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Seize Opportunities: Nathelyne Kennedy

In 1959, Kennedy became the first Black woman to receive an engineering degree from a school in Texas. Here, she reflects on her more than 55 years of experience since then.

In 1959, Nathelyne Archie Kennedy became the first Black woman to receive an engineering degree from a school in Texas. She is the president and founder of Nathelyne A. Kennedy & Associates, Inc., a Houston-based civil engineering firm that was acquired by WSB in 2019. Committed to advancing the engineering profession, Kennedy has served on the Texas Turnpike Authority Board of Directors and on advisory committees for Texas Southern University, University of Houston Downtown, and her own alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. In 2006 Prairie View named the Nathelyne Archie Kennedy Building, housing the School of Architecture and Art, in her honor. Here, Nathelyne reflects on her more than 55 years working in the engineering industry.

“I hope to see more women heading up their own firms,” Kennedy says. “Engineering is not a male field, it’s just male dominated. I would like to see more women seize opportunities.”

A conversation with Nathelyne A. Kennedy.

WSB: How did you end up in engineering?

Nathelyne Kennedy: I decided to major in engineering after one of my teachers brought it to my attention. My original plan was to major in math and become a teacher like my father. I thought, “If this doesn’t work out, I can always be a teacher,” so I decided to major in engineering. I found out when I started school that there were only two women majoring in engineering and only one graduated – me. After that, things moved fast. I didn’t know that I was the first Black female to receive an engineering degree in Texas. In the beginning, I struggled to get hired even though I graduated at the top of my class. The men easily found employment over me. But eventually, I was hired by an engineering firm after they decided to give me a one-week trial in Chicago. I pounded the pavement hard in Chicago and eventually moved on to a mid-size engineering firm – again after a one-week trial period. That one week turned into 12 years.

Eventually, life led us back to Houston. I took some time off to raise my kids and then eventually started my own firm in 1981, Nathelyne Kennedy & Associates, Inc. We continued to grow and build our networks and today, I still work with some of the same people from the ‘80s. For 38 years, we operated as NAK and I’m proud of all that we have accomplished.  In 2019, NAK was acquired by WSB, a Minneapolis-based design and consulting firm. It’s bittersweet to hand over what I’ve built, but I’m looking forward to what’s next and know NAK is in good hands.

WSB: How did your role as president of NAK evolve over time?

NK: Everything has changed. At the beginning, I was doing everything myself. We were growing, things started changing fast and I couldn’t do it all. My job shifted toward marketing, business development, and managing the office. When I found out things I needed to do, I learned. I didn’t know I was going to have to go out and talk to people. I was used to sitting in the office. I had to practice how to build my network. I eventually learned to enjoy it because I learned a lot and had the chance to meet many wonderful people. I was new to people and they were curious about me. Right away, we started winning prime work. Designing roads and streets, then bridges. Word got around about us and we continued to grow.

WSB: What were some challenges of owning your own business?

NK: We were a small firm and getting new, young people to come and work for me was a challenge. They would come and get a little experience and then leave for larger firms. The bigger the better it seemed in their minds. Today, I still have two people that have been with me for 30 years, and three people for more than 20 years – and they were the key people that helped build NAK into what it is today.

WSB: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

NK: The most rewarding part is the people – my staff and other engineering firms. It’s also realizing that we have been successful and have proved that we can do it. I’m proud of our recognition over the years. I have to say that the most rewarding part is not knowing if I could do it, and then achieving success. It has given meaning to my life and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s been a very rewarding journey.

WSB: What is the proudest moment of your career?

NK: The proudest moment of my career was when I was selected as Houston’s Engineer of the Year in 2016. In the 70 years they’ve given out the award, I have been the only female to receive it. It was a huge honor. It reinforced that I have accomplished something. Not one woman before me, not one after me. I am still the only one in 70 years.

WSB: Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

NK: My parents. My mother was the mother everyone should want. My father was liked by everyone. My mother stayed at home and raised us, and my father was an agriculture teacher. He taught me a lot about money, saving, and people. They were my best teachers. I don’t know of anyone who was better or meant more to me than the two of them. I think about them every day.

WSB: If you could give someone starting their career one piece of advice, what would it be?

