Caltrans bridge engineer Deanna Vilcheck sometimes lets her children think the Bay Bridge is "Mommy's bridge."

Why not? Her 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son were born while Vilcheck was part of the western span seismic retrofit team.

And she's still there, on the bridge.

Vilcheck moved in 2009 to the eastern span team, where she wrangles engineers overseeing the massive transition structures that will connect the new bridge to Interstate 80 on both ends.

Which is tougher: building a $6.4 billion bridge or raising kids?

"They both have their challenges," the 45-year-old engineer said.

The small-town girl from Kearney, Mo., didn't set out to help build California's biggest public works project.

"It was a school counselor who suggested engineering because I was good in math," Vilcheck said. "I didn't have a game plan."

After she earned her engineering degree, Vilcheck took a job with Caltrans and joined engineers in strengthening quake-damaged Bay Area bridges.

Gender never held her back. On the contrary, she blends her engineering and feminine sides.

"When people (aka men) are butting heads, I can take a different approach," Vilcheck said. "I can often get people to do things differently. They'll say to me, 'I'll do it for you! Just don't nag me anymore!'"

-- Lisa Vorderbrueggen

DEANNA VILCHECK
Job: Supervising bridge engineer, Caltrans
Age: 45
Residence: Castro Valley
Bay Bridge work: She oversees engineers managing the construction of connector structures on both ends of the bridge and is coordinating the traffic shift when the new span opens. She leads an engineering team that will dismantle the temporary S-curve and existing cantilever, and she previously worked on eastern and western span seismic retrofits.
Advice: Maintain your calm and your sense of humor -- but especially your sense of humor.