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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

YWCA Women of Achievement honors WSU professor Celestina Barbosa-Leiker with science, technology and environment award

Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, a Washington State University professor with a doctorate in experimental psychology, has been selected by the YWCA Spokane as the 2019 Woman of Achievement award honoree for science, technology and environment. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)

Hard work is part of Celestina Barbosa-Leiker’s DNA. As a child she watched her parents get advanced degrees while they worked and as a Latina woman, Barbosa-Leiker knew hard work was part of her future.

“I knew I would have to work very hard to be at the table,” she said.

Barbosa-Leiker has done more than get a seat at the table. She’s a college professor with a doctorate in experimental psychology. She’s also the doctorate program director for the Washington State University College of Nursing, associate dean for research and vice chancellor for research for WSU Health Sciences Spokane. Her hard work and leadership have prompted the YWCA to name her the 2019 Woman of Achievement for science, technology and environment.

Barbosa-Leiker is one of 10 women selected by the YWCA Spokane to receive a Women of Achievement award at the organization’s annual luncheon Oct. 11 at11:30 a.m. at the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets are $125 and available by calling (509) 789-9312.

She grew up in Southern California and it took her several years and several community colleges to earn her first degree. “I was a nontraditional student,” she said. “My husband and I worked full time, and we saved up to take classes one at a time.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and then applied to the top school to get her master’s degree in experimental psychology – WSU. She was hired to teach at WSU soon after she finished grad school and has been teaching classes in the College of Nursing for the last nine years.

She has also researched how stress relates to substance abuse and cardiovascular disease and is working to research the use of cannabis by pregnant and postpartum women. She said many women were using cannabis to treat chronic pain when they discovered they were pregnant. “The women weren’t using it for the fun of it,” she said.

Her work doesn’t go into whether their cannabis use has any long-term cognitive impact on their babies, she said. More funding would be needed for that. “There’s so much work to be done,” she said.

Barbosa-Leiker said she knew for years that she wanted to earn a doctorate. She worked her way through school as a psychology technician in a variety of roles, working with disabled adults and dementia patients. “I had a lot of clinical positions and I knew I wanted to get as much training as I possibly could,” she said.

But she never really planned on holding so many leadership positions. That seed was planted when she took the provost’s leadership academy as a junior faculty member and one of her assignments was to shadow someone in a leadership position. That assignment sparked her interest.

Many women are reluctant to seek leadership positions, Barbosa-Leiker said. “We wait to be chosen instead of actively seeking the role,” she said.

But Barbosa-Leiker chose to actively pursue leadership positions and many people she reached out to for help were supportive and helped her move up the ranks. “Everything has progressed quickly,” she said. “I’ve just had phenomenal mentoring. I have been so completely lucky.”

Along the way she has tried to help women follow in her footsteps. “That is my probably my biggest passion right now is mentoring students and faculty, particularly women and students of color,” she said.

Leadership positions in academia are still male dominated and Barbosa-Leiker wants to help change that. “Now that I’m at the table, that’s not enough,” she said. “I need to get other people to the table.”

Barbosa-Leiker said she’s honored and humbled to be a member of the select group of Women of Achievement award recipients.

“I almost cried I was so excited,” she said of her reaction to hearing the news. “As an assistant professor I had seen some of my mentors get this award.”

When she goes to the award luncheon, she won’t go alone. “We’re going to invite students,” she said. “I’m really hoping to encourage women.”