Lucy Phillips

UM civil engineering graduate Lucy Phillips is the American Society of Civil Engineers' choice for National Engineers Week Foundation's 14 New Faces of Engineering for 2005.

Alumna Named Nation's Top Young Civil Engineer


OXFORD, Miss. - Just three years ago, Lucy Phillips finished a distinguished undergraduate career in civil engineering at the University of Mississippi as both a scholar and a leader.

That's why her former professors weren't surprised to hear this spring that she had been named one of the National Engineers Week Foundation's 14 New Faces of Engineering for 2005.

Each year during National Engineers Week, the foundation honors engineers age 30 or younger who have shown outstanding abilities in their particular disciplines in their short careers. Phillips, a research civil engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, was the national nominee from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

"I honestly was very surprised that ASCE would select me out of all the other deserving engineers," Phillips said. "I read the bios of the New Faces from past years, and they were very impressive. Just to be included in their list is an honor few receive."

Engineers Week stated that Phillips was honored both for her Army airfield research, which evaluates airfields with an organized, systematic approach, and for her commitment to the future of engineering by continuously reaching out to young people.

Phillips is one of the youngest members of the Woods Order, a UM engineering alumni fund-raising and leadership group. She works to give young graduates and current students a voice among Ole Miss engineering alumni. She also speaks at local high school and science fairs to encourage young people to pursue careers in engineering.

"The focus of New Faces is engineers who serve the community, helping to build interest in engineering in junior high and high school students as well as the local community," Phillips said. "I hope that I will be able to work with the other New Faces to reach out at a more national level."

William Marcuson, who directed Phillips' research lab at the ERDC, nominated her to be one of ASCE's new faces, thinking she would surely be one of them. Instead, ASCE selected her as the top young professional in the organization.

"We were both very surprised and honored," Phillips said.

Alex Cheng, chair of the Ole Miss civil engineering department, said everyone at the School of Engineering should be proud of Phillips.

"In just two years, Lucy has accomplished some amazing things, and not just in her research," Cheng said. "Her demonstrated leadership in this state and her profession is a great testimonial for the emphasis on leadership education in Ole Miss engineering. We're all proud of Lucy."

Phillips, a native of Tunica, will earn her master's degree in civil engineering in May at Mississippi State University. She plans to pursue her doctorate while continuing her work at the ERDC.

Engineers Week, founded in 1951, is dedicated to raising public awareness of engineers' contributions to the quality of life and places special emphasis on encouraging young people in the profession.

by Angela Moore

Lucy's Speech for Engineering Awards Banquet 2002

"When Matt asked me to speak to you tonight, I did not know what to say. I decided to share with you why I went to Ole Miss to study engineering.

I have to tell you though, that I never wanted to become an engineer. I wanted to be an architect. I never wanted to go to Ole Miss. I have to tell you something else, I wanted to go to Mississippi State. My father even went to Mississippi State.

But my father, in his infinite wisdom, told me that I was not good enough at drawing, and was too smart in math and science to waste it on architecture. He told me that civil engineering was the SAME THING as architecture. ( I know now he was lying, but it sounded good at the time.) He also told me that the only architecture school in the state was a Mississippi State, and he had gone there already and had hated its location. That was news to me. This is coming from a man who had a bachelor and masters from Mississippi State and had even studied engineering there. To think he did not want me to follow in his footsteps surprised me. He said I would be too far from home and in an environment he thought was not suited for me.

Although I protested and fought with him every step of the way, I finally read the flyers and letters about Ole Miss's engineering school. I did not even know it had one. Every one who knew I was being forced into engineering assumed that State was the only engineering school. (Anyone who knew my father also knew it was pointless to argue with him- you would never win!) I quickly defended it by saying it was the oldest in the state. No one was more surprised than ME that what I had read had stuck. My mailbox was flooded each week with scholarship applications and more and more flyers about each department in the Ole Miss engineering school. I took notice the great persistence of the school and reluctantly applied.

