Meet the 2021 NSPE Emerging Leaders!
This summer, 16 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. Read the press release.
- Ahmed Ausaf, E.I.T.
- Clint Brown, P.E.
- Alex Cambiano, P.E.
- Matthew Danza, P.E.
- Sara Doi, P.E.
- Matt Doughty, P.E.
- Austin Duehr, P.E.
- Michael Eagle, P.E.
- Brent Porter, P.E.
- Blair Richardson, P.E.
- Jennifer Sloan Ziegler, Ph.D., P.E.
- Veronica Springer, E.I.T.
- Kristen Van Hoosier, P.E.
- Kush Vashee, P.E.
- Matthew White, E.I.T.
- Yahya Mohammed, Ph.D., P.E.
Ahmed Ausaf, E.I.T.
Hanover Park, Illinois
YOUNG ENGINEER APPLIES DIVERSE EXPERIENCE TO LEADERSHIP TRAINING
As a young professional engineer-in-training, Ahmed Ausaf, of Hanover Park, Ill., holds diverse experience in a multicultural environment, literally. He graduated from Pakistan’s NED University of Engineering & Technology in electrical engineering and then pursued several engineering internships in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. More recently, he worked for the Global Construction Contracting Company, an engineering and construction enterprise specializing in power projects, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Through his more than five years’ employment with GCCC, Ausaf acquired professional experience in construction, contract procurement, project engineering, supply chain management, design engineering coordination, and business development. His strong technical background and knowledge of international engineering standards has enabled his involvement in the execution of power projects related to high- and medium-voltage transmission and distribution lines, substations, power plants, and other utility facilities.
Amid his technical prowess, though, Ausaf admits that he still has much to learn about navigating his professional field, and his eagerness is evident. “I keep searching and exploring for a platform where I can realize visionary growth and empower myself for the challenges ahead,” he says. Fortunately, through his membership in the National Society of Professional Engineers, he is now participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by NSPE. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Recognizing the rapid changes in today’s technology, Ausaf contends, “The more advanced we become, the more complex business integration becomes.” Continuously changing the tools and business applications used in the workplace is a significant challenge, he notes, alongside the necessary interaction with diversified people and their different cultures. However, Ausaf also emphasizes that these challenges can be addressed through initiatives such as professional training and certifications, comprehensive exposure to new technological developments, peer networking, continuing educational studies, and better accessibility to organizational tools and assistance.
Ausaf further points out that personal benchmarks will be necessary for his career path development. His leadership milestones, for example, will primarily focus on his ability to better address and analyze issues, facilitate detailed reviews and reports, and engage in critical decision-making. And by meeting his professional challenges, he expects to excel in his engineering field, eliminate errors, optimize savings, and create a positive environment for better interaction among co-workers, clients, and employer management.
Clint Brown, P.E.
CIVIL ENGINEER CONSIDERS COMMUNICATION AS THE KEY TO LEADERSHIP
Versatility is an anchor for many engineering professionals, some of whom often take detours in their career paths. For instance, civil engineer Clint Brown, P.E., of Perryville, Mo., now employed by Zahner & Associates, was formerly the city engineer of nearby Jackson for four years. And although construction and project management were his earlier career aspirations, a life-changing event effected a modest change in his career mindset. In his last semester of college just before graduation, he was diagnosed with myocarditis, a viral infection of the heart.
“My community rallied around me, sending me letters, cards, and even hosting a pancake breakfast to help with some of my medical bills,” Brown recalls. “Prior to entering the hospital, I was evaluating different job offers from several different companies, but I realized that I wanted to use my engineering degree to give back to those who gave to me.” So, after thoughtful consideration, he decided to enter public service through local government venues. Eventually, Brown migrated into the private sector, his current career field, but he still insists on developing key leadership skills necessary to grow and make a difference — both in the workplace and within his community.
As a vehicle for his career development, Brown currently participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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 at any professional level requires numerous personal skills. Brown says communication can always be a challenge for him, especially when the information to be communicated is complex and technical. “Being in the middle of the line of communication also presents its own set of challenges,” he notes, pointing out that the interface between a client and the professional project team “can become a challenging and tricky process and varies every time, depending on the team and client.”
To address his challenges, Brown says, “Being able to identify how other team members and clients respond to different methods of communication is one of the keys to successful communication.” He emphasizes that initiatives such as the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program can create additional tools to help communicate in different manners and better identify how others respond to different approaches.
According to Brown, the overall benefits of successful communication on engineering projects culminate from the receipt of positive feedback from clients, other team members, and management personnel. “For me, personally,” he says, “there is a benefit in knowing that I’m performing my job effectively and to the best of my abilities.”
How does Brown satisfy his leadership objectives? Requesting feedback on a periodical basis is one way to establish and measure successful communication, he explains. “Receiving feedback also allows for continuance of successful communication or allows for redirection when needed,” he adds.
Alex Cambiano, P.E.
UTILITY ENGINEER SAYS IN-PERSON LEADERSHIP STILL THE BEST APPROACH
Taking pride in his project teams and peers respecting his leadership is a long-term goal for electrical engineer Alex Cambiano, P.E., of Liberty, Mo. “I put my best effort into developing as a professional engineer and leader every day,” he says. “The consistent and constructive feedback I have received in my career has played no small part in my success.” Cambiano is employed as manager of substation planning and scheduling for Kansas City-based Evergy Inc., which provides electricity to 1.6 million residential and commercial customers in Kansas and Missouri.
