• LaBella Associates

LaBella Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month


Join us in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month! LaBella Associates is proud to celebrate and support a talented workforce inclusive of individuals with Hispanic heritage who contribute to our organization’s success in countless ways. We interviewed some of our employees with Hispanic heritage about working in AEC – what inspires them, advice they have for those considering a career in the industry, and their personal achievements to date.


Fernando López Pantoja, Power:

Is there a Hispanic/Latino person currently or throughout history (in our industry or not) that you find inspiring? Why?

I’ve always been inspired by inventors and how their creativity can help develop the craziest ideas. Juan de la Cierva was a civil engineer from Spain whose main invention was the creation and development of what he called “Autogiro” a predecessor of the helicopter. What I find most interesting is that he found a totally different solution to create a flying vehicle and it was only 20 years after the wright brothers’ invention.

Have there been any changes (cultural, legal, etc.) regarding progress towards equality in the workplace that have made you hopeful? Any that worry you? What changes would you like to see in the future?

I’ve been working in the Madrid office for 4 years and in Rochester for 3 more and I personally have never felt inequality is present within LaBella. I have always felt welcomed and supported and I would like to thank everyone I’ve crossed paths with.

What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latino people just starting out in your profession?

I think my best advice will be applicable to anyone, no matter what the job or specific task: attitude and willingness are always valued, and both will help you face any problem. Also, feel free to ask for help from the people around you, most times it is really useful, and people are glad to help.

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

My biggest personal achievement, and also the biggest challenge, has been coming to the US. I always dreamed of living in a different country, getting to know a different culture, people, ideas, and this country offers all of that. The challenge was being separated from my family (and COVID restrictions are not helping).

I consider working as a coordinator for the BES projects is my biggest achievement, and I’m glad LaBella trusted in my capabilities and gave me the opportunity to do it.


Andrea Dias Kelly, Environmental:

Is there a Hispanic/Latino person currently or throughout history (in our industry or not) that you find inspiring? Why?

I find inspiration in the lives of my family/ancestors, they worked hard and made difficult courageous decisions to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. My family is from an island off the coast of Portugal called Madeira. They made a living off the land and the sea. My maternal grandfather spent months at sea, fishing to provide for his large family. He struggled to make ends meet and my grandmother had health issues that made caring for their 8 children difficult. They made the decision to leave Madeira in the hopes of a better life away from the demands of the sea. They had family that had gone to Brazil and were doing well so they left their beloved home and packed up their family and made the long voyage to Brazil. Shortly after arriving in Brazil, my grandmother’s health deteriorated and she passed away. My grandfather put his all into work and making a living. He started a small grocery store and had to work day and night to tend the store. My Mom, as the oldest daughter at home, took care of the kids and the house. My grandfather’s business grew, and he prospered in Brazil.


My father left Madeira as a young man and emigrated to Brazil as well. He didn’t want to be a farmer or a fisherman and yearned to get away from the small, isolated island. My father was a very hard worker. As a young man in Brazil, he worked 3 jobs and saved to buy a home. When he met my mother and married, he continued to work 2 jobs to provide for his family. My mother also did seamstress work while she cared for my sister and me. My Dad’s brother (who had also gone to Brazil) moved to the US and sent letters describing the many opportunities in the US and how well they were doing. Although my parents had jobs and were better off than most, they wanted more opportunities for their young family so they also made the difficult decision to leave their home and loved ones and move to the US. It was especially hard for my Mom to leave her father, brothers and sisters.

Have there been any changes (cultural, legal, etc.) regarding progress towards equality in the workplace that have made you hopeful? Any that worry you? What changes would you like to see in the future?

The general increase in sensitivity and awareness of different cultures has been positive. I think the more awareness there is, the more people realize that we have more commonalities than differences. People everywhere want the same things–to do good work, security for their families, and to feel like they belong and contribute to the success of an organization.

What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latino people just starting out in your profession?

My advice is the same regardless of Hispanic heritage…work hard. As with anything in life, you have to put the effort in and go above and beyond to not only grow in your profession but also to grow personally. We are capable of more than we know and often we need to push ourselves to do more, give more, and learn more. When you put in the effort, the rewards will come.

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

My biggest achievement has been starting over in a new industry after many years working at advertising agencies. It’s been a substantial learning curve and I finally feel like I understand the various aspects of our markets and business.


Fernando Sanchez, Power:

Is there a Hispanic/Latino person currently or throughout history (in our industry or not) that you find inspiring? Why?

Arturo Pérez Reverte, Spanish writer, former war reporter and member of the Spanish Royal Academy of the Language. As well as good novels (I read his books from long time ago), he issues weekly articles in Spanish newspapers giving his opinions and explanations about current topics in Spain and in the world (culture, labour market, politicians, world leaders …). I usually agree with his way to see the world; his articles are a very good starting point for reflection. I have followed this writer for more than 30 years.

Have there been any changes (cultural, legal, etc.) regarding progress towards equality in the workplace that have made you hopeful? Any that worry you? What changes would you like to see in the future?

I usually work in Madrid office, and I don´t feel equality problems. Anyway, my perception is that LaBella is supporting the diversity and the integration of employees of different qualifications, cultures, and countries. I agree with this policy because I believe this is a modern approach and an added value for the company. I would like LaBella to move forward with these policies.

