Making an impact with STEM

As a Biomedical Engineer, Gilda Barabino utilizes engineering principals to find solutions to health problems. Outside of the lab, she continues to make an impact in her community as an advocate for diversity in science and engineering.

TRANSCRIPT

As a biomedical engineer, Gilda Barabino utilizes engineering principles to find solutions to health problems.

Outside of the lab, she continues to make an impact in her community as an advocate for diversity in science and engineering.

She joins us now to discuss her journey to becoming a leader in STEM and how she's inspiring others to follow a similar path.

At the time that you got into the field that you're in now, there probably weren't that many women and not so many people of color.

Exactly.

What made you want to keep going into it?

I believe part of my motivation is I've been a career-long advocate for social justice, even as a child.

I always wanted to make a difference and impact the world.

And part of that -- I had a interest in medicine, but not as a clinician.

So, as a African-American female without role models, I did look to places where I thought I could make a difference.

And one of the areas in particular as I started out with my graduate studies, for example, was to use engineering approaches to solve problems in medicine such as the abnormal blood flow in sickle-cell disease.

Just in the time that you've been in involved in this, what have you been surprised by?

Is it the pace of technological innovation?

Is it the kind of new methods that we're working on?

What's caught your eye?

What's caught my eye is that changes, discoveries, are rapid.

The innovations that are taking place are very quick.

Technologies that were available when I was a graduate student have increased now so that we can do more sophisticated studies than we could do even 20 years ago or 30 years ago, for example.

But what also catches my eye is even though we have those rapidly changing technologies, the access to the technologies is not necessarily there.

So, the communities that have access to the discoveries that are there, for example, or even those who have the opportunity to practice science to be the ones coming up with the innovative solutions.

And that's part of the focus that I've been doing is how do we bring more talent to the table?

Even your focus on sickle-cell.

I mean this is a conscious choice.

Absolutely.

So, one of the things that I've been most interested in is like how to give back to your own community.

When I went through my own studies, there were very few role models.

I was the first African-American in the graduate program at Rice University in chemical engineering, for example.

So, I've been accustomed to breaking barriers and opening the doors for other.

And that's been something that I've been very conscious of as I go through -- the need to have role models and to have others who look like you in these fields, that you can mimic.

And also, that the need for an extended talent pool so that we have multiple perspectives that come to the table to come up with solutions.

One of the things you mentioned is that this isn't a sort of superstar sport -- that science is collaborative.

Science is about teams.

That it's social.

It's not just about you in a lab by yourself.

Right.

That's an important aspect that often gets overlooked.

I tell my students all the time that science is social.

The same society that we work with that we are all part of, our laboratories, our institutions are just a microcosm of society.

If we really want to come up with the best solutions, we have to work collaboratively.

And I believe that in particular, the key innovations that are really going to make the difference and to come up with the solutions that we need for the complex problems that we're solving now, are going to come when we work across disciplines, we work across fields, we partner, we partner across institutions, we partner across the departments, agencies.

We have partnerships not only with the students, the faculty, and the administrators and those in government agencies, for example, but we also bring in the community, the community that we're serving.

We engage parents.

We engage teachers.

When all of that works together collaboratively, at multiple levels, then we have the best chance of coming up with decent solutions.

How do you inspire a young person to get into this field?

Part of what I think can inspire young people is if they can see how they can be involved, how they can belong, and how they can use what they're learning, the knowledge discovery to impact the world that they live in.

You asked earlier about some of what motivated me.

One of the reasons why I looked at sickle-cell disease in particular is because it predominantly affects African-Americans.

Mm-hmm.

And I specifically wanted to give back to my community during my graduate studies, and that was one way to do it.

There are other problems that I think people see.

If you think about sometimes what motivates people to go into medicine -- they had someone in their family who had cancer, for example.

What motivates someone to look into a technical field where they had someone in their family who was an engineer?

I'm particularly interested in how do we make sure that everyone has exposure and sees these opportunities regardless of whether or not they had someone in their family to help direct them.

Gilda Barabino, thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you.