It has been said that modern women can’t have it all, raise a family while also climbing the career ladder and accomplishing great things at work. But Cindy Rich, a licensed civil engineer who is vice president and engineer manager for the structures department at Neel-Schaffer, Inc. has been able to oversee major engineering projects like the new Greenville bridge over the Mississippi River while also raising three kids who have gone on to get seven graduate colleges degrees among them.
Engineers who are lucky have a once-in-a-lifetime project, one that consumes their professional life for many years. For Rich the
U.S. 82 bridge over the Mississippi River in Greenville was that project. She worked on that bridge for about 15 years from the first visioning meetings in 1995 to that day in July of 2010 when the first car drove from the Mississippi side into Arkansas.
HNTB was the project manager and designed the navigational span. Rich was part of the Neel-Schaffer team that designed the Mississippi- and Arkansas side approaches. The bridge is nearly two miles long and had a construction cost of $275 million – $86 million for the Mississippi approach and $66 million for the Arkansas approach.
“Our design fees stretched into the millions, making it one of the largest projects in terms of fees in the 31-year history of Neel-Schaffer,” Rich said. “In addition to being part of the design team, I was Neel-Schaffer’s primary contact with the Mississippi Department of Transportation on the construction for both approaches. I worked with the project engineer almost daily.”
During that time, she was promoted from design engineer to engineer manager and began managing their structures department. But she stayed heavily invested in the bridge project until the end.
Other major projects include being part of the Neel-Schaffer team that provided design and construction engineering and inspection services for the 9.5-mile “Road to Toyota” near Pontotoc in northeast Mississippi. They designed 10 bridges for that $88 million project that was fast-tracked by MDOT and actually finished four months ahead of schedule.
Their team designed the Gallatin Street bridge repair for I-20 in Jackson and the Highway 463 Strawberry Bridge in Madison, and provided design and inspection services for the emergency bridge repair for the Popps Ferry Road bridge in Biloxi after the bridge was hit by a barge.
Her current work involves supervising engineers and one administrative assistant. In addition to designing bridges, they also design concrete tanks, foundations, retaining walls, steel structures, sign trusses, below-ground water tanks and high-mast lighting fixtures. They currently have about 50 projects in some stage of development.
Rich does very little design work now, but has a hand in everything produced by the structures department.
“I have designed bridges and other structures, so I know exactly what projects my engineers are working on and what issues they face in producing quality designs under tight deadlines,” Rich said. “I perform quality control reviews on designs, negotiate contracts, and I handle all billings and personnel issues for our department. While I spend more time in my office than away from it, it’s not uncommon for me to be in the office reviewing designs and plans one day, wearing a hard hat and steel-toe boots while standing in a lift-truck bucket inspecting a bridge in north Mississippi the next, and back in the office mentoring a young engineer the next.”
Her previous employment includes working for HNTB Engineering from 1980-83 and the Mississippi Department of Natural Resources from 1983-87. She took six years off from work while here children were young and returned to work with Neel-Schaffer in 1993.
Rich grew up in engineering. Her father, Damon Wall, was an engineering professor at the University of Mississippi.
“I’m pretty sure without his influence I would not have chosen the career path I took, since in 1976 it wasn’t a very popular career path for a woman,” Rich said. “I graduated magna cum laude and was the only female in my civil engineering classes.”
Two of the children of Rich and her husband, Neal, have also gone into engineering. Tom, 30, has an engineering degree and is a practicing attorney. David, 27, has bachelor and master’s degrees in engineering and is a practicing engineer. Mary Margaret, 23, has bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and secondary education and a master’s degree in education.
Rich believes in giving back to her alma matter, and has served on the engineering advisory board at the University of Mississippi for the past 10 years. She is also a member of Highland Colony Baptist Church and sings in the choir. She loves to cook and sew, and she and her husband have begun to travel when time permits. Their most recent big trip was to the Greek Isles.
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