Leadership in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Leadership in Civil Engineering video

What does it mean for civil and environmental engineers to be leaders in our ever-more-global society? We asked some of the remarkable people who teach here as well as former students who have gone on to work that is reshaping, reimagining, and reinvigorating our world.

Their perspectives may expand everything you thought was possible with a degree from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech.

General Philip Breedlove, BSCE 1977

It is critically important to accept that innovation and leadership are tied together in many aspects. Good leadership sets the environment so that innovation can occur.


Breedlove was raised in Forest Park, Georgia, and was commissioned in 1977 as a distinguished graduate of Georgia Tech's ROTC program. He has been assigned to numerous operational, command and staff positions, and has completed nine overseas tours, including two remote tours. He has commanded a fighter squadron, an operations group, three fighter wings, and a numbered air force. Additionally, he has served as vice chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.; operations officer in the Pacific Command Division on the Joint Staff; executive officer to the commander of Headquarters Air Combat Command; the senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force; and vice director for strategic plans and policy on the Joint Staff. He served as the supreme allied commander, Europe, and commander of U.S. European Command for two years before retiring from the post and the Air Force in 2016. Breedlove has flown combat missions in Operation Joint Forge/Joint Guardian. He is a command pilot with 3,500 flying hours, primarily in the F-16.

Bill Higginbotham, BSCE 1976

Leadership in my mind encompasses an understanding of all the technical disciplines and it requires you to understand the people that work for you, because it's an intensely people business.


Higginbotham is president and CEO of ET Environmental, an employee-owned environmental and energy design-build firm with offices throughout the United States and headquarters in Atlanta. He is a registered professional engineer in several states and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional. ET Environmental is the eighth entrepreneurial venture for Higginbotham, who previously founded and served as president of Chattahoochee Geotechnical Consultants and later as vice president of EMCON Associates after merging his company with that firm.

In our industry, we're bringing a lot of people to the table that all have different skill sets and different relationships. So it's like a bucket that's rich. If you're willing to sort through it and figure out what's there, you can use that to make a more successful project and bring a project to fruition.


Montanye has more than 30 years of experience in civil engineering and project development in the Atlanta area in both public and private sector projects. Montanye’s practice is focused on master planning, entitlements, and sustainable engineering design for a broad range of projects ranging from complex urban redevelopments to suburban healthcare campuses. Some of her recent projects include Suntrust Park and the accompanying mixed-use development that will be home to the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Buckhead Atlanta mixed-use development, the College Football Hall of Fame, Sky House Midtown, WellStar Paulding replacement hospital, Piedmont Park’s Northwoods expansion, and other projects enhancing the places we live, work and play.

G. Wayne Clough, BSCE 1964, MSCE 1965, President Emeritus of Georgia Tech

[Leadership] is very much of an art. It's not a science. The art part is obviously understanding people and motivating people and getting them excited and getting them able to do things they could not do if they were by themselves or in a different context.


Clough served as the 10th President of the Georgia Institute of Technology from 1994 to 2008 — the first alumnus to do so — and as the 12th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 2008 to 2014. A native of Douglas, Georgia, Clough was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1990 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and has received honorary doctorates from 10 institutions. His numerous honors and awards include NAE’s Arthur M. Beuche Medal in 2008 for national service in public policy, two Norman Medals and the OPAL Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Ralph Coates Roe Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Silver Order of the de Fleury Medal from the Army Corps of Engineers for his service in rebuilding the hurricane protection system in New Orleans.

Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy, Professor and Associate Chair of Global Engineering Leadership and Research Development

We can’t only engage in problem-driven thinking. We have to engage in opportunity-driven thinking, which means that we envision beyond where we are, envision places we want to go that may not be driven by problems.


Kennedy studies systems problems on the integrated built, natural and social environment to understand how we can make better decisions about built systems to promote sustainable development. Her current research focuses on the development and application of systems and sustainability planning and performance evaluation methods. Kennedy is co-author of the college textbook Fundamentals of Systems Engineering with Economics, Probability and Statistics and the founding chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Committee on Sustainability and the Environment. She is a member of the National Research Council’s Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment, a member of the Transportation and Sustainability Committee of the Transportation Research Board, and a member of the Research Coordination Network on Sustainable Cities.

Jacob Tzegaegbe, BSCE 2011, MSCE 2013

Context changes a lot of things, and to be a good leader you have to be flexible, be ready to deal with whatever comes your way, which is going to change greatly depending on who you're working with.


Tzegaegbe is an Associate with McKinsey & Company in Atlanta, Georgia. He recently completed two graduate degrees at University College London focused on mega infrastructure and urban economic development. His interest lies at the nexus of cities, infrastructure, and economics. Much of his work focuses on urban infrastructure as a means of economic development in developing and developed cities around the world. Through consulting and research, Jacob has studied urban initiatives and infrastructure plans in Panama, Ghana, Ethiopia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Tzegaegbe has evaluated the potential for smart parking in London; explored how Mekelle University in Ethiopia can better support micro and small manufacturing businesses to spur local economic development; and studied a proposal to release City of Atlanta transit data to enable open source applications with the potential to increase transit ridership.

