A pioneer in the field of engineering, Barbara Kerr Beckmann became the first female engineering graduate at the University of Mississippi when she completed a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering in 1961. An ambitious student with a talent for math and science, Ms. Beckmann was initially convinced that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine before realizing that she did not have the personality to find long-term success in the field. She was further encouraged by her early mentor, University of Mississippi professor Dr. Frank Anderson, who she recalls “will always stand out because he didn’t treat me as something different. I was an engineering student first and foremost.” After completing her degree, Ms. Beckmann was hired by Humble Oil and Refining Co. as a computer analyst, after being rejected from numerous interviews for being a woman.
Ms. Beckmann thrived in her role as a computer analyst, spending seven years developing a number of simulation programs and serving as an adviser on the development of many key technical and analytical programs. She looks back on the time as a profoundly valuable stage of her career, as the work she was doing gave her an in-depth knowledge of many of the steps and processes involved in refinery. Though still early in her career, developing and testing software, particularly running simulations, gave Ms. Beckmann a better understanding of the refinery process than many engineers who had been in the field longer than her. As the only female engineer at the company, she still faced challenges, and remembers that in her early years with Humble, she would often be stuck sitting in meetings waiting to be consulted or not be offered a chance to speak at all. Despite the discomfort and discouragement she sometimes experienced, Ms. Beckmann strived to stay positive and look for opportunities for professional growth, describing her philosophy as “being there to do a job, and to do it well.”
Eventually, Ms. Beckmann moved from her computer analyst role into an engineering position, capitalizing on her comprehensive background knowledge of refinery processes and optimization. She remained with the company after it was purchased by ESSO, and through a series of leadership changes that led to a rebrand as Exxon, and the 1999 merger that created ExxonMobil. Ms. Beckmann continued to be a trailblazer and maintain a reputation for accuracy and diversity of knowledge throughout the sweeping growth and change that the energy industry saw through the second half of the 20th century. Currently, she acts as a senior economic adviser for the company, focusing on planning and optimization based out of the company’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana, branch. In 2021, she celebrated her 60th anniversary with the company, and hopes to continue her work for as long as she is able.
At ExxonMobil, Ms. Beckmann is passionate about mentoring young professionals and engineering students, and enjoys sharing the wisdom and experience that she has gathered over the course of her distinguished career. She advises students to find what they enjoy about the discipline and focus on it, and counsels early career professionals not to dwell on mistakes and to project confidence until it begins to come naturally to them. In recognition of her breakthrough contributions to engineering and the energy industry, Ms. Beckmann was named one of the American Business Learner’s Association’s Top 10 People and presented with a YWCA Trailblazer Award and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Mississippi. She is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and remains an active volunteer with the United Way, the Kiwanis Club, and her local church, where she serves as treasurer.