NK: Try to learn as much as you can about your craft and business, but don’t learn too much that it will cause you to change your mind. If I had been told it would be this hard to do this, I would have probably looked at something else, but sometimes it is best to just jump in the fire. If you jump in and work your way out it’s amazing how much you learn. To me, that was the best part of business. There is so much enjoyment in learning and meeting people. Deep down, I believe people are nice and that they want to help you. Everywhere I have lived and everywhere I have worked, I’ve loved meeting people, especially my staff.

WSB: What do you hope to see in the future for the engineering industry?

NK: I hope to see more women heading up their own firms. Engineering is not a male field, it’s just male dominated. I would like to see more women seize opportunities.

WSB: What is the most important life lesson you have learned?

NK: Be nice to others – it comes back to you. Do unto others as you have them do unto you. I grew up with that and I really believe in it.

This article originally appeared in the June 28, 2021 issue of the Zweig Letter.

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WSB named one of the Top 175 Workplaces in Minnesota by the Star Tribune

WSB is honored to be named one of the Top 175 Workplaces in Minnesota by the Star Tribune – ranking #28 on the top Midsize Employers list.  For eight years, we have received this prestigious honor, recognizing the most progressive companies in Minnesota based on employee opinions measuring engagement, organizational health and satisfaction.

We are extremely grateful to our WSB team who inspire each other to discover thoughtful and creative solutions for our clients.  Together, we look beyond the needs of today to the opportunities of tomorrow. From the beginning, we’ve been firm believers that culture drives results and we’re proud of our staff who continue to help us forge ahead. We want to take a moment to publicly thank our staff for strengthening our culture.

As we look to the future, we remain committed to creating an environment where our staff feel valued, have fulfilling work and feel like they belong.

WSB promotes transportation leader Peter Muehlbach to senior director of transportation program management

Muehlbach is also leading project management efforts to deliver the first set of paperless plans in the state.

Local engineering firm WSB today announced the promotion of Peter Muehlbach to senior director of transportation program management – a leadership role for the rapidly growing Minneapolis-based company. Muehlbach will oversee business development efforts for the firm’s transportation and construction services, ensuring WSB is able to meet client needs today and in the future.

Muehlbach has been with WSB since 2014 and has held many roles throughout those seven years including project manager and director of transportation program management. Muehlbach is also currently project managing the 169 Redefine Elk River project. In this role, he is leading the efforts to deliver the first set of paperless plans to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and is supporting the agency’s development of new delivery standards.

“Our internal and external partners trust and rely on Peter’s technical leadership and expertise,” said Jon Chiglo, WSB’s chief operating officer. “The confidence he instills in our staff and clients is infectious and we’re lucky to have Peter lead these efforts into the future.”

Muehlbach brings more than 15 years of experience delivering transportation projects from concept development through completion. Throughout his tenure with WSB, he has led several key strategic pursuits including alternative delivery and traditional projects pursuits.

“There are many synergies between our transportation and construction teams at WSB and I’m looking forward to supporting their growth and focus,” said Muehlbach. “I’ve been able to carve out an exciting career path at WSB during a time when our industry is rapidly changing. I’m honored that I’m able to continue to shape the way our industry delivers projects.”

WSB is the fourth-largest engineering firm in the Twin Cities and has 15 offices in five states.

WSB to deliver first set of paperless design plans to the Minnesota Department of Transportation

The multi-dimensional designs are for the Highway 169 Redefine – Elk River project

Engineering and consulting firm WSB announced today that they will deliver the first set of fully digital paperless design plans to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).  The paperless plans will be delivered later this summer for the Highway 169 Redefine – Elk River project.

“The 3D Design Model has allowed us to see the design in a whole new light. We are able see design changes on the fly that provides MnDOT with greater flexibility in the decision-making process,” said MnDOT’s Darren Nelson, Highway 169 Redefine – Elk River project manager.

Historically, the Architecture Engineering Construction (AEC) industry has been paper-heavy with many DOTs across the nation still requiring traditional plans. The transition to paperless is impacting the entire AEC industry, including DOTs, general contractors and civil engineers.

For the project, WSB advanced the methods and procedures used to implement a Building Information Modeling (BIM) design approach. The approach will result in improved project cost, better risk management and improved quality. The BIM model is built from available data and is highly accurate. The model creates a seamless workflow from design through construction and will import information to the field digitally resulting in efficiencies and better communication.  Once construction is complete, the project is left with an as-built, accurate model that can be used for asset management in the future.

