Passing on Her Passion

Dawn Blackledge makes her mark in industry; giving back to her alma mater

Dawn Blackledge

Dawn Blackledge

Thirty-three years ago, K. Dawn Blackledge was just another new University of Mississippi graduate looking for employment. Today, the geology and geological engineering alumna is the founder-CEO of the Blackledge Group and a major donor to her alma mater.

Blackledge has given $110,000 gift to Ole Miss, including $60,000 to endow a School of Engineering scholarship to help students in the geological engineering program offset tuition costs and promote participation in the Society of Women Engineers. An additional $50,000 donation to the Triplett Alumni Center is earmarked to sponsor a suite in the Inn at Ole Miss.

“I feel strongly that science and engineering should continue to flourish at Ole Miss, and I want to help deserving students pursue their passion of becoming an engineer,” said the Laurel native who resides in Jacksonville, Florida. “The GE program offers graduates so many opportunities and so many choices of industries for career opportunities.”

After earning her “dirty boots” in the Gulf Coast petroleum industry, Blackledge relocated to Jacksonville, where she entered public service with the city’s new Department of Environmental Resources. After 10 years of private and public experience, Blackledge founded Aerostar Environmental Services Inc., a full-service environmental engineering and remediation firm, in 1992. Under her leadership, the company grew to a business of more than 80 employees with 12 offices throughout eight states. She sold the company in 2012.

The Blackledge Group provides technical expertise to public and private clients in the areas of water resources, environmental compliance, energy and sustainability.

“I strongly believe that entrepreneurship provides the best opportunity to influence business philosophies and promote positive changes in policies and practices as the world continues to move at a lightning pace,” Blackledge said. “Also, women are still underrepresented in engineering. I feel it’s important to demonstrate that the engineering field can provide women with the opportunity to not only achieve their dreams but also the opportunity to create their own dreams.”

Blackledge said she grew up with a love for the university, where she was active in the Delta Delta Delta sorority.

“My best memories are the friends I made while at Ole Miss,” she said. “I lived in the Tri Delt house and had a blast attending football games and swaps, playing intramural sports and hanging out in the Grove.”

Blackledge joins the School of Engineering Advisory Board in 2016. Her generosity is noted and appreciated by faculty in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering.

“Dawn has been an exemplary alumnus, one who has excelled professionally and invested back into the program both financially and with her time,” said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering. “The Blackledge Scholarship is one of the more coveted awards we make each year, and we are privileged to have her serving as a departmental representative on the school’s engineering advisory board.”

Blackledge is a well-respected environmental professional and business owner. She was appointed by the governor of Florida to the State of Florida Board of Professional Geologists in 2000 and served as board chairman during her second term, ending in 2007.

The UM grad also serves on the board of directors for the Society of American Military Engineers Jacksonville Post. She is an appointed member of the University of North Florida’s Dean Advisory Board, a graduate of Leadership Jacksonville, a founding associate of the First Coast Manufacturers Association and mentor to new women-owned businesses.

Blackledge is a certified construction quality manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Navy. At the state level, she is an expert at storm water permitting and has taught classes throughout the state.

A longtime runner, she is working on one her “bucket list” items. “When I was at Ole Miss, I ran from one end of the town to the other,” she said. “My new goal is to run at least one 10-K in every state. So far, I’ve run in 10 states.”

Blackledge said she will always continue to support Ole Miss engineering.

“I was so impressed with the changes on the campus that I wanted to be a part of the university’s continuing growth,” she said. “I am very proud of my alma mater and feel blessed to be a part of the Ole Miss tradition of ‘giving back.’ I hope many students will be able to be blessed as I have been blessed.”