Four graduates of the George R. Brown School of Engineering have been named 2023 Laureates Awards Honorees by the Association of Rice Alumni.
Receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award are Gilda Barabino ’86, Sandra K. Johnson ’88 and Eric Nelson ’83. Receiving the Meritorious Service Award is Frank Jones ’58 ’61.
Barabino is president of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, a private undergraduate engineering school in Massachusetts. In 1986, she earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Rice University, becoming the first black woman admitted to the graduate program in that department. She also became only the fifth black woman in the country to earn a doctorate in the field.
In 2019, Barabino was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, which recognized her for “leadership in bioengineering research and inclusive models of bioengineering education and faculty mentoring.” The following year she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, which recognized her for “leadership and contributions in shaping and transforming the face of biomedical engineering.”
Johnson in 1988 became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Rice. She went directly to the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center as a researcher. She remained with the company for more than 25 years in various capacities, and was part of the team that developed the prototype for IBM’s Deep Blue chess machine.
In 2011, Johnson became IBM’s business development executive for the Middle East and Africa, eventually becoming IBM Central’s CTO for East and West Africa. She lived in Nairobi, Kenya, and visited 22 African nations. Johnson retired from IBM in 2014 and became CEO of SKJ Visioneering, the IT consulting firm that became Global Mobile Finance, Inc.
Nelson earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from Rice in 1983 and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin in 1988. After graduating from Rice, he volunteered for the Peace Corps in Liberia, starting a career in public service that includes serving in Islamabad, Milan, Mexico City, Frankfurt and Santo Domingo, and in Washington, D.C.
He served as U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2019 to 2022. Nelson is now the U.S. Ambassador in Residence at the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies in Germany, guiding the institute’s strategy to address regional, transnational and global security challenges.
Jones is the Noah Harding Professor of Mathematics at Rice. After earning his B.A. in chemical engineering from the Rice Institute in 1958, Jones completed his Ph.D. in mathematics at Rice in 1961, and joined the Rice faculty in 1962.
Jones received his first George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching in 1968, and again in 1972, 1973, 1978, 1985 and 1990. In 1980 and 1991, he was given Rice’s highest teaching honor, the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching. He received the Nicolas Salgo Distinguished Teacher Award in 1977 and 1994, and in 2007 was named the Texas Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The Laureates Awards will be formally presented during the Association of Rice Alumni reception and dinner at the Post Oak Hotel in Houston on May 4.