“I am fortunate enough to have had several mentors in my career, thus far,” Cambiano points out. “However, nothing can match the potential of continued networking. Just simply sharing stories and experiences — to learn from each other’s history and mistakes — would be an invaluable resource for my development.”
To grow as a mentoring coach and expand his networking capabilities, Cambiano is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
“My greatest challenge is staying connected with, supporting, and recognizing my team and others in electric utility operations roles,” Cambiano notes. “The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly boosted our remote communications ability. However, a large majority of the operations staff does not sit in front of computers all day long or are already receiving numerous phone calls from normal operations.”
Logistically, Cambiano says leading an operations team or any team that directly supports operations has only become more complicated during the pandemic and will continue to be afterward. “A simple phone or video call is not enough to effectively ‘check in’ with those who have remained on the front lines throughout one of the foremost challenges we have faced in this generation,” he observes. “My biggest concern is how to effectively manage my team as we continue through the pandemic and other issues.”
Cambiano emphasizes that while video conferencing technology is optimal for those in front of computers, others must be accommodated who don’t have computer access or cannot work remotely. “This means even as the pandemic may continue,” he says, “we must maintain an in-person leadership presence while, of course, utilizing measures to prevent the spread of infection.” Looking longer-term, Cambiano contends that the idea of a more remote “new normal” is not going to work because there is no technology that effectively replaces face-to-face interaction or having lunch with a team colleague.
To measure his leadership milestones, Cambiano says, “Fortunately, the benchmarks have existed for quite some time, and monitoring employee engagement is one effective method. As a leader, if I am always ‘phoning it in,’ my team will quickly become disengaged, leading to poor performance and employee retention. Surveys and in-person discussions with our teams are the easiest methods to monitor and maintain employee interest.”
Greater employee involvement and retention should be what all companies strive toward, Cambiano opines. “As a leader, I benefit by having a higher performing and more productive team. The company benefits in the same way, in addition to having the potential for improved performance spreading to other groups.” In the case of utility operations, he adds, higher performance can mean any number of things for a community, from improved reliability, to more cost-effective operations, and even a safer workplace.
Matthew Danza, P.E.
Freehold, New Jersey
FOR NEW JERSEY ENGINEER, LEADERSHIP MEANS INFLUENCING BY EXAMPLE
The call for quality leadership can often be unassuming, sometimes gradual. In his professional workplace, senior engineering project manager Matthew Danza, P.E., of Freehold, N.J., finds himself leading younger engineers more frequently. Recognizing this trend as a new employment challenge, he advocates that more formal leadership training will enhance his job performance at Van Cleef Engineering Associates L.L.C., based in Hillsborough, N.J., with other offices throughout the state and in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Danza, a structural engineer, cites other significant workplace challenges — communication and coordination. These elements are vital “so that the engineering team moves in one unified direction quickly and effectively, thereby minimizing rework and maximizing innovation and creative problem-solving,” he emphasizes. “I hope to become more effective as a leader, resulting in better designs, improved efficiencies, and a happier, more meaningful workplace for our team.”
To further his team-building prowess, Danza is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Addressing any challenge effectively requires various types of tools, resources, and strategies. Danza’s approach is one of a more personal nature. “While many may look externally, perhaps toward technology for the answer,” he says, “the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program helps me to further understand that the answer lies inside myself, in the cultivation of simple human virtues like honesty, diligence, hard work, and responsibility.”
This personal approach, according to Danza, helps develop trust and encourage respectful debate, while “accepting ownership of everything you touch and wanting to be held accountable for poor performance but rewarded for excellence. Through this, we can accomplish great things.”
And what are his milestones for measuring leadership success? Danza notes, “I plan to establish no hard and fast benchmarks. Instead, I intend to exemplify positive traits in myself all the time and then watch and listen carefully as to how my teammates conduct themselves day in and day out.” Danza’s evaluation metrics are simple: How do they dress? Do they arrive on time? Stay late? Leave early? Do they complete their assignments with enthusiasm and go above and beyond, or do they just “do the minimum” or what is acceptable?
Over time, Danza says he’ll closely examine his overall team status? Is it improving or deteriorating? “I am journaling daily my behavior and that of my team,” he points out, “and then consulting it regularly to determine our trajectory,” all the while keeping an eye on the larger benefit . . . Changing the world for the good!”
Sara Doi, P.E.
PROJECT ENGINEER SEEKS TO INSPIRE YOUNG ENGINEERS VIA LEADERSHIP
Nearing the end of what she calls “her early-career days,” civil engineer Sara Doi, P.E., of Waipahu, Hawaii, says she feels confident in the technical abilities she has honed through her past work experience. Going forward on her career path, though, she would like to dedicate more time to focus on leadership in the engineering profession. Moreover, as a past president of the Hawaii Society of Professional Engineers (HSPE), she knows the implications of positive leadership.
Doi is employed as a project engineer by Waipahu-based Bowers + Kubota Consulting, an engineering and architectural firm specializing in construction management in Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. One of her workplace challenges, she notes, is “finding ways to set myself apart from my peers to better position myself for advancement within my company. And part of that challenge is to ensure I have the right tools and can be successful in any new roles I assume.”
In pursuit of leadership prowess, Doi is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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. As she completes the NSPE course curriculum, Doi hopes to build on her leadership experience, acquire tools to advance her career, and take some new skills back to HSPE to support those in the engineering profession more broadly.
