“I have such respect for the engineering industry because of the type of individual that comprises it,” says Building Bridges author Barbara Mulkey. “I have experienced a much higher percentage of intelligent, humble, and highly ethical people in my field than in the surrounding business world.” Photos: Doug Van De Zande / Van De Zande Photography

Have you heard this one? The optimist sees the glass as half full. The pessimist sees the glass as half empty. The engineer sees the glass as twice as big as it needs to be.

The joke may be corny, but it's true. Most engineers seem to view the world with a slightly different lens. When others delight over the picturesque view of a lake from a home's backyard, an engineer may see a potential threat to the structure. While laypersons nervously question the soundness of a flexing parking deck, engineers understand and appreciate that the flexibility lends strength to the structure.

In her first book, Barbara Mulkey, PE, FASCE, attempts to help engineers and nonengineers better understand one another — both at work and at home, during everyday activities as well as large-scale events. Blending engineering examples with real-life experiences, Building Bridges is a collection of 50 essays that allows the reader to see the world through the eyes of these unique individuals.

But it's not all about “geekiness,” says Mulkey. Her anecdotes cover family, friends, relationships, work, and faith.

You could say Mulkey is an expert on the topic. She's both an engineer, and married to one. She has also spent her life reading and writing, including journals, poetry, song lyrics, and lots of personal correspondence.

“I always knew once I had time to focus more on writing, the first project I wanted to complete would be a book that focuses on engineers — not engineering,” says Mulkey.

And busy, she is. In 1993 she founded Mulkey Engineers & Consultants, a family-friendly civil engineering firm headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. She also serves or has served on the boards of the N.C. State University Board of Trustees; William R. Kenan Jr. Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science; and American Council of Engineering Companies of N.C., just to name a few.

But somehow she found time to write her story, which was released in November 2011. Since then, Mulkey has been promoting Building Bridges in the Southeastern states, where her firm has a presence. Her co-workers were first to receive copies, since without them, Mulkey says she wouldn't have had as much material to share.

“What has surprised me is the tremendous support the book has received from my colleagues, including business leaders, engineers, and [N.C. State] University faculty and staff,” she says. “I am now in the process of taking a more national approach.”

Building Bridges is available through major book retailers,, or directly from the publisher (800-948-2786). All proceeds are being donated to nonprofit organizations that provide education and support in the area of ethical leadership.


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