Michigan town with a population of less than 1,000.”