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New Orleanian, Xavier grad Gilda Barabino named to lead world's largest scientific society

“The president of the AAAS is one of the most prestigious positions in all of science."

NEW ORLEANS — The world’s largest scientific society has named a Black woman from New Orleans and Xavier University graduate as its president-elect.

Gilda Barabino began her term as president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week. She will serve a year as president-elect, then a year as AAAS president and then a year as chairwoman of the association’s board of directors.

The AAAS is the world’s leading scientific professional organization and publishes the major scientific journal Science.

“Science has the power to change the world,” Barabino said in a statement posted by the Olin College of Engineering, where she already serves as a professor and the school's president. “Harnessing that power requires science for all in service of humanity. I am excited to join the leadership of AAAS and contribute to the advancement of its mission in new and transformative ways.”

Last July, Barabino became only the second president of Olin College, an engineering school in Needham, Mass., a suburb of Boston. She is a biomedical engineering professor at Olin and a former dean at City College of New York. Barabino is noted for her work on sickle cell disease and cellular and tissue engineering.

She's also a prominent voice in seeking racial equity in the sciences. She is the founder of the National Institute for Faculty Equity and a member of the National Academies’ Roundtable on Black Men and Black Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine.

An Olin College spokeswoman said Barabino's parents were originally from New Orleans, but her father served in the military and she was born in Alaska. She was raised back in New Orleans, though, attended Ben Franklin High School and stayed for her undergraduate studies at Xavier, the spokeswoman said.

She said Barabino's mother still lives in New Orleans.

Don Boesch, another renowned scientist from New Orleans and the former president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, called Barabino’s selection a major achievement, not only for her but for New Orleans in general.

“The president of the AAAS is one of the most prestigious positions in all of science,” Boesch said. “That Dr. Barabino could achieve this distinction should encourage all children in New Orleans that through hard work and determination they too can achieve great things.” 

Before becoming an award-winning scientist and member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, Barabino earned her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Xavier. She went on to earn a doctorate at Rice University and in 2016 was awarded an honorary graduate degree by Xavier. She now sits on Xavier’s board of directors.

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