Jose Bern, BSCE 1995

Nowadays, you do have to think globally. It’s not just what’s happening in my little part of the world; it’s all tied together.


Bern began work at Empresas Bern in 1998 as a sales associate, rising through various positions of responsibility to his current position as vice president of the firm. Empresas Bern is a closely held real estate and construction company with 35 years in the business in Panama. Bern has been project manager for residential and commercial projects in Panama City, Costa del Este division, and sales manager of the company’s commercial division. Bern has been active on corporate boards of public, private, philanthropic and governmental institutions in Panama. In addition to his civil engineering degree from Georgia Tech, Bern earned a master’s degree in business administration from Georgetown University.

Wassim Selman, BSCE 1981, MSCE 1982, Ph.D. 1986

You can be a great leader so many different ways. You take your strengths as a leader and you develop the approach that perfectly aligns with your strengths. There is no magic to what is the right approach for leadership.


Selman has led the ARCADIS North America Infrastructure Business Line since 2010. He joined the company in 1996 and has held key leadership positions with the firm including director of infrastructure technical knowledge and innovation, director of federal programs, and global leader for smart infrastructure solutions. He has managed large, multi-discipline operations and served as principal-in-charge for diverse, multi-million dollar infrastructure projects and programs. Selman has 30 years of professional experience in transportation system planning, multimodal corridor studies, and congestion and mobility management. At ARCADIS, Selman led the successful planning and implementation of several growth strategy initiatives in a variety of market sectors. His operation leadership has twice resulted in high organic growth and a doubling of operating margin.

Andy Phelps, BSCE 1976

To me, [leadership] starts with values, and they're not something you add on. They're part of who you are, and they're part of how you grew up. And so to be able to lead people, they have to recognize those values in you.


Phelps has more than 35 years or leadership experience in engineering, construction, and facilities operations focused on large capital projects, major government programs, and plant operations, mining and nuclear facilities, and environmental remediation. He is principal vice president and manager of operations for Bechtel Mining & Metals, responsible for the execution performance on 10 major capital projects valued at $25 billion in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Canada, and the U.S. Phelps has been a key leader in the dramatic expansion of Bechtel’s operations in Latin America. He was project director for the Gulf Oil Spill Response Project in Saudi Arabia in 1990-1993 following the Gulf War. He also was program director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where he led Bechtel’s rapid deployment effort by staffing a team of 3,000 people to provide housing of approximately 100,000 individuals displaced by the hurricane.

John Huffman, BSCE 1981

I'd like to think that I'm working for my employees in a way. In my position, how can I help them succeed? Having that mentality of serving others, for me personally, has been very helpful.


Huffman is President and Chief Executive Officer of Pepco Energy Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pepco Holdings, Inc. Pepco Energy Services provides large governmental and institutional customers with energy efficiency and renewable energy services. He joined the firm in 2003 and held leadership positions in business development and strategic planning before assuming his current role in 2006. Prior to joining Pepco Energy Services, Huffman was President and CEO of ACN Energy, a national retail energy marketer. His diverse energy industry experience includes leading business development efforts for Trigen Energy Corporation, developing wind-generating facilities around the world for Kenetech Windpower, and managing major new natural gas pipeline projects for United Texas Transmission Company. In addition, he helped lead the development of a high-end office park in Raleigh, North Carolina.

John Koon, Professor of the Practice

We need to do what we can to imbue our graduates with a feeling of responsibility to also be leaders.


Koon is a board-certified environmental engineer, a licensed professional engineer, and a diplomate, water resources engineer (D.WRE). In addition to his experience in the United States with industry, municipalities, and federal facilities, he has worked with industrial clients in Western Europe, Canada, Latin and South America, and the South Pacific. With more than 35 years of experience, he has expertise in industrial and municipal wastewater treatment (including the treatment of groundwaters), contaminated site remediation, strategy development, technology evaluations, water quality assessment, and permitting. He has extensive experience working with capital projects delivery teams with client organizations and other engineering firms. A significant amount of his experience has involved solving environmental problems in chemically complex systems. He has been a key contributor to significant advances in the technologies used worldwide in the treatment of industrial wastewaters.

Joe Brown, Assistant Professor

The goal of my professional life is to take engineers who are technically competent and who have solid quantitative skills and put them to work on important problems that affect the rest of the world, and these are not easy problems.


Brown is an environmental engineer with interests in water and sanitation for underserved communities. Following a bachelor’s in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Alabama, Brown earned a master’s degree in environment and development from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in environmental sciences and engineering from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Before coming to Georgia Tech, he was lecturer in water and health in the Department of Disease Control as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London. Brown has been a consultant with UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and numerous other organizations on water, sanitation and related areas.