UK Alum Trailblazing Path for Female Engineers from Eastern Kentucky

Photo of Rebecca Liebert

You could say, three p’s shaped Rebecca Liebert: planning, project management and not procrastinating.

For the University of Kentucky alumna, these qualities were instilled early in life. Planning for crops on her family’s farm in eastern Kentucky, while managing schoolwork was no simple task and she was not one to procrastinate.

Fast forward, Liebert, executive vice president at PPG — a global manufacturer of paints, coatings and specialty materials — attributes her successful career to leaning in on these three p’s.

Now, she’s applying those same principles in a philanthropic commitment to the university.

Accepted by the UK Board of Trustees, Liebert recently donated more than $6 million to establish the Dr. Rebecca Burchett Liebert Dean’s Fund in the College of Engineering.

In recognition of her commitment, the dean of the college will be referred to as the “Dr. Rebecca Burchett Liebert Dean of the College of Engineering.”

Additionally, the fund will provide scholarship support to undergraduate students from eastern Kentucky — with an emphasis on supporting female students and those who would strengthen UK’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“I am incredibly proud I can provide this gift to the University of Kentucky, but it is so much more than just a gift — it is an investment in securing a diverse future for the College of Engineering,” Liebert said. “I am convinced, we can continue to make a difference in the lives of future UK students from eastern Kentucky.”

Rudolph Buchheit is proud to be the inaugural “Dr. Rebecca Burchett Liebert dean of the College of Engineering.”

“Dr. Liebert’s gift is gratifying in many ways. She is from a family that values education and the opportunity it creates,” Buchheit continued. “Her example will inspire many future generations of Kentucky students and reminds us of the important contributions of women who are leaders in our field and the need to continue to strengthen diversity.”

“This transformative gift will not only elevate the field of engineering but reflects our mission to create a diverse, vibrant community with the most talented students from right here in the Commonwealth,” President Eli Capilouto added. “Dr. Liebert is opening the doors of UK to young women in eastern Kentucky aspiring to become engineers and making their dreams a reality. I am beyond grateful for her generosity and her commitment to providing affordability and accessibility to higher education to help build our next generation of leaders.”

Liebert attributes her success to surrounding herself with a great team of people, the continued support of her husband of 28 years, Keith Liebert, and her family that still resides in Kentucky.

In fact, both of her parents worked as teachers and then administrators in the local school district, while running the family farm on the side. Already an engineer at heart, Liebert’s constant curiosity in understanding how things worked — from fixing electric fences to mixing pesticides and fertilizer — made her a “practical” engineer from an early age.

“Truth be told, I almost ended up in the medical field. Before arriving at UK, I had planned to obtain a chemistry degree and then apply to medical school, but through a chance meeting on campus with some chemical engineering students, everything changed,” Liebert explained. “As a math and science junkie, this happenstance meeting made me realize engineering was my passion that put me on my path to earning a degree in chemical engineering from UK in 1990.”

After earning her doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon in 1995, Liebert began her career as a development engineer with Nova Chemicals. As she held positions of increasing responsibility at Nova Chemicals, Liebert commuted from Pittsburgh to Chicago on weekends to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

In 2004, Liebert seized a new opportunity — becoming president of Alcoa’s Reynolds Food Packaging and Kama divisions. She remained with Alcoa until 2006, when she joined Honeywell to become vice president and general manager of the electronic materials business. In 2012, Liebert was made senior vice president and general manager of Honeywell UOP and in 2016, she was named president and CEO of the division.

In 2018, Liebert joined PPG as senior vice president and assumed her current role as executive vice president in 2019. She is focused on engineering the best paints and coatings for the global automotive industry and the company’s mobility initiatives. Liebert also leads global operations for the industrial segment, the procurement function and the Asia Pacific region.

The needs and demands of the coating industry are rapidly changing, keeping her on her toes and she wants aspiring engineers to feel the same excitement she does when she unveils a new breakthrough or sees positive results from a minor adjustment.

Liebert’s gift and future donations to the Dr. Rebecca Burchett Liebert Dean’s Fund supports the university’s comprehensive campaign, Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign, which increases opportunities for student success, funds innovative research, improves health care, strengthens UK’s alumni network and enhances athletic programs.

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