“Enrolling in the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program has helped to show my commitment to improvement and has given me tools to become a successful leader,” Doi says. “The unique way this program is built to cater toward the engineering profession has made it more valuable than other leadership training seminars in which I have participated.” In particular, she cites one of the training modules by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who studies how people find motivation and meaning, rethink assumptions, and live more generous and creative lives. Grant says, “If you look at the data, one of the biggest drivers of success . . . is your ability to seek and use negative feedback because that really determines how close to your potential you become.”
Interestingly, Doi points out, “Although benchmarks are important to evaluating success, the most notable shift has been in my day-to-day mindset that will help me build toward being an impactful leader. The different perspectives learned in this program have been most significant in helping me to meet challenges.”
Regarding the overall benefit of leadership empowerment, Doi says, “It is critical to our profession to keep uplifting young, motivated engineers. Giving them opportunities and tools that work well, like the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program, is key to cultivating the next generation of engineers who can then go out and educate children on the opportunities in engineering.”
According to Doi, there is a noticeable shift in young adults choosing to study computer-related technologies, especially because those careers are more financially lucrative. However, she emphasizes, “There will always be a need for all engineering types, so it is vital to encourage students to go into less attractive career fields like civil engineering to ensure there are enough engineers in the future.”
Matt Doughty, P.E.
St. Paul, Minnesota
UTILITY ENGINEER AIMS TO EXPAND TEAMWORK SKILLS, LEADERSHIP ROLE
Today’s engineering profession remains a dynamic force that spawns career versatility, an attraction that cannot be overstated. For example, mechanical engineer Matt Doughty, P.E., of St. Paul, Minn., worked in consulting engineering for a decade, serving in various leadership positions. Then about eight years ago, he altered his career path to follow a passion for energy efficiency and environmental conservation.
“I currently work for a large utility company in sales and project management roles focused on energy reduction for commercial and industrial customers,” Doughty notes. “With the experience I’ve gained in this field, I am ready to return to a leadership role within this industry.” His employer Xcel Energy Inc. is an American utility holding company based in Minneapolis, serving more than 3.7 million electric customers and 2.1 million natural gas customers in Minnesota and seven other states.
Introspectively, Doughty says, “I excel in team settings and am looking for more opportunities with increased responsibility. I am also searching for additional skills and tools that will set me apart from other candidates when new opportunities arise, specifically in the areas of large project management and executive leadership.”
To gain the required skills to effectively manage projects and effectively lead teams, Doughty is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that addresses 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, according to Doughty, is an excellent vehicle for developing “additional strategic-thinking techniques and refreshing some of my leadership talents and experiences, as well as expanding my customer service capabilities. These are precisely the tools I am seeking to assist me in my personal development and career advancement.”
Balancing professional responsibilities is one of Doughty’s key challenges, particularly between leadership and maintaining technological skills. “I have found that the further I rise into management and leadership positions, the easier it is to be removed from technical involvement in projects,” he observes. “I am thankful for the continuing education requirements for my professional engineering license, but these don’t always translate into applying technical knowledge into everyday projects or roles.”
Doughty cites one of his first mentors as saying, “You have to know enough (about all engineering disciplines) to be dangerous.” What this means, he explains, is that “you don’t necessarily have to perform the calculations or execute the design, but you need to be able to understand them and communicate how and why they were performed as they were.” Doughty emphasizes, “I don’t want to lose this while continuing to grow into leadership positions.” To address his challenges, Doughty says it’s relatively simple: make time and focus on areas of interest. However, he also points out that it’s easy to attend educational offerings “when they fit into your schedule, even though they may not be of optimal interest or have a direct relationship to your field.” And sometimes, Doughty adds, it’s easy to “skip an offering of interest due to conflicts with the thought of ‘catching the next one.’ Don’t allow these mistakes to be made.” He advises engineers on a career path to invest in themselves and their interests, be selective in courses they want to attend, and most important of all, follow through on their commitments toward professional development.
Being accountable and continuing to advance are Doughty’s personal benchmarks for measuring leadership progress. “My long-term goals may change depending on where I am in my career,” he says, “while my short-term goals often adjust during the life of individual projects. Regardless of which goals are focused on, accountability is key.”
One of the learning modules from NSPE’s leadership training course explains the processes of setting goals and taking steps to satisfy them. “On a monthly basis, I would like to make or redefine my list of goals with a deadline associated with each,” Doughty notes. “I plan to stay on track to reaching these goals through a series of simple reminders to see which may require more attention at any given time throughout the month. These small steps and simple deadlines will assist me in accomplishing larger goals, increase productivity and, in turn, advance my career.”
Reflecting on the overall benefits of achievement, Doughty says leadership and accountability are two traits that tend to be contagious. Moreover, leadership doesn’t have to necessarily come from the top down, he adds. “Anyone within an organization can be a leader,” he contends. “Other employees and co-workers see this ‘energy’ in a team member and gain similar qualities.” Doughty believes that an individual is only as successful at the team he works with, and he suggests a strategy of working across team lines, which evolves into cross-functional team achievement.
Austin Duehr, P.E.