“As engineers, we are motivated by the opportunities to design infrastructure projects that support our communities and this project is no exception,” said Jon Chiglo, WSB’s chief operating officer. “It’s very rewarding to partner with MnDOT to shape the way our entire industry will deliver projects. Based on the benefits, digital delivery is the future and it’s exciting that WSB is leading these efforts.”

To date, the combination of the 3D BIM Model, 4D Model and 5D Cost Structure within a digital design environment has led to many cost savings and benefits even before construction has begun. The true, virtual representation of what will be built has allowed stakeholders to easily review the project impacts.

MnDOT received special funding to convert Highway 169 from the Mississippi River to 197th Ave. to a freeway system through Elk River. The project will convert four at-grade intersections into interchanges and will modify the access of the Highway 169 and Highway 10 interchange. WSB is responsible for delivering the final design.

United States Postal Remediation Efforts

In the wake of the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, the United States Postal Service (USPS) experienced significant damage to two post offices in south Minneapolis.

WSB’s Environmental Remediation and Structures team assisted USPS with their emergency response and environmental and structural needs. Our team worked to identify and analyze any potentially harmful materials that may have been released into the environment that could pose an immediate risk to emergency responders, the public or postal workers.

Riots and protests in the area brought many U.S. Marshalls, Secret Service agents and FBI investigators to the scene. Determining the structural and environmental safety of the buildings was paramount to USPS’s emergency response. The structures were deemed a total loss and the team identified many hazardous materials caused by the fire and destruction of the buildings. USPS is currently in the process of rebuilding one of their facilities and performing environmental clean-up at both sites. Our team will continue to partner with USPS on several other environmental clean-up projects throughout the Midwest.

COVID-19 Testing & Vaccination Assistance

By Andi Moffatt, Vice President of Environmental Services, WSB

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through the country, WSB was called on by the Minnesota State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to assist in COVID-19 testing logistics. As project managers in the AEC industry, our team is used to working under pressure – and this task was no exception. We welcomed the chance to assist the state in testing Minnesotans and to do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.


The size and scale of this project was enormous. Representatives from the state, cities, counties, local public health organizations and staff at the vaccination and testing venues came together as a coalition to get this project off the ground and operational. To support these efforts, several WSB team members from across the company stepped in to assist on the emergency contract to set-up and manage the logistics of the state’s no barrier COVID-19 testing sites. We provided project management, IT, site mapping and drone photography, visual documentation and information gathering, and general logistics on behalf of the state.


As vaccines became available throughout the state, the SEOC asked WSB to manage the logistics associated with COVID-19 vaccine sites. We continue to work behind the scenes to help Minnesotans get vaccinated.


This project has been rewarding for many of us at WSB. It reinforces our commitment to supporting our communities and the challenges they face, no matter what they may be. Internally, we’ve also reminded ourselves that nothing is too big for us to tackle together and that we will work across departments, teams and offices to deliver for our clients.

“We are honored to have been able to play a role in such a dedicated, committed and passionate network across the state,” said Andi Moffatt, vice president of environmental services. “Public health is a priority, and we will continue to work with the state and our local communities to help deliver this critical support.”

Andi is a Vice President with more than 23 years of experience leading people and projects that include planning, environmental, energy, highway, natural resources, construction and development. She oversees our Environmental services and approaches her work with passion and positivity.

[email protected] | 763.287.7196

WSB places #58 on Zweig’s Hot Firm List

WSB was recently named a 2021 Hot Firm by the Zweig Group for the eighth consecutive year. The list honors the fastest growing firms in the AEC industry in the U.S. and Canada.  Firms are ranked based on three-year growth in revenue, by both percentage and dollar growth.  WSB ranks #58 on this year’s list, climbing 14 spots from 2020.

Hot Firm #58

The Zweig Group is the leading research, publishing, and advisory services resource for firms in the AEC industry.  The Zweig Group’s awards programs recognize and celebrate top AEC industry firms in several categories.  Winners will be recognized at the 2021 Elevate AEC Conference in November.

View the complete list of Hot Firm Winners.