Civil Engineering

Deirdre McShane's Dream Job

As a structural engineer, Deirdre designs the steel and concrete that go into some of the most spectacular and internationally renowned skyscrapers, museums, and stadiums.

Where she works
Deirdre works at Thornton Tomasetti, an international engineering firm in New York City that has built some of the world’s tallest buildings. "We design huge, elaborate projects,” Deirdre says. “Everything requires a very creative solution and a lot of analysis, because it’s never been done before. There’s no precedent."

The difference between an architect and a structural engineer
"Sometimes I explain to people that if an architect drew a picture of a body, I’d be the one who goes in and designs the bones."

Education
B.S. in civil and environmental engineering, from the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

One of the best experiences of her life
As an undergraduate, Deirdre co-founded a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a humanitarian organization that helps communities around the developing world with much-needed engineering projects. The EWB team traveled to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the disastrous 2004 Asian tsunami, and helped rebuild a village’s shrimp hatcheries. The team also traveled to Papua, at the other end of the Indonesian archipelago, where they worked to prevent the erosion of a riverbank. Today, Deirdre belongs to the New York City chapter of EWB, which carries out projects around the world.

What’s great about an engineering education
"I have a lot of friends from engineering school who are in med school now, or consulting, or doing finance, or they’re in law school, or they’re engineers. I think it really prepares you as far as problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and some intangible qualities you get with the education."

Double Takes
“I like it when people, especially guys, ask me what I do. They're kind of stunned when I tell them I'm a structural engineer. They'll say, 'what, you . . . you do that?'  I guess they are just surprised that ideas for such big structures come from such a petite girl!"

  • Aeronautical/Aerospace Engineer
  • Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineer
  • Chemical Engineer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Computer Engineer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Materials Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Special fields and Interdisciplinary Engineer