TEXAS ENGINEER SAYS GOOD LEADERSHIP VITAL FOR FACING CHALLENGES
In pursuing better teamwork from a leadership perspective, civil engineer Austin Duehr, P.E., of Dallas, says “the best tool to use is yourself” or more simply stated, lead others by example. He further suggests that “instead of just instructing staff” from an authoritative position, it’s generally better to focus on the benefits derived from meeting challenges, whether they be project related or of an administrative nature. Undoubtedly, part of Duehr’s leadership approach stems from his experience as a municipal project engineer with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc., a full-service civil engineering firm based in Houston, with more than 30 offices nationwide.
Aside from his current employment experience, Duehr hopes to gain deeper knowledge of the engineering profession as a whole and acquire the necessary communication skills to facilitate and expand his networking and client interactions. To assist those endeavors, he currently participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Duehr says one of his foremost workplace challenges is “getting company staff to understand the intent behind a process or plan and buy into the system” for implementation. “Sure, I think we all need to do things a certain way,” he adds, “but does everyone else?” Whether it be something as simple as updating a timesheet daily or keeping a calendar current, Duehr explains, the greatest challenge is getting all workplace personnel to invest in the process and understand the importance of following general or standard processes. “Common, consistent experiences tend to save valuable time, thus promoting better efficiency,” he contends.
Commenting further on his workplace priorities, Duehr points out that senior staff also need to be directly involved in all aspects of any system or process being put into place. He commends the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program, which advocates that everyone should participate in the change or implementation process to show that it is not only for the “low-totem-pole” staff but for higher-level employees as well. The bottom line is that everyone needs to have a vested interest in the process and understand the purpose of it.
Establishing benchmarks to measure progress is good leadership, according to Duehr, who cites business management expert David Maister as “laying it out perfectly that training (meeting challenges, in this case) needs to be monitored, understood, and executed.” Periodic check-ins are very useful for measuring the investment of fellow staff members, he says, and if a challenge isn’t met, taking the time to “discuss the ‘why’ behind the challenge” will develop better understanding. Duehr adds, “The execution can always be broken up into smaller milestones to give more incentive to staff to keep pushing through.”
As a direct benefit, Duehr notes that consistency throughout the workplace allows for a common experience for everyone, saving valuable time and money. “With a good standard in place, other professionals can utilize the framework to improve their own systems or processes,” he says. “In the end, the community will benefit the most as it will be receiving the end product of efficient, systematic design.”
Michael Eagle, P.E.
SENIOR ENGINEER CITES BALANCING ASSIGNMENTS AS MAJOR CHALLENGE
Balancing workplace assignments such as staff training and project delivery are the major competing tasks for civil engineer Michael Eagle, P.E., of Orlando, Fla. Employed for more than eight years at the Orlando office of Kittelson & Associates Inc., he serves locally as senior engineer in providing transportation planning, engineering, and research services. With its corporate offices based in Portland, Ore., the civil engineering firm has 25 additional office locations nationwide.
Eagle describes his employment duties as both internal and external. Internal activity is the development and training of staff on projects, assuming companywide assignments such as hiring and leadership responsibilities. External activity includes project delivery for clients and developing new relationships and project opportunities. “Both of these can eat up a work week,” Eagle notes, “and in my role, I have to prioritize these activities dynamically throughout the year in order to be successful.”
To assist its employees, Kittleson has tools and staff resources dedicated to addressing both internal and external activities, according to Eagle. “For external-facing activities,” he says, “I plan on continuing to leverage colleagues and senior staff to gain experience in project management and market development.” He also plans on continuing his role on Kittleson’s companywide hiring committee and summer intern committee.
For internal-facing opportunities, Eagle plans on utilizing the leadership development program offered by his firm as well as exploring new opportunities to acquire other perspectives and ideas. One of those new opportunities in which he currently participates is an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Having milestones to measure leadership and professional growth are worthy for any career path. Eagle says, “I would like to develop personal goals and benchmarks on an annual basis, in addition to longer-term objectives, five years or more. The formal biannual check-ins I have with my mentoring team can be a great way for me to measure progress on smaller steps that are driving toward achieving my longer-term goals.”
Eagle contends that in meeting his challenges there are multiple benefits to himself, his company and colleagues, the transportation industry, and his community. “Addressing these challenges will result in better and more innovative solutions for our clients through development of our staff and myself,” he emphasizes. “When these solutions get implemented, they directly benefit the community that will use the transportation network. I’m excited to be a part of an organization that takes great pride in community-centric solutions and advancing the transportation process through our projects and research.”
Brent Porter, P.E.
PROJECT MANAGER ASPIRES TO IMPROVE TEAM-BUILDING SKILLS, RAPPORT
Reflecting back on his career beginnings, mechanical engineer Brent Porter, P.E., of Athens, Ohio, recalls that he lacked vital leadership and management training, something that would have assisted him in technical support and hazard analysis roles. To address this shortcoming, he eventually earned an advanced degree in engineering management, changed employers, and pursued project management positions. Today, Porter is a project manager for Kraton Polymers L.L.C., of Belpre, Ohio, a manufacturing subsidiary of the international Kraton Corporation, headquartered in Houston.
“I now find myself in charge of several million dollars of capital projects and diverse teams of technical specialists that look to me as ‘the project manager’ to settle disputes and move projects forward,” Porter says. Through additional leadership training, he would like to flesh out his skillset as a communicator and team-builder that leads through engagement rather than just a job title.
