Engineers Week 2020: Meet our Pioneers for Progress

Engineers – like all pioneers – use their knowledge, creativity, and sense of adventure to cross frontiers. Engineers have led us to amazing place, from space to deep below the ocean’s surface. To continue our Engineers Week celebration, which focuses on Pioneers for Progress, we asked a few of our engineers the following questions:

  1. How long have you been with Pennoni/in engineering?
  2. Why did you want to be an engineer?
  3. What is your favorite thing about being an engineer?
  4. What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at Pennoni? Why?
  5. What is one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring engineer?
  6. How do you feel engineers are making a difference in the world?

Read about their unique engineering stories and how they are pioneers for progress:

John Byram – Project Engineer – Leesburg, VA

I started February 3, 1986 out of high school with PHR&A/Pennoni, so it has been 34 years. I was 18 and not sure if I wanted to go to college but I had picked up the trade of hand drafting at Charles Monroe Vo-Tech in Leesburg, VA. I really enjoyed what I had learned through the program and I had a relative that sold survey stakes to all the local engineering firms. He set up an interview with PHR&A and I was lucky enough to be hired. I have been blessed to work with a lot of talented engineers, surveyors, and landscape architects that have taken the time to teach me since day one and it has gotten me to where I am today. I decided early on that this is something I want to be a part of because of the impact we have on our communities now and in the future. My favorite thing about engineering is that after doing this for so long, every project we do is different in some way. I have been able to work on projects from data centers, commercial, industrial, dry utilities, and various types of residential subdivisions. I have two favorite projects that I really have enjoyed working on that I think represent my career. The first is Franklin Park which is a 200-acre park in Loudoun County that we did in the in the early 90’s. This park included a pool, football fields, baseball fields, tennis courts, 18-hole frisbee course, fishing pond, and the remodeling of an existing barn for indoor events. I am very proud whenever I see the positivity it brings to the community. The second would be Ashburn North which is a 44-acre data center that is in what the county calls Data Center Alley. It has been interesting to be involved with the size and nature of these projects considering how technology has changed our way of life and will continue to change in the future. The one thing I would say to an aspiring engineer is to be open minded and take pride in what you are doing. We can always continue to learn from others and help others improve in many ways. Take pride in your work and it will be a real feeling of accomplishment when you see those projects go from the computer/paper to being built. We have the responsibility to make improvements that will have a positive impact on life and the environment for future generations. The impact on things most people use every day from roads, schools, utilities, etc. we have an opportunity to be involved early on and propose positive impacts.

Amy Kovach – Staff Engineer – West Chester, PA

I have been working in Pennoni’s Land Development Group at the West Chester, PA office for about a year and I absolutely love it here. Prior to working at Pennoni, my previous work experience consisted of stormwater management design, nontraditional land development design and permitting. I graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 2014 with a degree in Civil Engineering and minors in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering. I will be finishing up my Master’s in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering from Villanova University next year. I have always had a passion for math and science growing up and engineering was a way that I could combine both of my passions into a reality. I always take pride in problem solving and I feel a sense of accomplishment when a job is finish. One of my favorites things about being an engineer is that I’m always learning and enhancing my skill set. At Pennoni, I am fortunate to have both a great boss and an aspiring mentor. Both Mike Kissinger and Chris Poterjoy have taught me a wealth of knowledge in the last year and I’m continuing to learn as new challenges arise. I have been given opportunities which have allowed me to continue to build my design, stormwater and project management skills on the job. Even though I have only been here for a year, I have had the opportunity to work on a lot of unique and interesting projects. It is a huge benefit to have all my projects be local, which makes it possible to see my designs become a reality. One of my favorite projects is a project for a confidential financial client. It was my first project at Pennoni and I took this project from the sketch phase and through construction. I have learned a lot along the way and have been given more responsibility, so it was a great learning experience. One piece of advice that I would give aspiring engineers would be to always take on new challenges and opportunities because it’s a way to grow and learn. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because great things can happen if you make the effort to succeed. This has worked well for me personally and the more you step out of your comfort zone, the easier it gets. Engineers are making a difference in the world in a variety of different ways such as creating new technologies and developing solutions to their client’s problems.

