Engineers Week: Brian Brenner, PE Discusses the Impact Engineering Has On Communities and Education
By Regina Sibilia
For Engineers Week, we are speaking to members of our technical staff to learn about their impact on the community and the importance of STEM education. Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, Engineers Week is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.1
We sat down with Principle Engineer Brian Brenner who leads our team of bridge engineers within our Land Use and Transportation sector for a Q&A on the education of future engineers and the effect engineering has on society.
Q: You’ve worked on numerous high-profile profile projects that cover bridge analysis and design, as well as structural engineering. But where did your passion for bridges start?
A: “When I was a toddler, we used to drive by the construction of the Verrazzano Bridge [in New York]. My parents said that I used to jump up and down when I saw the construction. My mother wrote to the Governor to get us tickets to the opening ceremony when the bridge was completed. I used to build bridges with blocks and create big structures in the sand at the beach when I was a kid. Now I’m actually helping to build full-size bridges. But in a way, the kid in me is still at play. My 2-year-old grandson has actually started playing with blocks – so far he’s knocking them down more than building with them but I’m already teaching him some bridge designs.”
Q: Teaching seems to be another passion of yours, what do you love about it?
A: “It’s a lot of fun! I like interacting with the students. I like the opportunity to teach a college class that I would want to be in. I tell students that you’re not old enough to know everything right now and that’s perfectly ok. That’s why they can turn to someone like their professors and as a professor, I can use this position to really help these kids learn.”
Q: What advice do you give to your students when they are pursuing careers in engineering?
A: “Some advice that I give to students is to take advantage of the fact that your job at school is to sit and learn. It may not feel like a great advantage at the time when you’re overwhelmed with classes. But when I reflect back on my academic background, I now understand how great it was at the time.”
Q: You emphasize the need for collaboration within the engineering profession to your colleagues and your students, why is collaboration among engineers so important?
A: “Collaboration is essential. As a senior engineer, I tell colleagues I work with that one of their jobs is to poke holes in what I’m saying. Recently, I received some notes from a colleague on my design ideas, and it helped to improve the bridge design a lot. A key ingredient to being an engineer is humility – one engineer can’t know everything.”
Q: How does the engineering profession make an impact on communities?
A: “Engineers are involved in creating something that people really need. It’s my job to communicate what we are doing and how that work affects others. I do this as a Professor and as a Senior Engineer working alongside young engineers. A bridge itself is very tangible to work on and there have been a few times in my career where I’ve seen an immediate reaction to building bridges. It’s significant to have people’s lives raised up because of these bridges.”
Brian Brenner, PE has 36 years of experience in highway and railroad bridges, tunnels, and value engineering for large highway and transit projects. A Professor of Practice at Tufts University, Brenner also teaches classes in bridge, steel and concrete design, as well as Introduction to Engineering. He has published numerous papers and books relative to bridge design and participates regularly in research projects on aspects of long-term bridge design. Brian is also an active contributor to ENR through his blog.