Porter is currently engaged in an initiative to help accomplish his career goals — an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Ironically, Porter says his greatest workplace challenges are his own perceptions as a project manager in “understanding that I hold the reins of a project in ways I’ve not been able to in past positions.” While he admits that he doesn’t see himself as the end-all decision-maker, project teams still regard him as the project manager to lead and administer project efforts. “I’m responsible for executing complex packages of work by leading and influencing groups of people that I don’t necessarily have any authority over,” Porter explains. “Coming out of my own shell and convincing myself that I’m worthy of the title has been something I’ve run up against repeatedly.”
His approach to team leadership is somewhat personalized, too, more of a servant type of leader who asks the team members, “What can I do to help you do your jobs?” Porter points out that there are specialists on his teams who know far more about their disciplines than he ever will. “It’s important that they be able to work unimpeded and with the understanding that they are trusted to do the best for the team and the project,” he says. “Moreover, teams need to know that someone is in responsible charge who has their best interests at heart and who won’t shy away from conflict in exchange for artificial harmony.” Porter further emphasizes the importance of communicating with team members frequently and openly, giving them constructive, noncritical feedback on their performance.
As he forecasts his impending workload, Porter cites three relatively large and complex projects that will expand both his capabilities as a leader and his skills as a project manager. “I want to sit down at the end of 2022 and look back on successful implementation of those projects’ scopes,” he says, “knowing now that they won’t be mistake-free, and that I am going to run upon challenges with design, procurement, scheduling, staffing, and other elements.” However, Porter contends that by having and using the hands-on tools from the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program, he will react more appropriately to difficulties, thereby directing and relying upon his teams’ skills to confront issues and find workable solutions.
The NSPE leadership initiative has also piqued Porter’s interest in his local chapters of NSPE and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Previously, in a different state, he says, “I was part of the local ASME chapter’s leadership team and found satisfaction in our community activities there. I think I would like to see myself in a similar position again, perhaps taking up the banner for professional engineer licensure and engineering advocacy to attract younger engineers to professional organizations.”
Porter looks forward to embracing personal growth and broadening his technical and soft skills, in addition to increasing efficiencies and profitability of his employer. “Hopefully, I’m a good representation of the type of professional and conscientious leader that all engineers can be,” he observes.
Blair Richardson, P.E.
MECHANICAL ENGINEER PURSUES MANAGEMENT TRANSITION KNOWLEDGE
When Blair Richardson was a kid, he wanted to be a farmer. If you asked him why, he would say “there is nothing more rewarding than watching things grow”. As the Director of Commissioning and Energy Service, Blair recognizes the power of people to drive business. This translates to a focus on developing and lifting up those around him to create high-performing teams while cultivating collaborative work environments to drive success. While he might not be a farmer in the traditional sense, he has most certainly found a way to help grow the people around him.
Coming out of the Emerging Leaders Program, Blair Richardson, PE, was able to leverage his honed leadership ability to transition jobs. As the New Director of Commissioning and Energy Services at Colliers Engineering and Design (Collier Project Leaders), he is now responsible for managing a team of professionals, providing a high level of technical leadership, leading business development efforts, and setting regional goals. This new role covers all of Southern New England and supports the North-East and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Colliers is a full-service engineering, architecture, owners project management, and commissioning firm based in Madison, Conn., with more than 57 offices across the country. With more time now dedicated to project management and business development within his organization, he realizes the need for additional leadership and communication skills to satisfy his responsibilities.
To assist in his workplace endeavor, Blair participated in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Since joining NSPE in 2018, Blair says he is reminded of the engineering profession’s responsibility to protect public safety and educate the public at large on matters of health and safety. He contends, “Participating in the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will help me better understand the ‘business” of engineering, help build confidence in myself, and enable me to share this knowledge and experience with others.”
Blair perceives one of the challenges to growing in the industry as “being incredibly motivated and wanting to help steer my firm, but I need to show my leadership abilities and successful project outcomes to get a seat at that table.”
When it comes to getting work completed and taking on additional responsibilities, the obvious solution is to work more hours, Blair reluctantly points out. “Unfortunately, this is not a long-term solution to growth,” he notes. “Critical conversations are needed to balance staffing with backlog. “Training and mentoring staff to backfill positions,” are more feasible, along with a “clear understanding of backlog and current workload”.
According to Blair, benchmarks are an important element of measuring leadership progress. In his current career path, he says “clear metrics are critical to tracking transition into newer organizational roles”.
By working though his workplace challenges and establishing sustainable solutions with his supervisor, Blair believes he “will gain exposure to senior leadership, demonstrate that ability to contribute at a higher level, and build a reputation as a leader within my firm. Partnering with senior leadership, I am able to influence and guide decision-making, and surpass organizational goals.”
Finally, Blair says, “By being part of the leadership team, I will have more freedom to attend industry events and conferences. This increases brand exposure, increases new hire recruiting potential, and provides opportunities to meet new potential clients.”
Jennifer Sloan Ziegler, Ph.D., P.E.
ENGINEERING PROJECT MANAGER SEEKS TO HONE TEAM-GROWING SKILLS
Similar to other professions, working at a smaller engineering organization has its advantages, especially in gaining broad-based experience quickly. Civil engineer Jennifer Sloan Ziegler, Ph.D., P.E., of Ridgeland, Miss., is a project manager for Cypress Environment & Infrastructure, a small woman-owned business based in Ocean Springs, Miss. The company specializes in engineering, planning, and environmental science in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic region. Sloan Ziegler says her employment provides her with opportunities for ownership, professional growth, client and team development, and project management much earlier than for some of her counterparts at larger firms.
