Young Engineers of the Year

November/December 2015

Young Engineers of the Year

On the way up! The careers of these top young engineers are off to a smashing start.

In 2015, NSPE and state societies honored 18 professionals, 35 years old and younger, with Young Engineer of the Year Awards. Their work involves bridges, water and wastewater facilities, natural gas pipelines, intelligent transportation, levees, and many other areas. And when they’re not at the office, many volunteer their time to make their state societies and chapters stronger.

NSPE winner
Charles Stevens, P.E., PTOECharles Stevens, P.E., PTOE
36 years old (35 when awarded)
Research engineer
Texas A&M Transportation Institute 
Research and Implementation Division

At TTI, Stevens has focused on developing a long-range, smart corridor intelligent transportation systems plan for the 407-mile corridor from Oklahoma to Mexico’s border. He has also worked on autonomous vehicle and unmanned aerial vehicles application research.

The research engineer has served as a member of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers’ young engineers committee and as a director on the Houston chapter board. He was the 2014 Texas Young Engineer of the Year.


isa Truong Nguyen, E.I.TLisa Truong Nguyen, E.I.T
26 years old
Project engineer
Alliant Engineering Inc.

Nguyen works on publicly funded government projects, taking an interest in the socioeconomic impacts of engineering. She aims to make infrastructure safe, smart, and sustainable.

Nguyen’s  projects have included a protected bike lane in downtown Denver and parking management for the Mall of America. She is working on her PE and PTOE licenses.

District of Columbia

Tiffani Bryant, P.E.Tiffani Bryant, P.E.
34 years old
Senior specialist engineer
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

Bryant, who has experience managing industrial, health care, and federal construction projects, is responsible for estimating engineering and construction costs for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s capital improvement projects.

She is also the secretary for the DC Society of Professional Engineers, a lifetime member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and a volunteer with the American Heart Association.


Orlando Castro, P.E.Orlando Castro, P.E.
32 years old
Hazen and Sawyer

Castro’s expertise includes structural design, program administration, and site inspection services for water and wastewater facilities. He is currently a project manager for a $5.2 billion program for the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department that aims to reduce nutrient discharges and reuse 60% of wastewater flows.

Projects Castro has worked on have received Project of the Year awards from the Design-Build Institute of America and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.


Matthew High, P.E.Matthew High, P.E.
33 years old
Mechanical engineer
Utilities engineering group, Purdue University

High recently returned to his alma mater to work. At Purdue, he takes a lead role on utilities projects and continually looks for opportunities to reduce campus energy use. The PE performs energy savings and payback calculations to secure funding for energy-saving projects. He also teaches mechanical training courses.

High was previously secretary of his local chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers.


Cliff Speegle, P.E.Cliff Speegle, P.E.
34 years old
Project engineer
Affinis Corp.

Speegle, a LEED-accredited professional, works on municipal street and stormwater projects at Affinis; his responsibilities include project management, design, public involvement, cost estimating, permitting, and preliminary engineering studies. He also has inspected more than 50 miles of levees for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The PE is the vice president of the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers and volunteers with MATHCOUNTS.


Joseph Hauber, P.E.Joseph Hauber, P.E.
32 years old
Senior geotechnical engineer
Thelen Associates, a division of Geotechnology Inc.

Hauber has worked with multidisciplinary teams on several green infrastructure projects. One, a reforestation project, received a Grand Award for Engineering Excellence from the American Council of Engineering Companies–Kentucky and a national ACEC Honor Award.

The PE was the 2014–15 president of the Northern Kentucky chapter of the Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers and is currently chapter state director.


Margarita Varela-Rosa, P.E.Margarita Varela-Rosa, P.E.
30 years old
Senior industrial engineer
Navy Engineering and 
Logistics Office

In 2014, Varela-Rosa completed a rotation at the Pentagon. There she performed a cost assessment for the Next Generation Enterprise Network, the update to the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, which serves more than 700,000 Navy and Marine Corps users. She was commended by the Office of the Secretary of Defense leadership for exceptional performance.