What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latino people just starting out in your profession?

Don´t be in a hurry to get to the top. Develop your engineering skills and reach a high technical level before trying other kinds of challenges. Work hard and be honest, the company will recognize your effort and technical knowledge and you will be able to get your goals.

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

From a personal point of view, I am happy with my life, I believe that it can be consideredan achievement. From a professional point of view, I am especially proud of three projects/experiences:

  • My participation (as responsible of electrical systems, control & protection, and electromechanical equipment) in the construction of one new Hydro Power Plant in the Peru rainforest.

  • My role of substation Project Manager in the construction of three Combined Cycle Power Plants in Mexico.

  • The opportunity given by LaBella to open an office and make an engineering team in Madrid (in a very difficult moment in Spain) with the purpose to work in the US. That has been amazing from a professional and from a personal point of view. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I want to take the opportunity to also thank the two people who started the company with me almost 9 years ago.


Sergio Esteban, Administration:

Is there a Hispanic/Latino person currently or throughout history (in our industry or not) that you find inspiring? Why?

Ignatius of Loyola, born in Spain at the end of the 15th century, has been a person whose teachings and thoughts have been a source of inspiration to many people throughout history and across the globe. Many people may be inspired by his religious beliefs, he was declared a saint by the Catholic Church, but his inspiration for me has been his contribution to education. He founded the Jesuit order that has been instrumental in the education of millions of people across the globe through their schools and universities. I believe their values have been “an equalizer” for people of all backgrounds and beliefs to inspire them of what they can achieve. One of Ignatius mottos, “Men for Others” has been most motivating for me.

Have there been any changes (cultural, legal, etc.) regarding progress towards equality in the workplace that have made you hopeful? Any that worry you? What changes would you like to see in the future?

I think many significant changes have taken place in the last 20 years to support and recognize the rights of all workers that I am sure felt, and actually were marginalized. I am confident the progress will continue with the contributions we all need to make. Removing fear and uncertainty from people’s mind and promoting dialogue and listening among all of us is within our reach and can be most influential.

What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latino people just starting out in your profession?

I would encourage them to seek a place to work where strong values are in line with theirs and where they believe their growth would be encouraged

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

Having the opportunity to join LaBella Associates and being able to continue to grow my professional career, along with the opportunity to work with so many people inside and outside the organization has been my biggest achievement.


Maria Nieto Villamandos, Civil:

Is there a Hispanic/Latino person currently or throughout history (in our industry or not) that you find inspiring? Why?

Pope Francis, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Aside from his known humility, I admire his critical reflection back on the decisions he made in the past, as well as how he shines a light on taboo topics within the Church and society.

Have there been any changes (cultural, legal, etc.) regarding progress towards equality in the workplace that have made you hopeful? Any that worry you? What changes would you like to see in the future?

I have been very fortunate to always experience equality in the workplace.

What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latino people just starting out in your profession?

Don´t be afraid to ask a lot of questions (I would say this to everyone). Right out of college the industry doesn’t expect for one to know a lot, so take advantage and use the first couple of years to learn as much as possible!

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

Moving to the USA and deciding to stay here! Though it isn’t easy to be far away from family, moving to the USA has broadened my horizons (as cliché as that sounds) both personally and professionally. I am also very lucky to be able to travel back and forth several times a year, so it makes that easier!


Jorge De La Fuente, Power:

Is there a Hispanic/Latino person currently or throughout history (in our industry or not) that you find inspiring? Why?

Heberto Castillo Martinez. A civil engineer graduated from the National School of Engineers of the UNAM, Castillo is responsible for the invention of the Tridilosa System in 1966. A structural system for construction consisting of a mixed three-dimensional concrete and steel mezzanine. This ingenious system makes it possible to reduce the amount of material used without impairing the stability or firmness of the structure of a building. Thus, Castillo was able to present a system that allows a building to be assembled quickly and efficiently, which is now used in the construction of hundreds of buildings around the world, including the World Trade Center in Mexico City. Among the most remarkable features of this structure is that it can save up to 66% on concrete usage and up to 40% on steel, because filling with concrete is not required in the tension zone, only in the superior compression zone. It is so light that it can float on water and is three times stronger than traditional construction flagstone.

Have there been any changes (cultural, legal, etc.) regarding progress towards equality in the workplace that have made you hopeful? Any that worry you? What changes would you like to see in the future?

I am fortunate enough to work in a company such as LaBella, I’ve been working 5 years here and I have not come across with any situation where I felt inequality, my progress in my career has been based on teamwork and a large support from my supervisors. Not to mention that as an immigrant there’s nothing best to feel taken care of with all related immigration processes which it is a big weight on your shoulders when living away from your home country. Key values that I most value working at LaBella as a Hispanic/Latino are kindness and empathy.

What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latino people just starting out in your profession?

Obstacles and challenges are all in your mind, throughout the years of your career it is key to learn how to remove those “mental locks”. Perseverance and hard work always pays off.

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?

I am proud to be a Division Director (Power Systems) at LaBella Associates, a local lead engineering firm to Rochester, NY. Everything is possible! It’s all in your mind!