However, Sloan Ziegler admits, “I have fewer in-firm opportunities for mentoring and professional development. As such, I seek external opportunities with the support of my supervisor to learn these skills.” With that objective in mind, she is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course targets early-career professionals through a reality-based curriculum that addresses the core skills necessary to think strategically, build effective teams, deliver exceptional service for their most valued clients, and lead successfully.
“Participating in the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program will help me continue growing as a leader in the engineering field,” Sloan Ziegler says. “During my undergraduate and graduate programs, I sought opportunities to lead, and this program will provide an opportunity to continue learning how to lead as a professional engineer.” Since earning her professional engineer license, Sloan Ziegler has become active in the Mississippi Engineering Society and the American Society of Civil Engineers, pursuing leadership opportunities. In fact, she serves on multiple ASCE regional and national boards. “As a woman engineer, I try to use my leadership skills and positions to serve as a role model for other women, seeking to add much needed diversity to the profession,” she says.
Sloan Ziegler perceives her greatest workplace challenge as strategically growing a team. “When I was hired three years ago, I was just the fifth full-time employee,” she notes. “In the subsequent three years, we’ve more than tripled in size. This type of growth is difficult to manage in many different ways, including finding the right people for long-term sustainability of the company, maintaining our company culture, and managing people from a distance. As we book more work and need more staff, ensuring that we are strategically growing as a team is extremely important.”
In terms of addressing business goals, Sloan Ziegler points out, “I think my company has the same problem that other companies have — finding solid, qualified people who are looking to make a change professionally. We struggle with where to post job advertisements and how to best determine if candidates fit with our company culture.” She says having a clearinghouse, or something similar, where job notices can be posted to find qualified candidates would be very helpful, especially in fields outside of engineering. Additionally, due to her company’s size, being able to purchase standard documents, such as Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee contracts, is always helpful and time saving.
The Cypress project manager has personally established a benchmark for measuring her leadership progress. “I am focusing on my 100-day plan,” Sloan Ziegler says. “And I am working with others in the company to ensure we have activities in place to stay connected and personally engaged with our current staff, while also focusing on outward growth.”
When asked about the overall benefit of meeting her professional challenge, Sloan Ziegler emphasizes, “Growing my team will be lucrative, financially, for myself and my employer. It will provide clients and potential clients with another professional choice for projects, strengthening competition and, hopefully, pushing our firm and other firms to become better engineers.”
Veronica Springer, E.I.T.
New Haven, Connecticut
LEADERSHIP QUALITY AND VIRTUE ATTRACT YOUNG ENGINEER’S INTEREST
As a woman employed in a relatively male-dominated field of industrial equipment supply, engineer-in-training Veronica Springer, of New Haven, Connecticut, may have to confront potential workplace hurdles. Nevertheless, nothing is going to obstruct her career path. “I hope to challenge previously defined societal constructs of an engineer and help shift the perspective of what a future engineer can be,” she says. Springer currently works as a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer of Surgical Robotics for Medtronic.
In her quest to highlight her engineering background, Stringer observes, “I have come to realize the innate importance of leadership quality and virtue, and the necessity of striving to continually improve in that regard.” In pursuit of those endeavors, she recently participated in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Through NSPE’s training initiative, Stringer aims to become an effective leader who is capable of encouraging change and inspiring growth in those around her. “When coupled with my determination for growth,” she notes, “these tools can enable me to become a true trailblazer in guiding other like-minded individuals toward professional engineer licensure.” Moreover, Springer expects to use the knowledge gained through the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program to succeed in leadership roles where she will have more influence in encouraging diversity and inclusion within engineering.
“To be effective requires maintaining a broad vision and a set of leadership tools that allow me to lead upwards as well as downwards,” she says. “This is, however, difficult when as an engineer, I am required to be focused on specific technical tasks and problem statements.” A related matter, Springer adds, is how to continually develop effective leadership skills that are not always easily translatable from the skillset required as an engineer. “Often the criteria and experience needed to make effective engineering decisions are counter intuitive when applied to leadership,” she says. “While I am primarily an engineer, I am also positioned for leadership and need to be able to separate and develop both facets.”
Working in an industry that doesn’t require professional engineer licensure is a broader issue, Springer points out. “I face the challenge of encouraging my peers to pursue licensure and to recognize the value it brings,” she says. “To me, this all takes the shape of continued education and personal growth, as well as providing a support network of like-minded individuals who bring innovative solutions from diverse engineering backgrounds.”
In addressing all these challenges, Springer says she finds great value in applying the techniques she is developing from the NSPE Emerging Leader Program, specifically related to communication skills. “The contrasting technique and taking personal ownership in meaningful dialogue, especially during difficult conversations, will be very useful as I navigate my leadership journey,” she explains. “Ultimately, I feel these types of communication tools will assist in my personal and professional growth toward becoming successful as a leader in both my current and future roles.”
There is also much usefulness in having access to programs such as NSPE’s leadership initiative, Springer emphasizes. “Having a sounding board that brings together professionals from diverse backgrounds allows us to learn from each other and continue to grow and hone our leadership skills,” she says. “I enjoy being able to communicate what I learn from programs like these to my peers to motivate their future engagement and growth.”
