Nadine M. Post/ENR
Marstellar shadows her auditor on the fabricator�s shop floor.

She calls herself a steel geek. But “woman of steel” would be a more apt moniker for Bobbi Marstellar, for she breaks through barriers with apparent ease. The structural engineer holds the distinction of being the youngest vice president   of the American Institute of Steel Construction Inc. And she is the only female vice president in the Chicago-based institute’s 86-year history: All that by age 32.

Marstellar, now 35, is in charge of AISC’s fabricator certification program. “We want these companies to be better businesses,” she says. That increases the quality of the product, she figures.

Marstellar took over in 2004, when the program was ailing. It took her two years to fix it. “When you inherit something broken, it is stressful,” she says of her early days as a reformer. “But the days of drive-by audits are history,” she adds.

Marstellar, loquacious and vivacious, shatters the pocket-protector engineer stereotype on all fronts, from personality to fashion. When not jogging or on a shop floor, she wears high heels and high styles. On June 11, she charged herself with a challenging task—to be a fly on the wall as one of her auditors put Cives Steel Co.’s Mid-West Division in Wolcott, Ind., through the grind of certification day.

Marstellar “audits” AISC auditors some four times a year. “It’s tough to be quiet because I want to help answer the auditor’s questions,” she says.

From the beginning, the conference room air was thick with tension. Typically on “Inquisition” day, only Cives people would be on edge. On this Tuesday, thanks to Marstellar’s presence, even the auditor was. But rather than ignore his shadow, John Hurley drew her into the mix. “Some of the things she has done are a vast improvement over the old way,” he told Cives managers. He then asked Marstellar to say a few words.

Knowing she was not supposed to be part of the process, she seemed uncharacteristically uncomfortable with the invitation to speak. But she politely offered a few encouraging words in an attempt to soothe nerves: “We’re here to find things you don’t want your customers to find. We’re like family.”

Fabricators pay big bucks to place themselves on the hot seat for AISC’s seal of approval. “Their view of what we do is like an IRS audit, so many are on the defensive from the start,” says Marstellar.  To temper that, she wants to rename audits, “assessments.”

Nadine M. Post/ENR
Marstellar is never more at home than when she is surrounded by steel.

For Marstellar, a day surrounded by steel is like a run in the park. As soon as she hit the shop floor, her face lit up. She had eyed a jumbo shape. “I’m a steel geek,” she says, of her romance with the material she loves for its “raw power.” When she was in college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, her idea of a cool Saturday night date was “parking” at a steel mill and watching the fires spew out. She calls it steel’s glow.

Marstellar began her career with short stints as a practicing engineer, during which time she met her husband, structural engineer Greg Lakota. But she soon became bored designing beams. She joined AISC in 2001 to launch its Steel Solutions Center, a service offered to designers.

To stay satisfied, Marstellar tends to need a new crusade, or job, every few years. This year, putting her 2006 masters in business degree to work, she took on AISC’s finance administration, on top of certification. And rumor has it she is being groomed for the top job—the AISC presidency—after Roger Ferch retires. If that happens, she’ll make even more history.