Gilda Barabino exceled in math and science early on. She considered going to medical school to become a doctor, but she ultimately decided that she preferred research with applications in medicine over becoming a clinician. Barabino completed a B.S. in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans and decided to pursue chemical engineering in graduate school. She would become the first African American student admitted to Rice University to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering – a daunting and pioneering solo status, one of many firsts for Barabino, that didn’t stop her from following her dream of becoming a biomedical engineer.
Gilda Barabino is the Dean of the Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York (CCNY). She previously served as Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and the first Vice Provost for Academic Diversity at Georgia Tech. She also served as Professor of Chemical Engineering and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Northeastern University. Barabino has an extensive record of leadership and service in the biomedical engineering community.
Pursing her Ph.D. at Rice University, Barabino found herself interested in studying and focusing on medical applications of chemical engineering and fluid mechanics. “It makes sense to use mechanical principles of fluid flow through pipes to study blood flow in the body,” said Barabino. “In this case, the conduit is not a pipe but a blood vessel and the fluid is blood.”
Barabino focused her dissertation on sickle-cell anemia and has continued to pursue this area of research throughout her career. Specifically, she is interested in discovering ways to block adhesions that occur between red blood cells and cells lining the vessel walls in the disease. Barabino also spent time in the esteemed lab of Robert Langer at MIT in order to gain expertise in tissue engineering. She worked on the development of tissue-engineered cartilage for the repair of diseased or damaged tissue.
Barabino’s career hasn’t been without challenge. She experienced obstacles associated with being an underrepresented minority in the field such as isolation and marginalization. In order to mitigate these experiences, Barabino sought out networks and developed research collaborations. For minority students interested in pursing biomedical engineering, Barabino says, “Persistence and confidence are extremely important. Don’t be deterred. Seek out and use mentors and advisors that are willing to help and support your career’s success.”
Biomedical engineering is rewarding to Gilda Barabino because it offers her the opportunity to give back to the community. One of the ways she uses her technical background is to study sickle-cell anemia, which predominately affects African Americans, in order to improve the quality of life for individuals living with the disease.