Jesse Gormley – Project Engineer – Philadelphia

I’ve been with Pennoni for nearly 12 years, starting as a Drexel University co-op in 2008 and joining full-time when I graduated in 2010. My engineering journey is a little atypical. I wasn’t specifically aware of engineering until late in high school. Instead, growing up, my mother taught my siblings and I the importance of seeking to understand things. For example, we would play a game that had us, essentially, try to reverse-engineer recipes she prepared. As I learned more about engineering, I admired that engineers take it one step further, first striving to understand things and then working to improve them. On top of that, I love a good puzzle, so it’s fun and exciting to be able to apply math, science, and technology to solve ones that have vast societal benefit. My favorite technical project right now is the I-95 CAP because of its complexities and challenges it poses; it demands strong technical knowledge but also the creativity to apply that knowledge effectively. On the less technical side, I love the support Pennoni provides to volunteer for other “projects,” such as leading the annual United Way campaign in the Philadelphia office and running K-12 outreach programs around the city. For aspiring engineers, I have two pieces of advice: first, think forward, as planning is the key to success on all projects; second, ask questions! Looking to learn and understand early in your engineering adventure will pay off later. It’s a pity that engineers tend to be less people-facing, as everything we do is for the betterment of society. In fact, we have an ethical obligation to keep it that way! Civil engineers have the burden of developing the built environment and the responsibility to do it in a sustainable and socially conscious way. The good news is, more than ever, we are meeting that responsibility and acting as advocates for positive change. I cannot wait to see how we continue these strides!

Don DeBerry – Senior Engineer – Winter Haven, FL

I joined Pennoni’s Winter Haven, FL office part time in August 2018 while I was working as City Transportation Engineer for the City of Lynchburg, VA, and ultimately joined Pennoni fulltime when my wife and I returned to Florida to be closer to our four  children. I started my education at Virginia Tech as a forestry major with an engineering minor, but I ultimately switched to an agricultural engineering major with a forest engineering minor. I’m a pretty typical engineer and I enjoy solving problems. I have found the lack of traffic and/or transportation engineering experience in government creates the opportunity for a lot of improvement. I have enjoyed being able to drive planning through the construction of cost-effective solutions that improve people’s lives and safety.

When I came to Pennoni, the City of Lynchburg asked me if I could continue to manage a project I was working on for them at the time. We were able to arrange a contract for me to continue as project manager for the US 501/US 221 innovative intersection project which is in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) phase. I would advise an aspiring engineer to pick an area of technical expertise they enjoy and push to be the best at it. Go ahead and get your PHD in it, then open your own business and control your own destiny. We are the engine for making our built environment safer and more sustainable.

Laura Eberly – Senior Engineer – Lehigh Valley, PA

I have worked in the field of Civil Engineering/Stormwater Management for 30 years and have been with Pennoni for the past 6 years. I started my career working for a County Planning Commission studying watersheds, writing stormwater management regulations, and reviewing stormwater designs. After switching to the private sector, I began designing stormwater management systems for land development plans and working with municipalities on stormwater permitting. I was guided to the engineering field by my family and teachers who saw that I was good at math and science. Through various classes, I found that I had an interest in water resources and stormwater management. I was lucky enough to be involved in student watershed study that used the County Planning Commission as a resource. The same County Planning Commission that I got a job at and worked at for many years! The best parts of my job are that every day is different and there is always a challenge to be solved. Every client and every job are different, so no two workdays are ever the same. Since the jobs are all different, they also present unique challenges that sometimes require out of the box thinking and solutions to produce a product that can be permitted and built. At Pennoni, we have a great team of people that are available to brainstorm and develop unique solutions to complex challenges. My favorite project that I have worked on at Pennoni is an adaptive reuse project. We are working with a team that includes an architect and a structural engineer to develop a plan to reuse an old armory as apartments and expand the building. The original building on the site was built in the 1930s in the art deco style and is on the National Register of Historic places. All three armory buildings will be adapted into living spaces, preserved, and expanded. Our challenge was to create a site design and stormwater management that met all regulatory requirements while enabling the preservation of the existing buildings on the site. I love that we came up with a solution that fits into the neighborhood and brings this historic property back to life. My advice to an aspiring engineer would be to learn how to give a good presentation. Engineering education typically focuses on the technical side and how to make the numbers work. Unfortunately, if you can’t communicate your ideas to your clients or to the regulators, you won’t get your work approved or built. You are a more valuable engineer if you can bridge the gap between the technical information and the lay person. Engineers influence every person every day – from the roads we drive on, to the water we drink, to the neighborhoods we live in, to the tools that make our lives easier.

