In celebration of Women’s History Month, the College of Engineering has selected various women to highlight including alumnae, students, and faculty, each with their own unique contributions and perspectives.
For the last 18 years, Lesley Lewis has worked for Mississippi Power. Although engineering has been considered a male dominated industry, Lewis said she sees a change gradually happening in the workforce.
The 41-year-old Ocean Springs, Mississippi native currently serves as the operations manager at the company’s Gulfport plant. She has held engineering, maintenance, operations, and corporate positions at all of Mississippi Power’s coastal facilities. She served as assistant to the President and was named plant manager of the company’s cogenerating plant at Chevron Refinery Pascagoula. Lewis was the second female manager to be named to the position.
Lewis said she had the opportunity in her career to hear testimonies of women who are working in male dominated fields and has seen how things have changed over time.
But one testimony in particular always resonated with her.
Susan O’Malley was the first female general manager for a professional basketball team, the Washington Wizards. One of her mottos is, “Play the game, but don’t give up your identity.” When Susan accepted this role, there were few women available to mentor her.
“Being a woman in a male dominated field, it is very import to support each other,” Lewis said. “It is something that is not always easy to do and women are sometimes reluctant to do it.”
Lewis refers to this as the abundance mentality.
She explained in the past women were reluctant to help their peers because they feared that opportunities for females were limited and if one person was successful, there would be nothing left for the others.
“Now, it seems that women are beginning to accept that there is an abundance of success and that every successful woman makes the path a little better for the next one,” Lewis said.
Lewis said when she encounters women in the engineering industry, she really focuses on that.
“Women bring a lot to the table; a questioning attitude, different ideas, perspectives and innovative ways to do things,” Lewis said.
Prior to becoming a student at Louisiana State University, Lewis said a lot of her peers were attending Ole Miss or Mississippi State, but those campuses were fairly far away from her home.
“I told my parents I wanted to go to LSU,” Lewis said. “They told me out-of-state tuition was going to be expensive.”
She looked into getting an out-of-state tuition waiver, but she stumbled across something bigger. Lewis said when she came to the University for spring testing, she found out she was eligible for the Chancellor’s Scholarship, which included all tuition and a part time job.
“Nobody called me and told me they have this scholarship available,” Lewis said. “You really have to take it upon yourself to check into that kind of stuff.”
Lewis graduated from LSU in 1998, but majoring in engineering was not her first choice. She started college with the thought of becoming a medical doctor, but she did not want to invest that much time in her education before starting her career.
“One of my best friend's [from high school] father was a medical doctor, but his undergrad was in electrical engineering,” Lewis said. “I thought engineering would be a good fit, in the event that I decided to pursue the medical degree.”
After graduation, Lewis said she looked for the perfect job for about a year. She interviewed for several different positions, but when a position opened up at Mississippi Power, she interviewed for the job and was selected for it.
Lewis has broken many barriers within the engineering industry, but she said there is still work to be done.
“We need to accept the fact that there is enough success for everyone,” she said. “I see that changing, and it is changing for the better.”
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Raven Nichols, communications intern, LSU College of Engineering