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Beckmann Commits $5M Estate Gift to Ole Miss Engineering
A student performs an experiment in the chemical engineering lab of Carrier Hall.

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 Beckmann

Barbara Kerr Beckmann of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who serves as a senior economic adviser for ExxonMobil focusing on planning and optimization, has always been a trailblazer. The career of the company’s first female engineer has spanned 63 years – longer than any other company employee.

“Engineering is about problem-solving, which is one of my major interests,” said Beckmann, a native of Arkansas. “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.”

UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce expressed gratitude for Beckmann’s support, which was announced on the second day of the April 9-10 online, social media-driven annual Giving Day campaign.

“Barbara Beckmann’s courage and contributions in the field of engineering are inspiring. 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,” he said.

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 of Ole Miss students.

“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.

Beckmann and Acoff

Viola L. Acoff, dean of UM’s School of Engineering, said she is extremely 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 funded 21 students to the Society of Women Engineers Conference in Los Angeles, California.

“We are honored that she has established the Barbara Kerr Beckmann Department of Chemical Engineering Endowment with a testamentary gift. 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,” Acoff said.

“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,” the dean said. “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 prior to her 1961 graduation, the companies were given the students’ last names and their beginning initials. When she walked into the room, representatives would say, “Oh, you’re a girl. We don’t hire girls for engineering positions.” Moreover, interviewers scribbled such statements 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 and then a 1999 merger created ExxonMobil.

At the company, Beckmann 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.”

To recognize her vast contributions to the engineering and energy industry, Beckmann 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 named her to the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. She was inducted into the 1997 Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and was honored 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 to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the fund’s name written in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655 or online at

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.

By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.