Expanding the Oval and Opening Doors: The Inauguration of Olin President Gilda Barabino
May 9, 2022
On May 5, 2022, Olin College celebrated a milestone event two years in the making—the long-awaited and much celebrated inauguration of its second president and first Black woman president, Dr. Gilda A. Barabino.
Joined by delegates, trustees, students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and guests from far and wide, the Olin Community gathered on a perfect New England spring day to hear personal stories and words of wisdom from honored guests, and to witness to President Barabino’s formal investiture ceremony.
Watch the ceremony
View a gallery of photos from the day
View well wishes from the community + beyond (scroll down)
Engineering for Everyone
In her inaugural remarks, President Barabino thanked the Olin Board of trustees for their partnership, trust and confidence. She thanked Olin’s first president and President Emeritus Rick Miller and promised to continue to carry forward the legacy he successfully started at Olin's founding.
Barabino thanked founder Larry Milas for his “forethought and vision to establish Olin. To not try and rework an established institution, but instead start with a clean slate and create a unique engineering college that emphasized an interdisciplinary approach, hands-on experiences, and set a standard of gender diversity that many engineering colleges would later try to emulate.”
She recognized BOW colleagues, President Paula Johnson of Wellesley College and President Stephen Spinelli of Babson College, who “represent two institutions that are close in geography… as well as in spirit… to our own.”
President Barabino then unveiled Olin’s vision for the future: Engineering for Everyone.
“We believe the world urgently needs engineering education to be welcoming to, and enable the success of, people from all backgrounds,” said Barabino. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve their potential, and the problems we face will require collaboration from across disciplines.”
“It came as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would find my way to Olin, an institution founded on the premise of constant change and innovation,” said Barabino. “As a career-long activist from the classroom to the laboratory to broader society, I have sought to combat inequity through engineering education and research and through the connection of the technical to the social.”
“In the face of more complicated and rapidly evolving problems, we need rapid change; in the face of rapid change, we need agility, and in the face of opportunity gaps, we need opportunity to meet talent,” she said. “We must seize this moment and build on what it is that makes us uniquely Olin.”
Barabino then announced the launch of a Presidential Strategic Initiatives Fund, which today has close to $1,000,000 dollars thanks to the very generous support of our Board of Trustees. This seed funding will enable Olin to begin the work of Engineering for Everyone right away.
"Keep Unleashing Dreams”
In true Olin fashion, the inaugural ceremony embraced aspects of the traditional and combined the pomp and circumstance with elements special to Olin: telling stories, making connections, and learning by doing. Guests seated in the tent had several opportunities to reflect on the speakers’ stories, meet their neighbors, and contribute to a piece of community artwork.
The inaugural speakers shared deeply personal stories with the Olin community to mark the occasion of Gilda’s inauguration and Olin’s vision of Engineering for Everyone.
From the Olin community, student Moisés Sabido Garcia ’24 urged the audience to listen to each other and hear each other. Emily Roper-Doten, Olin’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, encouraged patience, grace and trust when having difficult conversations. Dr. Alison Wood, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, asked of the audience: “Make room for everyone, especially those who have been left out. We can choose to make room for everyone.”
Lee Edwards ’07, a member of the Board of Trustees, said of being an Olin alum, “You are part of something that has a life beyond you.” He also shared a wish for Olin saying he hoped "we never lose that spirit, the spirit of not just being resilient to change, but of seeking it out and actively embracing it."
An honored group from President Barabino’s deep circle of colleagues, mentors, friends and family also shared their stories and connections with Gilda. Jori Barabino, Gilda’s son and a Director of Pre-Award Research Administration at Tufts University, told Oliners that Gilda “will challenge you to do hard things and will have your back while you do them.”
Georgia Tech Professors Dr. Sheryl Leggon and Dr. Willie Pearson, Jr., longtime colleagues of Gilda, expressed, “There is work to be done telling the story so that funders and policy makers understand there is nothing wrong with the underrepresented groups in STEM, but rather the systemic and structural barriers that limit their full participation in STEM.”
Dr. David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands, spoke of his upbringing in a segregated Savannah, Georgia in the 1950s, and the door he opened for Gilda years later as colleagues at Northeastern University. Our calling as educators should be to “open the door for people who may have lacked the skills, but not the imagination or the drive,” he said. “We should not enter into the ivory towers of higher education just for our own careers, but to make a difference for people. To open doors that are shut, and to shut doors of oppression, denial and darkness.”
Hall’s wish for Olin: “That you have the courage to walk through these doors. They are a gift from Gilda and from generations of courageous people who opened doors for others.” And as the road gets difficult, to “keep the faith and keep walking,” and find the sense of joy in the hard work.
“Olin, in selecting Gilda as your president, you have selected a leader with creative vision and deep commitment, who will never, never give up in the pursuit of opening up the next big opportunity to make a difference.”
Former board Chair Ken Stokes P’12 and former chair and founding trustee Bill Norden presided over President Barabino’s formal investiture, standing in for current Chair Beverly Wyse P’15. Stokes noted the Board’s overwhelming sentiment at the time of the 2020 presidential search that Barabino was not just the best person for the job, but the perfect person to lead Olin into the future.
“Since arriving on campus in July 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, under Gilda’s leadership the College brought students back to campus safely, made a number of important organizational changes, began in earnest to address financial challenges, developed a vision for Olin’s future, and will shortly unveil a new strategic plan,” said Stokes. “It is my privilege to formally recognize you as the second president of Olin College today.”
Expanding the Oval
After the inauguration ceremony, guests enjoyed a Block Party held on the campus Oval with food, games, and an opportunity to interact with the community art piece created by Artist in Residence Elisa Hamilton and her team of student artists.
Guests also enjoyed a Candidates’ Week-style Story Slam featuring stories by President Barabino, alum Michael Costello ’18, Dr. Amon Millner, Associate Professor of Computing and Innovation, Adva Waranyuwat, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and student Milo Wiston ’23.
Following the Block Party, guests were invited to an alumni panel moderated by Dr. Lawrence Neeley, Associate Professor of Design and Entrepreneurship, and featuring Jeff Satwicz ’06 (Big Belly), Erika Boeing ’10 (Accelerate Wind), Nikhil Gupta ’13 (Determinant Materials), James Regulinski ’13 (Carbon Collective) and Kevin Simon '12 (Khethworks).
The panelists shared their companies’ origin stories and how they started businesses that create a sustainable future for all. In addition, each alum shared how their Olin experiences contributed to their professional journeys, and the ways the College and Olin alumni they meet in the world continue to be meaningful presences in their lives.