I visited the campus for the scholarship interviews and was amazed at its beauty. I had never visited it except for one homecoming game earlier that year, but this visit I fell in love with it right away. I forgot about architecture school and told my dad he had won (for the time being). I decided to take the scholarships that Ole Miss had offered me and try it for one year. If I was not satisfied, he promised to let me transfer to State. One thing I have to say about Ole Miss's scholarship program, they offered me 3 times the amount that State offered me. Keep that up! Those alone (besides my father's flat out refusal to let me go anywhere else) made me come here.

My first year here I took my math and science classes for civil engineering, but never took a single engineering class. (Now the freshmen take an introductory course, but at the time, one was not offered.) Two semesters passed, and I knew nothing more about engineering than I had in high school. My father listened to my pleas about architecture school and helped me get a job working for a local architect in my hometown of Tunica, MS.

I learned right away that I DID NOT like architecture. One month into my job, I decided I knew nothing about engineering, and enough about what an architect does to know that I DID NOT want to be one. So then I had no clue what to do for the Fall semester.

Then without any warning, my father died of a massive heart attack. I called a couple of my friends for support (who happened to have been engineering students at Ole Miss and had taken all my classes with me the year before). They came running from all over the South with bags packed to stay with me as long as it took to help me pull myself together for the fall semester. That type of friendship I had never expected to have. Although I wanted to sit out a semester, they persuaded me to start school in 2 weeks and even let me move in with one of them.

I still did not know if I would like engineering, but decided to take a couple of courses in it but stay at 12 hours. My father was my best friend and the most dynamic person I had ever known. He drove every week to see me my freshman year, and it was hard to adjust to a major part of my life being ripped away. I had signed but for 18 that semester, and the civil engineering professors were so nice, they let me drop a couple of classes while I was still grieving.

Then a funny thing happened, I fell in love with civil engineering. I was challenged in my classes, and it helped me focus on my education again. By the time the year was over, I still had a 4.0 grade point average for the two years I was there. The classes I had dropped, I was able to make up in summer school, and I was back on the four-year program again. To help me pay for my education (my father had no life insurance or savings to support either mine or my sister's education), one of my professors offered me a job as a research assistant and lab assistant. The hours were flexible enough for me to study, and the income was greatly needed. He even hired my sister to help him (even though she was an education major and knew absolutely nothing about engineering) and we worked for him for three years. My sister, Julia, was in the building so much that everyone thought she was an engineering student despite the T-shirts she wore with EDUCATION on them. We must have had our noses in our books too much to notice signs like that.

That first semester back, I met older students in the engineering school who were more than happy to take me in and put me in all the activities. Before I knew it, I was the secretary of ASCE, secretary-treasurer of the Engineering Student Body, hosting the Mr. Engineering pageant, founding an Institute of Transportation Engineers, and an officer in most of the engineering honor societies and clubs.

My junior year I decided to run for President of the Engineering Student Body, and no one ran against me. I don't know if they were scared of me or I was the only one dumb enough to want more responsibility, but this year I found myself the President of the Engineering Student Body. I have enjoyed every minute of it.

I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that I would not be here today if it had not been for my classmates and professors. They are more than mentors and peers -- they are my friends. That is what keeps drawing people back to Ole Miss - the People. All the people in the Grove on Saturday for football games come back to relive that feeling of belonging. To remember those who challenged them and made them who they are. Even though their friends get older and their professors retire, they can still look back at what they had in their 4-7 years at Ole Miss. (I have many friends who made Ole Miss the best seven years of their life, and I know you do too!). But seriously, that spirit and sense of belonging keeps drawing us back year after year to try to recapture it.

I know that when one day when Matt calls me to donate to the engineering school (and I know you will), I will write as big a check as I can. And no matter how much money I make, I know what I can give monetarily will never be enough to repay this school for giving me all that it has given me.

Thank you."