Trailblazer for women engineers for 60 years gives $5 million to her Mississippi alma mater

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A trailblazer for women engineers for more than 60 years recently pledged $5 million to her Mississippi alma mater.
ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Senior Economic Advisor Barbara Beckmann committed the gift to the University of Mississippi on Giving Day 2024.
The University now plans to call for the Department of Engineering to bear her name in honor of the legacy gift. Beckmann has blazed a trail for women in STEM for over six decades. She was the first female to graduate from the School of Engineering at Ole Miss in 1961. In 2021, she celebrated her 60th anniversary working at ExxonMobil.
“Barbara is a trailblazer and an invaluable asset to our team at ExxonMobil. Throughout her career, Barbara’s wisdom and expertise have guided many employees and future engineers,” said Regina Davis, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery Manager. Barbara’s generosity will build up the next generations of chemical engineers, a gift to both students and industry alike that will ensure highly educated and prepared students enter the workforce each year.”
The Barbara Kerr Beckmann Department of Chemical Engineering Endowment will provide monetary resources to support quality teaching, research and financial assistance for future generations of engineers.
“Engineering is about problem-solving, which is one of my major interests. My fascination with math and science led to my decision to study engineering,” said Beckmann. “My experience at the University of Mississippi provided the foundation for my successful career in the oil and gas industry with ExxonMobil. I owe a huge part of where I am today to Ole Miss because of the education, mentorship, and lessons that I learned being a female in a male-dominated industry. I feel the university is wonderful at preparing engineering students for their future careers, and I am proud to be a part of this institution.”
While studying at Ole Miss, Beckmann developed great relationships with her professors but faced challenges as one of the few female students in her classes. Despite initial resentment from classmates for excelling, she broke through barriers, eventually shattering the glass ceiling.
“Barbara Beckmann’s courage and contributions in the field of engineering are inspiring,” said Glenn Boyce, Chancellor of the University of Mississippi. “We are proud of the pivotal role that the university played in shaping her career and life, and we are grateful that she has chosen to make this tremendous gift that will impact future generations of engineering students.”
Beckmann started her career at ExxonMobil’s predecessor, Humble Oil and Refining Co., in 1961. Initially rejected for engineering roles due to her gender, she thrived as a computer analyst, developing simulation programs and advising on key technical projects. Despite being the only female engineer, she remained positive, focusing on professional growth and is the only engineer to achieve her job classification level in a domestic refinery in the company. An expert in refinery processing, the optimization of units, and general economics, Beckmann attributes her success to maintaining a high level of self-confidence and truly believing in her capabilities.
Beckmann is a pioneer and champion for inclusion, innovation, and mentorship. She’s seen firsthand the impact of mentors on her career and has spent the past 60 years giving back, guiding and investing in other young employees – living out some of the core values that make ExxonMobil what it is today.
Viola L. Acoff, University of Mississippi School of Engineering Dean, said she is grateful for Beckmann’s support over the years, including her service on the Engineering Alumni Chapter Board and the Engineering School Advisory Board. The Barbara K. Beckman Fund for the school’s Society of Women Engineers recently enabled 21 students to attend the Society of Women Engineers Conference in Los Angeles.
“We are honored that she has established the Barbara Kerr Beckmann Department of Chemical Engineering Endowment with a testamentary gift,” Acoff said. “Her passion and desire to do whatever she can to support engineering students and mentor young engineers is unmatched and will certainly inspire others to follow her example. She is truly a living legend.”
Beckmann has received many accolades throughout her career, including being named as one of the Top 10 People by the American Business Women’s Association, honored with the Greater Baton Rouge YWCA Trailblazer Award, and received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and was inducted into the 1997 Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame. Beckmann is an active volunteer for Baton Rouge area nonprofits and her church.
The Barbara Kerr Beckmann Department of Chemical Engineering Endowment is open to gifts from businesses or individuals by sending a check, with the fund’s name written in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or by giving online at

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