Julie Birdwell, Co-owner & President
Julie grew up on a farm in central Illinois and began her career in carpentry in 1985 after completing a Master’s in Art Education at the University of Illinois.
Though she changed courses professionally, Julie continues to pursue the visual arts, exhibiting locally and nationally in juried and invitational shows and winning awards for her work. She collaborated in the design for the CD cover of Joni Laurence’s premiere CD, “Short Time,” and Laurence’s second release, “Daphne Speaks,” in addition to contributing backup vocals for both CDs. Her mixed media sculpture “Spine” is featured on the back cover of “Daphne Speaks.” She has also played bass guitar and sung backup vocals for the band M.J. Walker and Fictive Kin.
In addition to the visual and performing arts, Julie enjoys cooking and camping.
Erik Paulson, Co-owner, Carpenter
Erik holds an Associate’s degree from Parkland College in Construction Design and Management. He began working as a carpenter in 1992, building new homes and remodeling an 1870 Victorian. He also has training and experience in CAD drafting.
Erik began working for New Prairie in 2003. While working at New Prairie, he has broadened his carpentry skills to include straw bale building and timber framing.
Erik owns a small farm, and enjoys cooking, furniture making, and sculpture. He also follows auto sports, with an interest in open wheel racing.
Jennifer Hansen, Co-owner, Bid Estimator
Jennifer is a native of Urbana. In 1999 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine and Applied Arts in Painting from the University of Illinois, receiving the “Outstanding Painting Student” award in her senior year. Jen came to work for New Prairie in 2005. Seeking a healthier, more sustainable, and more aesthetically beautiful material to work with in the context of her job, Jen has also learned to mix and apply natural paints.
Jen continues to stay active in the visual arts, painting and sculpting in her spare time, and she enjoys spending time with her family.
Antonio Juarez, Co-owner, Carpenter
A native of Santa Eulalia Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Antonio grew up farming with his family. In 1988 he came to Champaign seeking a better life. He soon obtained work in the trades and has continued to work as a carpenter, doing both framing and finish work. In 2006 Antonio brought his experience and sense of humor to New Prairie.
As the father of four sons, Antonio finds his spare time to be at a premium. He enjoys playing basketball and has recently taken up jogging and bicycling so he can keep up with his youngest son.
Mark Ritten, Co-owner, Carpenter
Mark has lived in the Champaign-Urbana area most of his life. Mark got his start in the construction field at the ripe old age of 12, when he started helping neighbors with their building projects, be it adding a garage or roofing their house.
He spent two years in the construction program at Parkland College before transferring to Bradley University, where he received a Bachelor’s of Science in Construction. Mark started working for New Prairie in 2007. He likes learning about new products and techniques in the construction industry.
Barrie Bredemeier, Co-owner, Carpenter
A native of New England, Barrie earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York State College of Ceramics in 1981. In 1983 he came to C-U for his Master of Fine Arts in glass sculpture. He designed, built, and ran the glass department for editions in cast paper for Frank Gallo. During this time, he also started Glass Lake Studio, producing decorative and functional blown glass. For the past twenty years, he was been selling his work through art fairs, galleries, shows, and commissions, offering workshops and lessons, and winning numerous awards.
In March of 2010 he started working for New Prairie. As part of his continuing education, Barrie attended a timber-framing workshop in 2014. He enjoys learning new skills in building greener living spaces, and is very interested in self-sustainable energy resources and lifestyle. He also likes to spend time fishing, hiking, camping, gardening, making wine, and sculpting hand-blown glass.
See an extended biography for Barrie, along with some pictures of his work.
Shir Ahmad Popalzai, Solar Installer
My name is Shir Ahmad Popalzai, I was born in 1985 in Afghanistan, and I studied at Sultan Mahmood high school from 1999 – 2004. After graduation from high school, in 2005 I started studying Electrical Engineering in Kabul Polytechnic University, so I got my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2010. Hereinafter, I found my first job in Afghan Telecom communication company as a Power Manager and worked there for 6 months. The Afghan Telecom’s project completed within that 6 months, and my contract ended with this company. Then, I started my second job as an Electrical Engineer in DABS Electricity company in 2012 and have worked for them until 2014. My last job in Afghanistan was with US. Army Corps of Engineers as a Quality Assurance Engineer. I have worked for USACE from 2014 up to 2019. Finally, because of the bad security situation in Afghanistan I emigrated to United states in June 2019, and then joined New Prairie Construction Company in March 2020 and have been working here in Solar Renewable Energy.
