HPW’s Inspiring Women series profiles remarkable Greek-American professional women whose stories of success inspire and encourage us to achieve our own career goals and aspirations.
Project Director for the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge,
New York State Thruway Authority
Jamey Barbas, PE is the Project Director, charged with replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York with the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge – one of the largest bridge projects in the US, on behalf of the New York State Thruway Authority.
A transformative senior executive with a career in bridge design and construction, she has held leadership positions in several international consulting firms. Her industry experience includes leadership of the strategic, operational and technical aspects for the delivery of major structures projects. A registered professional engineer with 35 years of experience in bridge management, design, construction and inspection, she has special emphasis on complex and long span bridges.
Barbas’ experience includes a number of award winning, domestic and international projects. She has led the inspection, design and construction support services for the reconstruction of the Williamsburg Bridge in NYC – one of the largest bridge reconstruction projects ever undertaken in the U.S. and led the design of the major bridges of the AutoRoute 30 project in Montreal, Canada – one of the largest P3 bridge projects in North America.
Barbas is a native New Yorker, graduate of Barnard College and the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She has written numerous technical papers and was named by Engineering News Record as one of their top Newsmakers of 2004 for her work in providing an emergency solution to a failing historic suspension bridge.
She also serves on the board of directors for Bridges to Prosperity, a non-profit that provides footbridges in rural communities to increase access to schools, health care and market.
As a professional engineer, you have had over 30 years of experience in bridge management, design, construction and inspection. What motivates you?
One of the key factors that motivates me is my desire to try and make a significant contribution to the particular goals that are at hand. I try to come up with the most innovative solutions with my incredible team of engineering professionals and constructors. I relish the team work. On large projects there are numerous decisions, all multi-disciplinary in nature, that need to be made, each day. From design, construction methods and legal issues, to caring for the natural environment and accounting for the communities we affect. I think the daily challenges we face and the diverse approaches to find solutions make it interesting.
How can we inspire younger generations to follow career pathways in S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, Math)?
Ideally, it would begin by having public school curricula funded towards more rigorous STEAM programs across the U.S., in order to help the next generation stay competitive in the ever changing global economy. In the private sector, several tech companies have stepped up and provide programs on their own or in conjunction with engineering societies, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). ASCE hosts a variety of programs, including the Future Cities Program for middle school students. Recently a very inspiring IMAX film, called Dream Big came out, to expose young people to careers in engineering.
Do you have a mentor? If so, how has this relationship benefited your professional and personal growth?
I’ve never had one formal mentor, but rather have been informally mentored through my interactions with some of the most incredibly talented engineers and business leaders. Engineers fundamentally start out by learning from more experienced engineers, very much like an apprenticeship. The companies I worked for understood that, as a service industry the workers are their most valuable resource and always invested in their future.
You have led a number of award winning domestic and international projects. In your opinion, what makes an effective leader?
Leading large projects typically requires one to know their subject matter extremely well, but in order for these projects to be truly successful, leaders should also have the courage to take on challenges head on and have the ability to motivate the entire team. From my experience, truly effective leaders tend to be passionate about their work. If it is authentic, this passion naturally becomes contagious. It serves to align members of the team to come together and work towards an overarching common goal.
Currently, you are the Project Director of The Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. What are some things one has to be mindful of when leading a large project?
When leading large infrastructure projects, one needs to be mindful of the many stakeholders involved. The engineering aspects are critical, of course, but social, economic, environmental, political and regulatory (Federal and State agencies) issues must also be appropriately addressed and managed.
How do you evaluate success?
For me, having success in your career means creating positive impact to society by pursuing something that you actually enjoy doing, while maintaining your integrity throughout. A successful career is only one aspect of a prosperous life.You must also have personal balance, in order to maintain your physical, mental and spiritual health.
If you can give one piece of career advice, what would it be?
It is a very simple one, which my very first boss conveyed to me some 35 years ago…“always be honest and ethical in all your dealings, so you can sleep well at night.”
What motivates you to be a part of non-profit organizations such as “Bridges to Prosperity”?
There are so many people around the world, in less developed countries that suffer from rural isolation.They are cut off from schools, health care and taking their goods to market year-round, due to the inability to cross rivers that swell several months out of the year. Crossing these rivers is treacherous in certain parts of South America, Africa, India and building simple footbridges is more often the solution. This organization has built hundreds of bridges using volunteer engineers, contractors and members from the local communities. My motivation is identical to my colleagues, as we all feel we can assist others to help them improve their own lives.
What impact has your Greek heritage had on your career and professional life?
Our religion is a big part of our heritage. As a child, my parents took me to Sunday school which instilled moral values, in order to understand a sense of right and wrong and help identify priorities.This spirituality helps keep me balanced and grounded in today’s modern and very stressful world.
Are you involved with the Greek community?
When I was younger, I served as a Sunday school teacher at St. Demetrios Church in Jamaica, for about ten years. My husband, however, is particularly active and has done a lot of work, as a member of the Board of Trustees for St. Michael’s Home – the only Greek Orthodox Assisted Living Facility in the country and he is also on the Board of Directors at HANAC (Hellenic Neighborhood Action Committee) in NYC. We travel to Greece often with our children and are proud of our heritage.
Who has inspired you in your career? Let us know at email@example.com