Creating benchmarks to measure both personal and professional achievement are necessary, according to Springer. “To address the challenge of making effective leadership decisions in a technical role,” she says, “I need to ensure that I allocate a percentage of my week to understanding the long-term and broader impact of my work.”
To encourage her peers to sign on to groups such as NSPE, Springer suggests, “I would like to maintain my involvement with NSPE on a monthly or quarterly basis in order to continue the meaningful work my team is currently undertaking to attract, engage, and retain young engineers.” Additionally, as an engineer-in-training, another milestone related to her participation in NSPE will be achieving her professional engineer licensure.
Springer cites several benefits in meeting her challenges, such as being more effective in her day-to-day decisions. “This would translate into feeling more confident and satisfied in the work I do,” she contends, “and a reassurance that I am creating the most positive impact to my professional environment.” As a more effective employee, Springer points out, this advantage would “naturally have a positive influence on my immediate team and employer and allow me to establish myself as a leadership resource for my colleagues.”
Kristen Van Hoosier, P.E.
TEXAS CIVIL ENGINEER COMMITS TO HONING HER PROJECT TEAM MEMBERS
For more than six years, civil engineer Kristen Van Hoosier, P.E., of Austin, Tex., has been presented with opportunities to assume more managerial responsibilities for her employer. Of course, new responsibilities require new skills, she observes, with a specific focus on incorporating managerial expertise and expanding her capabilities beyond design and production. Van Hoosier currently serves as a project manager for the Houston-based civil engineering firm Cobb, Fendley & Associates Inc., with offices throughout Texas and across multiple states.
Although Van Hoosier admits she has a little anxiety “about the unknowns that lie ahead, I am much more excited to solve problems and face challenges with creative solutions.” She also affirms that the best results in her practicing field are achieved through effective leadership and a team of skilled engineers that are motivated to succeed. Pursuing that objective, she currently participates in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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.
Van Hoosier regards the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program as an excellent opportunity to gain exposure to new ideas, enhance her existing competency, and improve her ability to lead the next generation of engineers, including fostering the growth of new engineers-in-training. Already, she says the program has provided her with tools to combat various obstacles typically faced by leaders. NSPE’s leadership initiative also aligns with one of Van Hoosier’s more recent tasks — job position transitioning. She points out that she has been shifting from a project engineer who is heavily involved in the production of design and submittal packages to a project manager who is responsible for the delegation of duties to others.
One of her longer-term commitments, Van Hoosier notes, is learning to be a leader for the younger members on her project team and being able to mentor them on a professional, technical, and even personal level. “Becoming an effective and well-rounded leader will involve continuous self-development throughout my career,” she says. “And I know it will take a great investment of time, effort, and practice. When it comes to leadership, I believe practice makes you better, but never perfect. I just hope that I can maintain humility and an open mind.” Aside from self-development tools and interactive training programs, Van Hoosier contends, “I think being an active member of organizations can also help me to become a better, more committed leader.”
An advocate for feedback and benchmarks for measuring progress, Van Hoosier says she has a better idea and understanding of her growth as a leader when she requests feedback from her peers through interpersonal conversations or anonymous surveys. “I try to stay open-minded so I can accept criticism as constructive only and think of growth as an everlasting uphill challenge,” she adds. “Being vulnerable enough to accept honest feedback from others and having the willingness to consciously change my habits will help me to reach each milestone more efficiently.” Other benchmarks of value to Van Hoosier include establishing timetables for reading books, applying for other self-help programs, and serving on leadership boards for various organizations. “Doing such creates a habit of intention and sincerity to become a better version of myself,” she says.
By pursuing leadership roles in various capacities and being willing to face challenges, Van Hoosier believes she can help inspire others. “For myself, I can become a role model for my children and show them that they can accomplish their goals when they put their best foot forward,” she explains, knowing that when they’re tested, there will be resources and mentors along the way to help them succeed.
Regarding her employer, Van Hoosier says, “Becoming a stronger leader will help us market our capabilities as an engineering consultant even more, and it will help to attract strong engineers and designers to the team.” Equally important, she adds, “I hope that by being an active leader within professional organizations, I can help to inspire other engineers to do the same and to continue strengthening our commitment to our communities.”
Kush Vashee, P.E.
PROJECT ENGINEER’S LEADERSHIP TRAINING EARMARKED FOR MENTORING
In his newer role as transportation project engineer, Kush Vashee, P.E., of Alexandria, Va., leads design efforts on larger roadway projects and coordinates construction with other disciplines. Employed in Virginia by the Baltimore-based civil engineering firm RK&K, his responsibilities also call for managing small-scale projects, client interaction, delegating tasks, and mentoring less experienced staff. Commenting on his diverse duties, Vashee says, “I believe it is important to take yourself out of your comfort zone and go for opportunities that will challenge you, and that is one of the best ways to grow.”
Although company staff development is part of his assignments, Vashee admits that it is a challenge for him. “In my position where I am serving as lead designer for some projects and project manager for others,” he explains, “I cannot dedicate as much time to teach and mentor younger engineers as I would like. My tendency to avoid difficult conversations also inhibits my ability to deliver concise and critical feedback when it is required.”
To gain the required skills to effectively manage projects and lead successful teams, Vashee is currently participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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 would like to use my delegation skills to create more time to mentor and teach younger staff,” Vashee points out, further emphasizing, “I intend to the use the techniques learned in the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program to conduct those difficult conversations in a way that is beneficial to both parties as well as provide concise feedback to team members on my projects.” To address those challenges, Vashee says he needs to excel better at identifying assignments that are not urgent and can wait.
