Trailblazer Commits $5 Million Gift to Alma Mater

Ole Miss engineering school to name chemical engineering department in honor of Barbara Beckmann

Four college students and a professor work with computer equipment in an engineering lab.

OXFORD, Miss. – The first female graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Engineering committed a $5 million estate gift to her alma mater for Giving Day 2024, and plans call for the Department of Chemical Engineering to bear her name in honor of the legacy gift.

Barbara Kerr Beckmann, a senior economic adviser for ExxonMobil focusing on planning and optimization, has always been a trailblazer. The company's first female engineer has enjoyed a 63-year career – longer than any other company employee.

"Engineering is about problem solving, which is one of my major interests," said Beckmann, an Arkansas native who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "I considered going into medicine, but after an assessment, my high school guidance counselor said I did not have the personality for it. My fascination with math and science led to my decision to study engineering.

"My Ole Miss degree is the foundation that provided for my successful career. I committed this gift because I felt Ole Miss had a huge part in where I am today, and the school does a much better job than other universities in preparing engineering students for their careers."

Chancellor Glenn Boyce expressed gratitude for Beckmann's support.

Barbara Beckmann

"Barbara Beckmann's courage and contributions in the field of engineering are inspiring," Boyce said. "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."

The purpose of the Barbara Kerr Beckmann Department of Chemical Engineering Endowment is to provide income to ensure that quality teaching, research and service will be available for future generations.

"I hope this gift helps the School of Engineering continue to offer extremely high-quality training in chemical engineering and provide financial assistance to the students who need it," Beckmann said.

Viola L. Acoff, dean of the School of Engineering, 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. Recently, the Barbara K. Beckman Fund for the school's Society of Women Engineers 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.

"It is quite fitting that our first endowed department in the School of Engineering was established by the first woman engineering graduate at Ole Miss. She is truly a living legend."

Though Beckmann was treated as an equal among her all-male classmates at Ole Miss, she recalled some skepticism among corporate recruiters.

During on-campus job interviews before her 1961 graduation, companies were given the students' last names and first initials. When she walked into the room, representatives would say, "Oh, you're a girl. We don't hire girls for engineering positions."


Barbara Beckmann (left), visits with Viola L. Acoff, dean of the UM School of Engineering. Photo by Greg Carter/UM Development

Moreover, interviewers scribbled statements such as "attractive, blonde female" instead of noting her academic achievements or knowledge.

Ultimately, Beckmann was hired by Humble Oil and Refinery Co. as a computer analyst, developing simulation programs and helping guide many critical technical and analytical programs, all while gaining a better understanding of the refinery process than many veteran engineers. She devoted seven years to this role before moving into an engineering position.

Humble Oil was purchased by Esso, which led to its rebranding in 1972 as Exxon. A 1999 merger created ExxonMobil.

Beckmann has mentored many young professionals and engineering students.

"I have always had an interest in helping people be the best they can be," she said. "Ultimately, this also helped the company as talent was developed.

"Based on the remarks people I have mentored make at retirement receptions, I do think I have made a difference. Currently, my mentees are a vice president and a director with ExxonMobil."

She was named one of the Top 10 People by the American Business Women's Association, selected for a YWCA Trailblazer Award and is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. In 2022, Marquis Who's Who honored Beckmann with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. She was inducted into the 1997 Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and was presented with the Baton Rouge Volunteer Activist Award and the Service to Mankind Award from the Kiwanis Club.

Beckmann is active in community nonprofits and her church and loves to travel, logging trips to all seven continents.

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 here.

For information on supporting the School of Engineering, contact Greg Carter, director of development, at or 662-915-1849. To learn more about including the university in estate plans, contact Marc Littlecott, advancement director for estate and planned giving, at or 662-915-6625.


Tina H. Hahn



April 10, 2024