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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Pat Galloway: Civil Engineer, Company CEO
Never underestimate the power of career days. Patricia
Galloway, a high school girl in Kentucky at the time, thought that
perhaps she would be an interpreter at the United Nations, or maybe
a lawyer. Then a structural engineer visited her school, bringing
along several renderings of buildings. Galloway, who enjoyed drawing,
and often chose buildings as her subjects, paid closer attention.
The visiting engineer went on to tell the students that opportunities
for women in engineering were plentiful and that the pay was excellent.
Galloway’s career course was set. "I decided on the spot that
I wanted to be a structural civil engineer," she recounts. She
went on to study civil engineering at Purdue (Class of 1978) and to
earn an MBA at the New York Institute of Technology. She is now president
and CEO of The Nielsen-Wurster Group, a 150-person construction management
company with offices at 345 Wall Street, and has just begun her term
as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). She
is the first woman in the organization’s 150 year history to hold
Galloway’s father died when she was 14 months old. Her mother, Maudine
Frisby, who taught accounting and typing in a Lexington, Kentucky
high school, needed help in juggling work and child care, so Galloway
lived with her grandparents until she was in the second or third grade.
Nevertheless, she and her mother were exceptionally close.
"We spent weekends, holidays, and the summer together," she
recalls. "She was very insightful. She made sure I traveled internationally,
was in the Girl Scouts, was doing well in school, and was in lots
of clubs. My mother taught me the importance of being well-rounded."
Traveling abroad every year was not enough for Galloway’s mother.
She also expected that her daughter would be bi-lingual. "She
was a dictator," Galloway laughs. "I had no choice."
Galloway’s mother is now retired and living in Kentucky. "She
has a male friend," says Galloway. "They live a mile apart,
but she refuses to marry anyone. She hikes, plays bridge, and square
An independent-minded woman, Galloway’s mother was instantly supportive
of her daughter’s sudden resolve to become an engineer. Few others
were. Her high school math teacher told her "`you’ll never make
it,’" despite the fact that her math grades were straight "A".
A professor at Purdue, where there were only a handful of female civil
engineering majors, told the women that they did not belong in engineering.
Given these attitudes it is not surprising that engineering has badly
lagged other professions in attracting women. While the number of
women studying medicine, law, and business has soared during the past
three decades — often reaching, or even exceeding, 50 percent
— female engineering students make up, on average, only 19.7 percent
of their classes.
What’s worse, that number gets cut roughly in half in the field. "You
would think it would transfer one-for-one," says Galloway. For
every woman earning a degree as a civil or chemical or electrical
engineer, one would expect to find one more civil, chemical, or electrical
engineer at work. But no. "Nine-and-a-half percent of civil engineers
are women," says Galloway. "And that number has gone down.
It was 10 percent." The number for mechanical engineers is lower
— just 7.2 percent. "The highest is industrial," says
Galloway. "That’s 11.8 percent." In all engineering specialties,
she says, "the numbers have plateaued and decreased."
The reason the profession lags is not unduly long hours or a travel
schedule that makes it incompatible with family life. There are so
many different types of opportunities within engineering. "You
can work for the government, and essentially work 9-to-5," says
Galloway. Teaching offers another option where hours can be reasonable
hours and travel requirements modest. There are any number of jobs
within engineering that do not require overtime, says Galloway.
So what is the problem?
"I believe it’s that women don’t have confidence, and feel intimidated
by their male peers," says Galloway. Male culture is the dominant
culture in engineering, and, in her experience, men and women think
differently. One key difference, she finds, is that women invest so
much of themselves in their work. "My women employees work very
hard," she says. "They’re very proud of their work." When
they are criticized, they take the negative comments to heart much
more than do their male counterparts.
"They think they can’t get ahead," says Galloway. "It’s
such a bad perception."
Any attrition by discouraged women hurts, especially
because so few women choose the profession in the first place. A reason
this is so, Galloway says, is that schools do not encourage girls
to reach for careers in engineering. If girls are to choose the profession,
they need to see it as attractive early on. "High school is too
late," says Galloway, who is convinced that interest needs to
be developed in the first through the fourth grades.
The way to do this is to understand the way women think, and to tailor
the message to a female mindset. "You don’t say `you’re going
to have to take a lot of math and science,’" says Galloway. "You
say `wouldn’t you like to make a difference, to help people?’"
Then you show how all the projects on which engineers work — the
water treatment plants, the monorails, the public buildings, the computers
— make life better.
Even elite schools are not doing a good job of introducing women to
opportunities in engineering, says Galloway, recounting how her youngest
step-daughter was taken out of a highly-regarded girls prep school
because, in the family’s view, it was doing nothing to encourage its
students to consider non-traditional careers in science and technology.
This is a shame because, as Galloway’s career demonstrates, engineering
can hold rich rewards for its practitioners.
That said, Galloway’s career did not begin all that well. After graduating
from Purdue, she went to work as master program scheduler for the
$1.6 billion Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program. There she
coordinated project schedules, was involved with cost engineering
functions, prepared schedule progress reports for public and client
presentations, and monitored compliance with court orders imposed
on the program.
She enjoyed the work, but, after four years of doing it, realized
she was not expanding her knowledge of engineering. "I knew it
was important to do a variety of things to move ahead," she says.
She feared that continuing on with the project would pigeonhole her,
and repeatedly asked for transfers. "I said `move me somewhere,
anywhere!’" she recalls.