“Personally, I would like to delegate at least 35 percent of the tasks that come my way to create more time in my day for more urgent items and for reviewing work,” Vashee notes. As a career milestone, he says he would like to transition from his role as a hybrid design engineer and task leader to more project management and then obtain certification as a project management professional.
Additionally, Vashee would like to develop his project team’s skills, and in turn, have team members assume more challenging assignments, thereby making the team more productive as a result. “I believe having more demanding conversation will also provide critical feedback to my team members,” he adds, “who need to learn and grow in their careers as well, which overall makes us more accountable as a team.”
Matthew White, E.I.T.
Cedar Park, Texas
ENGINEER-IN-TRAINING SEES BENEFIT OF LEADERSHIP SKILLS, NETWORKING
Like many young professional engineers-in-training, Matthew White, of Cedar Park, Tex., says his greatest personal challenge is maintaining the drive and desire to keep up with the projected future of his career. To help maintain his professional focus, with an emphasis on land development, White has achieved certifications in areas such as occupational safety and health, railroad safety, and asphalt batch testing. A civil engineering graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, he is employed by Austin-based MWM DesignGroup, a firm providing engineering and architectural services, land surveying, and landscape architectural services throughout Texas.
As he pursues professional licensure, White also realizes the need to expand his communication and leadership skillset for application to future roles with his employer and beyond. Through his membership in the National Society of Professional Engineers, he landed upon an initiative to help accomplish his career goals — the NSPE Emerging Leaders Program. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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 must thank my supervisors and peers for introducing this program to me and thinking that I might be a good fit for its training,” White notes. “The program offers a multitude of topics to allow anyone to gain something regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, and I have spoken to past enrollees about how much they have benefited from their participation.”
In addressing some of his challenges, White admits he has a slight disadvantage, but it’s one that can be overcome. “For someone like myself, who is in a new area of the country with few professional relationships, it is vital to me to learn team-building skills as well as networking skills,” he says. “Attending events that provide these opportunities and observing how others work with their colleagues are aptitudes that I have been working on and improving daily.”
Similarly, White has a more traditional approach toward measuring networking success and gathering leadership tools. “This may be a minor or materialistic thing,” he says, “but I believe that when someone gives you a business card or e-mail info, that is an acknowledgement that you are worthy of a future relationship.” Generating a large network of peers and colleagues can facilitate future working relationships, he contends. In other words, “Get as many business cards as you can and meet as many people as you can!”
The overall benefits of meeting networking challenges are significant, according to White. “By gaining as many professional relationships as I can,” he says, “it will grow my career network throughout the profession and allow for easier communication and efficiency in the future.” He further explains, “If I were to meet someone today who was also an engineer-in-training at a private firm and began a friendship, it may prove beneficial not only to my social well-being, but also to my professional capacity if that person were to elevate to a prominent role down the road.”
Yahya Mohammed, Ph.D., P.E.
ILLINOIS STRUCTURAL ENGINEER REGARDS MOTIVATION AS KEY ESSENTIAL
One of the professional goals of Yahya Mohammed, Ph.D., P.E., of Quincy, Ill., is to become a successful young project manager more adept in the marketing field. Currently, he is a structural engineer for Poepping, Stone, Bach & Associates Inc., based in Quincy, with other offices in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The company has more than 50 years of experience providing architectural, engineering, surveying, and planning services. In addition to his advanced degrees in civil engineering, including a doctorate, Mohammed has past experience in structural design with two firms in Alexandria, Egypt.
In his current workplace, Mohammed points out that he manages only the structural parts of projects, but he aspires to be responsible for facilitating entire design projects, from coordinating between disciplines to organizing meetings and contacting contractors. To access the required tools to gain more management and leadership prowess, Mohammed is participating in an emerging leaders program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. This intensive seven-month virtual training course 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 am looking forward to learning the key leadership skills necessary to grow and make a difference, not only in my workplace but in the community where I live,” Mohammed says. As he moves toward managing and leading design/construction projects, he knows there will be challenges ahead. One of those is the motivation factor. “Sometimes as a leader, you can feel your motivation for a project or an organization fall flat,” he observes. “It happens to the best of us, but what you need to do is muster all of the good stuff around you and get back on track.”
Mohammed suggests, “Don’t spend time dwelling on what isn’t working unless you can fix it. You won’t always be the No. 1 cheerleader in your own mind, but your team is expecting you to be, so get out there and share the enthusiasm you do have, even when you are a little off your game.” To sustain his motivation, Mohammed uses a four-prong approach to address challenges, which includes the following: celebrate milestones and achievements, work on different projects to avoid boredom, continue learning, and show appreciation for the good work done by others.
To measure his leadership milestones, Mohammed plans on keeping it simple, using some basic metrics such as on-budget and on-target project delivery, feedback surveys, and data analysis. As he notes, his bottom line measurement of success emphasizes motivation. “Being motivated from within helps you rise above negative influences in life,” Mohammed says.
On a different scale, employee motivation levels have a direct impact on productivity, according to Mohammed. “If employees feel motivated at work, they are more likely to work harder for the company,” he contends. “Employees who are motivated carry out their responsibilities to the highest standard, and production numbers increase as a result.” From a community perspective, Mohammed says, “Being motivated will keep you doing volunteer work.”