Women in Engineering: Barbara Reonas

Editor’s note: March is Women’s History Month, and the LSU College of Engineering is dedicated to celebrating the influential women who work and study here. Each week, the College will feature a woman—a staff member, an undergraduate student, a faculty member and an alumna—who has made a positive impact on the College and the engineering, construction management or computer science field.

Barbara Reonas, lead counselor in the College of Engineering’s Office of Student Services, has been going above and beyond her entire adult life. As a junior in high school, she received a scholarship and early admission to The University of Mississippi. There, her interest in counseling bloomed, and she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Philosophy in 1997.

Her undergraduate education and experiences ultimately led her to pursue a Master's in Education at LSU in Community Counseling. Early on, her graduate training gave her experience in counseling students in crisis.

“I was there [at the Southeastern Louisiana University Counseling Center] on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the terrorist attacks occurred, and I saw many college students that semester impacted by a world event out of their control,” she said.

Although she began working in a traditional mental health agency after her master’s program, Reonas eventually decided to apply for a student services counselor position in LSU’s College of Arts & Sciences (now Humanities & Social Sciences). She was drawn to the position because she enjoys working with people.

“I would not have predicted that higher education is where I would end up, but looking back at some of these formative experiences with college students, I understand why I answered the call from higher education and have essentially not looked back since,” Reonas said.

She joined LSU in 2004 and continues to find her job both rewarding and challenging. Now in the College of Engineering, where she has been for the last six years, Reonas enjoys being able to focus less on curriculum and focus more on helping students with career matters, stress and life management skills and challenging firmly held beliefs about the world and themselves.

When considering the position with the college in 2008, she said “working with engineering students appeared to have the potential to make me a stronger counselor.”

In addition to becoming a stronger counselor, she said, the college’s record growth and robust leadership also strengthened her administrative skills. In fact, Reonas was recognized and recently promoted to Lead Counselor, allowing her to further build her administrative and leadership skills.

Her responsibilities range from being a source of information for faculty, responding to and processing student emails, auditing student records to ensure they graduate on time, to editing the LSU General Catalog content and other communications from the office.

“The absolute most rewarding part of my work has always been having a job where people tell you that you've made a profound impact on their lives,” Reonas said. “As I've been less involved directly with students in recent years, I still enjoy seeing the impact of my work on students, but it often comes through the aspects of program development and quality control within our unit.”

Reonas is an influential leader outside of the college as well, serving as a Senator on the LSU Staff Senate. In this role, she assisted with the creation of the 2015-2020 Staff Senate strategic plan, reviewed and made suggestions to a number of LSU Policy statements and met with multiple administrators on campus to discuss staff concerns. She also serves as secretary on the group’s executive committee, acts as a liaison to the LSU Faculty Senate and was appointed to the Administrative Processes Improvement Committee.

She credits much of her success to the relationships she has made along the way, both professionally and personally. She finds support both as a professional and as a working mother through her supervisors, colleagues and other parents.

“Networking becomes essential in simply keeping you emotionally and mentally grounded and connected,” Reonas said. “My experience has shown that with greater connection comes greater satisfaction.”

She also serves as an informal mentor to many of her peers and younger colleagues, particularly for young women in pursuit of an education and career.

“I would advise any young woman, and especially those in engineering, to remember to strive to build your network within the workplace and in your home life as well,” she said.

What is most telling about Reonas’s influence is her outlook and perspective.

“Every day, LSU has examples of genuine, honorable, simple leadership and dedication. It's not fancy; it doesn't bother with pretension or feign its own importance to justify its worth. Yet, it is of what mature, temperate authority is composed. And in my opinion, it is that of which we should all be taking note, and being proud to work, teach, or study alongside.”

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Article written by Laura J. Odenwald, assistant manager of digital marketing.