She went to New York for an ASCE conference. Several years before,
she had co-authored a paper with Chris Nielsen, CEO and founder of
Nielsen-Wurster. She contacted him before traveling to New York, and
he suggested that she bring her resume along. A job offer was extended,
and she jumped at it despite the fact that the salary was significantly
less. "I knew I would make less in the short term, but that in
five years I could do twice as well," she says. "At Nielsen-Wurster
they throw you off a pier and if you swim, they let you swim as far
as you can."
The firm was founded in New York City in 1976 by Chris Nielsen, whom
Galloway married in 1987. Nielsen, a Princeton resident and a graduate
of Princeton University (Class of 1967), decided to start the company
in New York because of the visibility that city imparts, and also
because most of his early clients were located there. In 1984, he
moved the New York office to Princeton. By then, says Galloway, the
company’s reputation had been made, and the New York address was no
Nielsen-Wurster has approximately 45 employees in Princeton,
and about 105 more in offices in Florida, California, Texas, Washington,
Rome, and Melbourne. The firm has three main areas of expertise —
management consulting, risk management, and dispute resolution.
Within its management consulting practice, the firm provides management
evaluations to multinational corporations, engineers, contractors,
and governments, focusing on ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness
of the management process. Its assignments have included evaluations
on dozens of nuclear power plant projects.
Its risk management can be likened to detective work that occurs before
a crime is committed. It involves envisioning every single factor
that could possibly cause a project to fail.
Dispute resolution is an attempt to resolve issues of delay, acceleration,
disruption, labor inefficiency, design, and workmanship. Assignments
within this area range from identification of potential issues in
dispute to presentation of expert testimony in court or in an arbitration.
Galloway joined the firm in 1981, taking on consulting projects that
took her all over the world — 84 countries, and counting. She
has been involved in dispute resolution projects involving casinos,
commercial offices, process plants, gas pipelines, landfills, railroads,
oil depots, dams, refineries, bridges, and universities, and more.
In the process she has analyzed schedule delay, cost impact, and damage
quantification, and has searched documents, prepared questions for
legal interrogatories and depositions, reviewed drawings, and given
advice to legal counsel.
She also has been involved in her firm’s management consulting and
risk management practices, working on project planning and execution,
risk assessment and analysis, trend evaluations, and risk reduction
plans for both public and private projects in the transportation,
infrastructure, power, process, and building sectors.
Galloway no longer draws up plans, but she holds 10 professional licenses
and is emphatic in saying "I practice engineering every day."
There is a stereotype — even within the profession — that
an engineer spends his days drawing. So entrenched is this image that
Galloway says she often meets engineers who work as teachers or consultants,
and who think they are not eligible to apply for a license as a civil
engineer. Only people who are drawing should have a license is a common
misconception, she says. The breadth of her work demonstrates that
engineering is much more than working with a pencil — or a computer
While taking on ever-more-complex assignments, Galloway moved up to
a leadership role in her profession. She became an owner of Nielsen-Wurster
in 1984, began to lecture, and took on top positions in a number of
professional organizations, including the Civil Engineering Research
Foundation, the Construction Services Network, the New Jersey Business
Advisory Council, the Purdue University Alumni Board, and the American
Association of Engineering Societies.
A measure of how much Galloway is enjoying her career is the passion
she brings to spreading the word to other women. A priority for her
term as president of the ASCE is to reach out to girls and young women,
letting them know about the diverse, rewarding career possibilities
This often-overlooked career can fit nearly any personality and talent
set — although technical skill is required. It can also fit well
with raising a family.
"We have a young engineer who had a child shortly after joining
us," says Galloway. "She cut back, took some time off."
The woman now has three sons, and has moved into management with the
firm. "She’s president of the ASCE New Jersey section," says
Galloway. "She is very active in her church. She spends time with
her family. It can be done!"
But is every firm as family-friendly as hers? Galloway admits that
the answer is "no". But, she says, one way or another, women
are making the profession fit into their lives.
"I was speaking at a section of the Engineering Leadership Conference,"
she says. "I took a poll. I asked how many women have house husbands."
She was astonished to see a full 25 percent of the participants —
all of them at the management level — raise their hands.
Even in families with two working spouses, the heights
of the engineering profession and a full life can co-exist. Galloway’s
life is intricately linked with her work, but includes plenty of down
time, although somewhat less since she took on the presidency of the
She became president of Nielsen-Wurster in 1999, and was appointed
CEO in 2001, when Chris Nielsen stepped down. "It was hard for
him to let go," she says, "but he is very serious about succession
planning. He wants the business to outlive him. It is his belief that
no one is indispensable." With that in mind, he removed himself
from the management of the company. But not entirely. And not for
Soon after he stepped down, the company’s chief marketing officer
left. "We looked around," says Galloway. "No one is more
knowledgeable about the company than Chris. We asked if he would mind
stepping in." He agreed, and, says his wife and CEO, "he’s
doing a pretty good job."
The couple met in the late-1970s, and, says Galloway, got to know
one another much better after she became a company owner in 1984.
They had their first date in 1986, and married the next year. They
divide their time between Princeton and, says Galloway, "the last
valley in the Cascade Mountains." They have a horse ranch there,
in CleElam, Washington. Both are pilots, and, between work and bi-coastal
commuting, spend a lot of time in the air.
When they are on the ground Galloway and her husband spend time backpacking,
river rafting, camping, and snowmobiling. "A friend described
me as an extreme sports fan," Galloway says. When she and her
husband go out to play, they try to leave all talk of work behind,
although Galloway admits it does sometimes creep in.
She doesn’t mind. For most of her years as an engineer, her hours
have been long and her travels extensive, but, she says, "if you
really like what you do, it doesn’t matter."
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Princeton 08540. Patricia D. Galloway, CEO. 609-497-7300; fax, 609-497-3412.
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