Allison Colatriano – Associate Engineer – New York, NY

I have been with Pennoni for 4.5 years and in engineering for 6.5 years. I wanted to become an engineer because I love problem solving. My favorite thing about being an engineer is getting to be involved in projects that take place right in my own city. I also love the process of problem solving, however long it may take, I still find joy in coming to the project’s solution. My favorite project I’ve worked on at Pennoni was the wastewater collection system modeling for Hanscom Air Force Base. This was a challenging project, but it taught me patience and how effort will pay off. And I got to work closely with Shan-Pei Fanchiang out of our Newark, NJ office. One piece of advice I’d give an aspiring engineer is to take whatever opportunity you get to learn, whether that be an internship, a project, or a job. Any experience you gain can turn into something beneficial down the road and help you become more of an expert in whichever discipline you choose. Being in New York City, I see every day that engineers are making a difference in the world just by the amount of construction happening at one time. Engineers are constantly working to make communities and cities smarter, more efficient places. This applies to all engineering disciplines, not just the construction that I can physically see.

Lindsay Frazier – Graduate Engineer – Newark, DE

I have been working at Pennoni as a Municipal Engineer for more than 3.5 years. I have always loved problem solving, math, and science. Engineering offered the opportunity to do all three on a daily basis. My favorite part about being an engineer is helping people. It’s nice knowing that people can be safer and/or their quality of life can improve from something I helped design. My favorite project I’ve worked on at Pennoni is the Manor Road Storm Sewer Rehabilitation project in Valley Township, PA. It was a grant funded project to completely redesign Manor Road and install a storm sewer system along the road to prevent continuous flooding of the nearby properties. This was the first time I worked on a project where I helped write the grant, design the project, and perform construction administration. For aspiring engineers, be prepared to continue learning. Our industry is always evolving to find new and creative solutions to solve problems so you must be prepared to grow with it. Engineers are making a difference in the world by helping to improve peoples’ quality of life, whether its designing a water system to provide clean drinking water to designing a traffic light for a dangerous intersection. Even a small project can mean a world a difference to someone. 

Jeremy Burton – Construction Inspector – King of Prussia, PA  

I joined Pennoni as a young engineer just a few months removed from graduation at Temple University and I’ve been here for more than 9 years. Pennoni has provided me with many opportunities to work with great people on several interesting projects, and I look forward to continuing this for years to come. I always had a knack for math and enjoyed problem solving from a very young age. Engineering was the perfect profession for me as I’m able to apply these skills daily. Whether it’s recommending an alternate design to mitigate a problem encountered in the field, or verifying the correct design is implemented according to a project’s approved drawings and specifications. My favorite thing about being an engineer is seeing a project successfully constructed from start to finish and the feeling of knowing I played a role in that project’s success. Knowing that the newly constructed bridge or highway has improved our infrastructure and benefits the community daily is one of my favorite feelings. My favorite project I’ve worked on at Pennoni has been the $37 million Route 13 reconstruction project in Bristol, PA. This was the first long term project I was assigned to – it was under construction for nearly 4 years. The Pennoni team I worked with, combined with the vast amount of highway and bridge construction involved on this complex reconstruction project, gave me such valuable experience and knowledge as a young engineer that I’ve been able to apply to each of my subsequent projects as the lead Resident Engineer/Inspector-In-Charge role. One piece of advice I’d give to an aspiring engineer is to be proactive and ask questions to your professor or colleague and learn from their knowledge and experience; that was a great learning tool for me. I’ve worked with many great people at Pennoni and even though I’m able to apply what I’ve learned in college; nothing can equate to hands-on learning experiences in the field under a senior engineer with decades of experience under their belt. Our world, communities, and infrastructure are changing every day in many ways. Therefore, engineers are needed for the design and implementation of cost effective and environmentally efficient solutions to adapt to these changes and make the world a safer place for us to live in.


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