First female Bechtel employee elected to NAE says persistence essential to success

Barbara Rusinko

Barbara Rusinko recently became the first female Bechtel employee elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in the company’s 120-year history.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Students should be persistent, flexible and willing to acquire the proper credentials to advance in a technical career after graduation, says Barbara Rusinko, a Bechtel senior vice president and University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) alumna.

Rusinko recently became the first female Bechtel employee elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in the company’s 120-year history.

"What I think students and my female colleagues can take from this is that advancing in the ranks of a technical field is within reach for those willing to put in the effort and get the right experience," says Rusinko (MS, Engineering, 2006), who serves on the corporate partnership council of the Society of Women Engineers. "It does take going where the work is, which means being prepared to move yourself or your family, and taking on challenging experiences."

Rusinko joins 17 Bechtel colleagues as an NAE member. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.

"I’m extremely honored to be in the great company of NAE members," she says, adding that it is fulfilling to work at Bechtel with people and teams solving the world’s most complex problems. "And I would like to think we do it the right way – ethically, and with safety and quality as our highest values."

Currently president of Bechtel's Nuclear, Security & Environmental global business unit, Rusinko has responsibility for more than 5,000 employees at more than a dozen project sites in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and other locations, including complex, first-of-a-kind megaprojects.

She was elected a Bechtel principal vice president in 2009 and a senior vice president in 2012.

Rusinko has held senior engineering management roles on complex technical projects including the national nuclear waste repository project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the Savannah River site in South Carolina and the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant in Washington.

She also has held senior project managerial positions on an oil refinery project in Thailand and a coal seam gas to liquid natural gas plant in Queensland, Australia, and has had roles in construction field engineering on a variety of nuclear power projects.

"Engineers help solve worldwide problems. Most of what we do helps humankind in one way or another," she says. "You get to say ‘Yes, I helped deliver energy to hundreds of thousands of people,’ or cleaned up an environment so future people who live there won’t have to worry about it. I think people aspiring to be engineers should look at it from that point of view. Engineering fits into all aspects of life."

A registered professional engineer (PE) and Six Sigma champion, Rusinko is a proponent of obtaining a PE license. To become licensed, engineers must complete a four-year college degree, work under a PE for at least four years, pass two intensive competency exams and earn a license from their state's licensure board. To retain their licenses, PEs must continually maintain and improve their skills throughout their careers.

"I’d like to see engineering schools place greater emphasis on helping students understand the value of getting their PE license," Rusinko says. "Even if you never stamp a drawing, it’s a very important credential for an engineer. With all my work experience, at the heart of it, I am an engineer and that license to practice as an engineer is a proof point. It’s important for graduates regardless of their career aspirations."

In addition to her work at Bechtel, Rusinko is vice chair of the boards of governors of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"I’m privileged to serve with some outstanding people from academia and industry," she says. "The national laboratories are an incredible resource for the nation in areas from basic science to applied sciences in national security, advanced energy solutions, materials sciences, high-performance computing, modeling and simulation – across the spectrum, and all in the national interest."

Rusinko says she benefitted from UAH’s collaborative atmosphere and challenging academics.

"The master’s program at UAH involved working on team projects and working with people who were already working in their career fields. Due to my work location and travel, I participated in the distance learning program. The camaraderie was extraordinarily helpful," she says.

"I will also say, the oral exam to get my master’s was something I will never forget. The PE licensing exam is hard, but doing this oral exam was very challenging – as was waiting in the hallway for the feedback on how you did!"


Mallie Hale

Jim Steele