Gift gives students opportunity to attend professional conferences

March 2012 By

Each year since the 1980s, Barbara Kerr Beckmann has written a check to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering. This year, Beckmann, the school's first female graduate, contributed $10,000 toward an endowment for the Society of Women Engineers.

Beckmann, a native of Aubrey, Ark., said her latest donation is intended to provide the means for engineering students to attend joint meetings with peers and future co-workers.

"This donation is a little more personal," said Beckmann (BSChE 61). "I think it is really important for students to go to professional conferences because it provides them with that first opportunity to interact with peers on all levels."

Beckmann, who recently celebrated her golden anniversary at ExxonMobil and moved from Houston, Texas, to Baton Rouge, La., said she credits the company for "helping stretch her donation dollars even more."

"ExxonMobil matches educational donations three-to-one," she said. "That's simply amazing and wonderful. It makes my money go way further, and it proves the company is dedicated to helping its employees help others."

The Ole Miss chapter of the Society of Women Engineers is dedicated not only to professional development but also to the retention, recruitment and advancement of women in engineering and technology fields, said Elizabeth Ervin, chapter adviser.

In fact, for several years SWE has hosted its "Introduce a Gal to Engineering Day" on a shoestring budget. Beckmann's donation will enable the engineering school to "host this outreach program for many years to come," said Ervin, UM assistant professor of civil engineering.

"We now have a vehicle for improving our own fundraising, so our society can reach even more gals than the 60 this year," she said. "Barbara's donation has provided vital visibility for our organization, and we wholeheartedly thank her."

Beckmann said she likes to share in ways that benefit other people, and it is especially important for her to aid budding female engineers.

She credits the School of Engineering for enabling her to be in a position to give back, both professionally and financially.

"Ole Miss engineering is very special," Beckmann said. "Not only does it prepare you for a successful engineering career but [also] for other things in life. I honestly think it's because the school includes the best liberal arts education, too. Students leave Ole Miss knowing their trade but also leave with so many other skills, including knowing how to interact with others."