Dawn Blackledge Named 2020 UM Engineer of Distinction

Geology and geological engineering alumna a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist

Dawn Blackledge

Dawn Blackledge has received many prestigious awards and recognition during her almost 40-year career. Yet for the president and CEO of The Blackledge Group Inc., none of them compares to having been named the 2020 University of Mississippi Engineer of Distinction.

“I was honored and speechless,” said Blackledge, whose Jacksonville, Florida-based company specializes in environmental compliance and due diligence, and business consulting services.

“The Ole Miss engineering program is one of the best in the country. Other awards I have received were associated with business accomplishments, so this one was extra special because I define myself first and foremost as an engineer.”

Blackledge is a most worthy recipient of the recognition, said Dave Puleo, dean of the School of Engineering.

“Dawn has distinguished herself in multiple ways – as an engineer, businesswoman, serial entrepreneur, public servant and philanthropist, to name just a few,” Puleo said. “We are thrilled to recognize her as the school’s Engineer of Distinction for 2020.”

Since earning her bachelor’s degree in geology and geological engineering from Ole Miss in 1982, Blackledge has started and sold several companies over the past 30 years.

“I think my most appropriate job description is ‘entrepreneur,’” said the Laurel, Mississippi, native. “Although I specialize in consulting services particularly as they pertain to mergers and acquisitions, my first love is still engineering. I am enjoying doing a combination of both business consulting and engineering. I am a staunch believer in small business and work diligently to assist small businesses succeed.”

Blackledge said her company being recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in Florida was a meaningful professional achievement.

“My team worked very hard to achieve that growth,” she said. “Other significant achievements were selection to the Leadership Jacksonville program and being selected as Associate of the Year for many years for work with the manufacturers in the Southeast.”

One of Blackledge’s greatest opportunities was being appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to serve on the Board of Professional Geologists for the state of Florida.

“I learned so much about how government works at the state level and met many wonderful people through that eight-year appointment,” she said.

Blackledge said most of the success she’s achieved in her career can be traced back to the solid foundation she built during her time at Ole Miss.

“The Ole Miss School of Engineering provides so much opportunity to expand your total knowledge base, with an emphasis on teamwork and communication,” Blackledge said. “I do not think I would have been as prepared for a leadership role if I had not been given the opportunity to lead through teamwork at Ole Miss.”

Blackledge described her graduating class in 1982 as “very small” because geological engineering was one of the newer programs.

“We were a tight group who encouraged each other in all aspects,” she said. “I also believe participating in a sorority (Tri Delta) was beneficial to my career success. Again, so much of being in a sorority is about teamwork and learning to work with others. I am grateful I had that opportunity as part of my overall college experience.”

Blackledge has supported Ole Miss engineering through the outreach programs at her various companies.

“I have maintained an outreach program for graduating geologists and geological engineers,” she said. “I was also blessed to be able to endow a scholarship for geology and geological engineering. Through the endowment, we have provided scholarships to many incredible students, allowing them to continue their education in the engineering field.”

She has worked on various initiatives aimed at attracting more female high school students into STEM programs.

Blackledge has been an unrelenting advocate of the School of Engineering and the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at Ole Miss, giving of her time as well as her income, said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering.

“She established a significant endowed scholarship several years ago with a desire to boost the representation of women in engineering, and has been one of the most active members of our school and department advisory board,” he said.

In spring 2020, 24% of the students enrolled in the School of Engineering (320 out of 1,334) were women.

Outside of work, Blackledge enjoys running.

“I have been a distance runner since I was 15 years old,” she said. “Marni (Kendricks, assistant engineering dean for academics) can attest to that.”

A member of the School of Engineering Advisory Board, Blackledge fondly recalled a moment following a board meeting.

“Marni and a group passed me in a golf cart as I was running towards the Square,” Blackledge said. “I absolutely love running in Oxford. I do not get a lot of opportunities to run hills over here at the beach.”

Kendricks confirmed Blackledge’s zeal for running around campus.

“For a geological engineering student who really wanted to meet Dawn during Engineering Advisory Council Day, I advised her with a grin, ‘Wear your running shoes to class, and try to catch her late in the day after her meetings,’” Kendricks said. “’She’s all over campus, but you gotta be fast.’”

Blackledge also enjoys tennis and writing. She recently started a blog site that is not at all connected to engineering.

“It focuses on the role of the ‘gig’ worker in the new economy,” Blackledge said. “The writing allows me to pursue my creative passion, as designing remedial systems (is) not all that creative.”

Blackledge’s immediate family includes her mother and sister (who live with her in Jacksonville) and several dogs.

“I have four-legged children,” she said. “I always have dogs, and I always have rescues. At this time, family is particularly important.”