Barbara Mulkey

Barbara H Mulkey

Founder and Chair
Mulkey Engineers & Consultants
Barbara Mulkey
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35 years in the field of civil and structural engineering Founder of Top 500 engineering company, Mulkey Engineers & Consultants Author of "Building Bridges - A Collection of Thoughts About Engineers Connecting at Work, at Home and in Life" available through

Answers by Ms Barbara H Mulkey

Social class issues associated with civil engineering:
In the workplace, I have not personally experienced significant issues regarding social class. Many engineers that I know came from low to lower middle class incomes and this has never seemed to impact their careers. In fact, some of the most successful leaders I know in our industry came from a lower social class background, including being the first in their families to ever attend college. With that said, it can make it a challenge to actually get the education you need to become an engineer. More universities are beginning to reflect the cost of educating students in fields like engineering in supplemental fees added to their tuition. Therefore, it becomes more expensive in some cases to get an engineering degree. Also, there are times when certain social classes are not educated in how to pursue scholarships and loans.
Gender, age or other personal demographic issues connected with civil engineering
Civil engineering remains a predominantly white male career choice. Women may make up 8-10 %, and African Americans a MUCH smaller percentage. There is no practical reason for this to be a better career choice for white males than others, it's just who happens to choose the field. Once women and minorities enter the workforce in civil engineering, I feel that there are no more gender or race issues in our field than any other career field, and in many cases, it is much less than some others. Age issues are a bigger challenge, as the older, more experienced engineers struggle with keeping up with the new technology, social media, etc. Our field needs to figure out a way for there to be shared resources among the younger professionals who do understand the technology, and the older engineers who have the experience and wisdom of many years in the field of civil engineering.
Communication issues, either within the workplace itself or in relation to society in general
The majority of individuals who choose civil engineering happen to be introverts, meaning that there can be less comfort with communicating in public, dealing with a wide variety of people, etc. This can make it a challenge when an engineer advances to a management level position (communicating with employees) or must communicate effectively with clients who are not engineers. At times our industry deals with passive-aggressive responses from individuals rather than outright open communication about an issue. It is important for our industry to figure out ways to attract more diversity of personality type, including a larger percentage of "people persons" than we have had in the past. This will provide a better mix for our industry and I believe provide some aid to communication issues. With that said, the number one issue in ALL organizations is communication! That is not limited to civil engineering!
Hope these thoughts are helpful,
Barbara Mulkey


You do not necessarily need to be good at freehand drawing to be an architectural engineer because most drawings are now done on the computer (CADD). It may help to be able to draw a sketch freehand, but this is not a requirement. This job is no harder for girls than for guys! Whether you are an architect, an architectural engineer, or a civil engineer, you will need to go on site occasionally, but the majority of your work is in the office.

Hope this helps,


The working hours for a civil engineer vary depending on the type of work, the employer, etc. However, in general, I don't consider our profession to require unreasonable hours. Governmental jobs probably only require 40 hours per week. In the private sector, there will be times of heavy workload when the job may require 5 or 10 hours per week over 40 hours, such as when a deadline is approaching.

I consider the pay for hours worked in the civil engineering profession to be reasonable. However, if salary is the most important factor in a career, there are other professions that pay more. One reason that I like civil engineering as a profession is that you have interesting projects to work on and get to work around other intelligent, problem-solving individuals.

Hope this helps,



I'm always glad to hear from another female interested in civil engineering.

I'll do the best I can to give you my opinion relative to your question.

I am sure there are structural engineers who do get to travel to potential project sites, and projects under construction. However, in all honesty, the typical structural engineer does not do a lot of international travel, at least in my experience. If that is what you desire, it will be important for you to do research on the companies that offer structural engineering on projects throughout the world. This could a an engineering company, or it could be a construction company that does design/build projects.

I would basically have the same answer for architecture -- the amount of travel would depend totally on the company you go to work for. The average architectural firm will do more local projects, but there are firms out there who are sought after for projects throughout the world.

One plus of structural engineering over architecture is your starting salary -- architects typically start at a lower salary until they are licensed, whereas engineers can make a pretty good starting salary before getting their professional engineer's license.

I urge you to take some time to look again at your interests, personality and strengths as you choose between these two professions, as they are very different. If you are looking for more of a creative outlet, and greater overall project management opportunities, then architecture would be a better fit. You find more introverted, scientific personalities in structural engineering (although I am a structural engineer and an extrovert).

Another option is a major that some schools like Penn State offer -- architectural engineering. That gives you the best of both worlds.

I truly believe that a degree in structural engineering is a great basis for a variety of careers, and if travel is what you want, you should be able to find that opportunity with some searching.

Hope this helps,

Barbara Mulkey


Thank you for asking a great question, and one that many people have and are a little confused about.

Civil engineering is a very broad field that includes environmental, transportation, water resources, geotechnical, construction, and structures, just to name a few. Based on what you have told me, you are interested most in structural and/or construction engineering.

If you want to plan and design structures, you would focus on structural engineering. These job does not usually require moving a lot — you can plan and design projects all over the world from one location. You may visit the proposed site, but no need to move there.

Construction engineering is what you would focus on if you want to be on the site of the projects being built. Here is where you would actually get to see the project that has been planned and designed actually get built, and you would manage that process. While not always the case, there is a much greater chance of your needing to move where the project is, or at least commute.

They typical engineering degree can theoretically be obtained in four years. HOWEVER, usually it actually takes more like 4 1/2 or 5 years as it is a very full program. Also, there is a big advantage to getting some job experience while you are in school so that when you graduate you can list this on your resume. I always strongly encourage a co-op program, internships, or summer employment to get that experience.

I happen to have graduated from NC State with a degree in civil engineering, and later went back and got a master's degree in structural engineering. If you would like to see more about their program, go to Also, Penn State has a very strong architectural/engineering program that combines structural engineering with some aspects of architecture. I believe that program may be five years but it is highly respected in the industry.

Hope this helps,
Barbara Mulkey, PE, FASCE

Dear Erica from Canada, I, too, hated Biology! I also found Physics to be very hard. Yes, you do have to survive Physics, but it can be done. The interesting thing is, once I started taking civil engineering courses, I found that many of them had been touched on in Physics but we went so fast and touched on them so briefly that I never could fully understand the concepts. Once we took each concept and dug into it for a semester, I found I understood and really enjoyed it. No one should allow those beginning courses to keep you from the career you desire. In the case of engineering students, those early courses that cause difficulty may be Physics or Chemistry or Calculus. Just because they are tough for you does not mean you should not go into engineering! Just get through them in order to reach your goal, and don't worry if you did not make high grades in those early courses. As for being an introvert, there are many different career choices in civil engineering and many of them appeal to those who consider themselves to be an introvert. By the way, being an introvert does not mean that you are not social; rather, it means you are selectively social and are a really good friend to those you choose to be in your circle. Many introverts are much better friends than extroverts! I hate getting my hands dirty, too, and believe me, that is not part of my job as a civil engineer! There are choices for those who do prefer that environment, but like you, I am not one of those and I have had many career opportunities. I love the fact that you love to work with children! Children, especially young girls, need great role models of women in the math and science fields to show them that they have many career choices. I always tried to model that to my children (all 3 of them), and also have enjoyed working in the community by mentoring teens and young adults. Lastly, I am a total bookworm and love to read! We need more people in engineering who enjoy both the arts and the sciences! Good luck to you--sounds like you will make a great civil engineer! Barbara H Mulkey, PE, FASCE