Matt Mikolajczyk, P.E.Matt Mikolajczyk, P.E.
33 years old
Structural design engineer
The Mannik & Smith Group Inc.

Serving as a project manager and lead design engineer, Mikolajczyk uses his technical abilities, team building skills, and creativity to manage a broad range of projects. He also assists in the firm’s coaching program.

The PE recently served as his local Michigan Society of Professional Engineers chapter president.

New Jersey

Christopher Iacono, P.E.Christopher Iacono, P.E.
31 years old
Assistant project engineer/design engineer
Arora and Associates P.C.

lacono has provided design services for major projects, including the New Jersey Turnpike widening program, the Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation, and the Lincoln Tunnel Helix replacement study.

He is currently the Professional Engineers Society of Mercer County’s first vice president and has previously served as secretary and treasurer.

New York

Elana Freedman, P.E.Elana Freedman, P.E.
31 years old
Structural engineer
HDR Inc.

Freedman has experience in design and construction support services for bridge and infrastructure projects. She recently acted as the miscellaneous structures design lead for the New NY Bridge project to replace the Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing.

The professional engineer also served as the inspector/design engineer for the rehabilitation of the Northbound and Southbound Bruckner Expressway Bridges and project engineer for the stabilization of the Ellis Island Seawall.


Aaron Peck, P.E.Aaron Peck, P.E.
35 years old
Vice president of operations
Guy Engineering Services Inc.

Peck has grown his company’s inspection department from three certified inspection team leaders performing 400 inspections a year to six certified team members and three assistants performing 800 inspections annually.

He is a founding member of the Oklahoma East chapter of Engineers Without Borders—USA and a founding board member of Engineers in Action, which connects engineers with nonprofits and citizens in Bolivia.


Philip Henry, P.E.Philip Henry, P.E.
30 years old
Lead mechanical engineering consultant

Henry is a consultant with OGSystems, a technology innovation firm. He previously taught engineering courses as an assistant professor at Portland State University. The PE has also served as secretary of the Professional Engineers of Oregon’s Columbia chapter.


Philip Henry, P.E.Melissa Fontanese, P.E.
30 years old
Engineer II
EQT Midstream

Fontanese designs natural gas measurement stations and pipelines for gathering and transmission systems, as well as mitigating landslides. Projects she has worked on include the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County and Robert Morris University’s Concord Hall II.

The PE is currently serving as a director for the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers.

South Dakota

Michelle Carter, P.E.Michelle Carter, P.E.
33 years old
Project engineer and manager

Carter focuses primarily on water and wastewater projects, with expertise in large-diameter piping, conditions assessment, and rehabilitation. She is the key design and construction engineer for HDR’s $40 million large sanitary sewer projects for the City of Sioux Falls.

In 2013, she helped represent the South Dakota Engineering Society in a three-day STEM event for girls at middle schools in the underprivileged districts of Sioux Falls.


Kristi Schnell, P.E.Kristi Schnell, P.E.
33 years old
Senior associate
Gresham, Smith, and Partners

Schnell has more than 10 years of experience in water and wastewater facilities planning, design, and construction. Her work has included assistance with the design of the 17th Street and London Avenue Canal Pumping Station in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Schnell has served on the Nashville chapter board of the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers for the past five years, and is the Nashville director on the TSPE board.


Ardita Dushi, P.E.Ardita Dushi, P.E.
35 years old
Project manager
Fugro Consultants Inc.

Dushi is Fugro Consultants’ business development lead for water-related projects in Texas. She has more than eight years of experience in geotechnical engineering, and her projects include pipelines, pump stations, levees, storage tanks, water and wastewater treatment facilities, highways, and schools.

Dushi also currently serves as the director, programs chair, and scholarships chair of the Dallas chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.


John Kastner, P.E.John Kastner, P.E.
32 years old
Group manager
R.A. Smith National

Kastner oversees the construction services team that provides services to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and R.A. Smith National’s private development clients.

In addition, he created his firm’s training program for newly hired engineers, which rotates new hires through company divisions.