Fellow Grade

Cynthia Oliver Coleman, P.E.

Houston Area Section of SWE

For her groundbreaking career as a chemical engineer; for steadfast support and mentorship of students in STEM; and for embodying SWE’s mission of empowering women to excel in engineering.

Cynthia Oliver Coleman, P.E., is a retired ExxonMobil chemical engineer and a passionate engineering volunteer leader. The first in her family to attend college, she graduated magna cum laude in 1971, becoming one of the first two women and the first Black woman to earn a B.S. in chemical engineering at the University of Houston during a time when colleges were just beginning to desegregate. She is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Texas.

Oliver Coleman’s parents envisioned her being a college graduate yet were uncertain that a company would hire a young Black woman chemical engineer, not even one with an exemplary academic career that included scholarships and membership in the prestigious Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. Their concerns were alleviated when Oliver Coleman began her career as the first and only woman engineer at the East Texas Division of ExxonMobil. She started as a gas engineer and designed a gas plant for new reserves.

During what became a 33-year career with the company, she took advantage of ExxonMobil’s trainings and professional development, preparing her for positions in gas engineering, reservoir engineering, engineering applications, recruiting, and information systems.

She also participated in ExxonMobil-sponsored outreach and mentoring programs with area schools to provide youth interested in STEM resources she did not have in school. Oliver Coleman launched a partnership with a local high school and recruited more than 70 company volunteers who provided tutoring, lab assistance, and college prep skills. They also advised school clubs such as Odyssey of the Mind and the Junior Engineering Technical Society.

Oliver Coleman joined the Society of Women Engineers Houston Area Section (SWE-HA) following a chance meeting with the section’s president, who also worked at ExxonMobil. Although she retired from ExxonMobil in 2004, Oliver Coleman has remained steadfast in her desire to inspire, mentor, and prepare girls, young women, and people of color for the range of opportunities in STEM. A SWE life member since 2009, Oliver Coleman has often served SWE-HA as a liaison, coordinating programs with her alma mater and or the SWE section at the University of Houston. She volunteers as a counselor, science fair judge, and mentorship sponsor, among others.

She also devotes time to leadership service to her alma mater. Oliver Coleman serves on the UH Petroleum Engineering Advisory Board and the Engineering Alumni Association. She is the first Black woman engineer and second woman engineer to have her portrait in the university’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni Hall of Fame. She is founder and chair emerita of the Engineering Alumni Association’s Engineers Week, which generated a 10-year total of $330,000 in scholarships for engineering students and student organizations under her leadership.

She has been featured in various publications throughout her career and is one of more than 230 women profiled in Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers (2006), a book often used today in educational outreach.

Oliver Coleman; her husband, Leonard; and their daughter Kelly all earned degrees from the University of Houston. The family lives in Houston.