Laura Gillen, Carpenter
Laura was born in Paris, grew up near Akron, Ohio, and lived in Pittsburgh, where she earned her BFA in Painting at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1987. She got her first taste of carpentry after college, when she helped remodel a friend’s row house in Pittsburgh. In 1994 she moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she was hired as a Scenic Artist, working on TV and movie sets. Her favorite jobs were The Royal Tenenbaums and Angels in America. She left the movie business in 2003 to coordinate the build-out for the coffee shop she opened with her husband in Peekskill, NY. In 2012, she and her husband and son moved to Champaign to be near family. Before coming to work for New Prairie, Laura was doing odd jobs and decorative painting projects for businesses and homeowners in Champaign, while also working as a library clerk for Champaign Schools.
In her spare time, Laura makes and shows her paintings, goes hiking with her family, and reads as many books as she can.
Brian Barnick, Solar Designer & Project Manager
Brian’s background is deeply rooted in the agriculture industry. While working in the ag field, Brian became interested in renewable energy, beginning with the conversion of a non-invasive, perennial, sustainable grass into bio-fuel. As time progressed, Brian’s interest grew to include wind and solar, so much so that his interest evolved into a business installing and servicing residential wind turbines and solar arrays. Brian joined our solar team in 2019, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the New Prairie Solar program.
In his down time, Brian also enjoys spending time with his family and in the outdoors.
Tom Crapnell, Carpenter & Solar Installer
Tom grew up in a small town in northwestern Illinois before moving to Champaign to attend the University of Illinois, where he obtained a degree in Anthropology. He returned to Champaign – Urbana soon after to work in archaeology. He joined NPCC in 2017 and looks forward to learning more about sustainable building and historic restoration and renovation.
When not working, Tom can be found hiking and camping throughout the Midwest, cooking, and reading.
Quinn Butler, Solar Technical Sales
Quinn is from Richmond, a small town in northern Illinois. He began work in his family’s asphalt business at the age of 13 and worked there for the following eight summers. Working road construction in the Chicagoland area taught Quinn how to be an effective member of a team and the value of taking pride in his work.
Quinn’s father instilled in him an appreciation for the outdoors through frequent childhood trips to northern Wisconsin. He is also very fascinated by technology and geography. These interests led Quinn to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Renewable Energy with a minor in Engineering Technology from Illinois State University. He intends to graduate Spring 2019.
Since beginning to work with NPCC in May 2018, Quinn has been a member of the growing solar crew. He is deeply appreciative to be learning so much about solar photovoltaics from his teammates and is very excited to be powering up Central Illinois with green energy systems.
Quinn is also a massive Green Bay Packers fan. While at home, he enjoys cooking with his girlfriend, discovering new music, and exploring the internet.
Waheed Asmati, Construction Engineer & Solar Installer
Waheed was born in Afghanistan and attended Kabul Polytechnics University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Engineering. From 2008-2011, he worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During that time he received extra training in safety and in Construction Quality Management.
Waheed came to the United States in July 2017 and began work for New Prairie in October 2017. He can speak Dari and Pashto as well as English, and when he’s not working, he likes to take part in active sports, study, and spend time with friends.
Doug Scatterday, Business/Operations Manager
Doug grew up and lived in the western suburbs of Chicago until his relocation to the Champaign area in 2015. Having graduated from Elmhurst College with a BS in Accounting, Doug has held positions in finance, operations management, sales, and marketing throughout his career.
Doug is an enthusiastic DIYer with a passion for rebuilding/refinishing old things. He recently rebuilt a 1976 ski boat and likes boating on Lake Shelbyville. As an avid outdoors person, Doug enjoys backpacking, hiking, biking, fishing, and mountain climbing with his wife Dawn.
Doug also loves spending time with their children, gardening, and playing guitar.