She may not have dreamed of getting lowered underground or working on the largest federal facility built since the Pentagon, but Cathleen Barry‘s passion for problem solving has given her new experiences beyond her imagination.
Her ability to adapt to new challenges and develop innovative solutions has provided her one more benefit: she is being recognized this week as a runner-up in the New Faces in Engineering honor, part of National Engineers Week Foundation. The program highlights young and up-and-coming engineers who are 30-years-old or younger and have shown outstanding abilities in projects that significantly impact public welfare or further professional development and growth around the country.
Barry, a structural engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, began her career with the District while she was an undergraduate student at George Mason University. As a student hire, Barry worked on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus project at Fort Belvoir, supporting quality assurance representatives performing QA checks for construction work.
“I had such a great time as a student hire, it was a great experience,” Barry said. “One day I had the opportunity to be lowered in a caisson – it was definitely not your typical desk work – and that’s what I really enjoyed about it.”
Barry knew very little about the Corps of Engineers prior to her assignment at NGA, but the lack of knowledge and experience didn’t cause her to hesitate.
“I came into the Corps knowing very little about what they do,” Barry said. “But I think that really allowed me to dive in and be more interested in trying to learn about everything I could.”
The daughter of an American father and Taiwanese mother, Barry frequently moved around the country due to her father’s career with the U.S. Navy. Her family finally settled in northern Virginia, and as college approached she began to explore her career options.
“I first wanted to go to school for internet technology – I wanted to be a hacker,” Barry says with a laugh. “But it wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. So I began exploring engineering. I always loved solving problems in school and understanding how different systems work together and structural engineering was a natural career choice.”
Upon graduation from George Mason in 2009, Barry was hired as a Department of Army intern, where she continued to work at the NGA project. As the NGA project neared completion, Barry transferred to the Baltimore District headquarters to the structural design section of the military design branch. Here she has flourished working on such important projects such as the Raystown Tainter Gate Repair project, Defense Information School, the Asymmetric Warfare Group Complex, and a visitor control center at the new National Security Agency Campus East headquarters.
Many seasoned engineers have taken notice of Barry’s abilities, and been impressed by what they see in the young engineer.
“Cathleen's work ethic and her ability to complete design work is very professional,” said Civil Engineer Larry Mathena with more than 20 years experience and who worked with Barry on the Raystown Tainter Gate Repair project. “She's proactive and educates herself on items that she is not familiar with, and is able to develop a good product.”
Barry’s boss, Structural Section Chief Yohannes Assefa, shares Mathena’s opinion.
“From her first day on board Cathleen has distinguished herself through hard work and attention to detail,” Assefa said. “She is always thrilled to work on the most challenging structural problems, which makes her an great asset to our team.”
Barry continues to develop her career by working towards a Master’s Degree at Johns Hopkins University and by taking on challenging work projects here in the district.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that exposure to a variety of engineering issues is key to having a successful career,” Barry said. “Exposure to new perspectives helps you learn more about a problem, and in the long run helps you become more confident in your professional goals. I hope the lessons I’m learning today will provide me a strong foundation for my continued career in engineering.”