When I was asked to join the search committee for Barnard’s next president, I was honored, and, I must say, a little overwhelmed. Barnard College deserves a president who will take it to the next level by building upon the amazing place that it is and the place I know it can continue to be. The search process was one that involved multiple constituencies and while each committee member expressed similar needs, we were looking for someone who could be a leader and understand the challenges and opportunities in women’s education. We were looking for a scholar; someone able to work across the college and the wider Columbia community. During my time at Barnard, I knew it to be a place that educates the brightest women and provides them an environment that helps them grow and be leaders in anything they choose to pursue.
As I look back on Barnard’s past presidents, I realize that each was the right choice for the time. Everyone remembers their experience at Barnard differently, and there were many things that each president brought to the college and left as their legacy.
I had the pleasure of getting to know and working with President Judith Shapiro as a student from 1997 to 2001. I recall her coming to sing at our class dinners and attending meetings with the Student Government Association’s executive board. She was instrumental in the conception of the Diana Center and had a strong relationship with the faculty and staff. I got to know President Debora Spar during my time as alumna trustee and my involvement in the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. President Spar elevated Barnard’s brand through the leadership center and global symposiums, and led the Bold Standard, Barnard’s current capital campaign. President Shapiro and President Spar were strong leaders for Barnard and focused on areas of the college’s development that played to their natural strengths. They left it a better place than before.
As the president of the Alumnae Association of Barnard College, an alumna, and a trustee, I have a unique perspective with which to assess our future president. President Sian Beilock, I am confident, is the right choice for Barnard. What struck me about President Beilock was her collaborative approach. It was important to me to make sure that the person we selected would make our 35,000 alumnae from across the world a top priority. Now that she has joined the Barnard family, I can say that her approach to learning, solving problems, and building strategy is based on collaboration.
I am keen on forging bonds between alumnae and President Beilock. The alumnae of Barnard College are a tight-knit, supportive community, and are committed to furthering the cause of women’s education and women’s leadership. There is a mentorship based relationship between alumnae and students, as students can learn from alumnae experiences and perspectives. Students, when they leave Barnard, will walk the same trails (and make their own) that alumnae helped create for them. You are a student for four years and an alumnae for life.
From my early conversations with President Beilock, it was clear that she sees alumnae as partners who share the common goal of strengthening Barnard. We have already started talking about ways in which we can engage alumnae from across the world, finding ways for President Beilock to meet alumnae in different cities, and discussing the needs of alumnae in relation to Barnard. President Beilock’s remarks at Convocation were well-received, and I know that the alumnae who attended were impressed by her and believe that she will be a strong leader for Barnard.
People often wonder about the need for women’s colleges. The current state of our country and culture are testaments to the fact that we need more women’s voices in leadership positions. President Beilock is uniquely able to understand the issues that women face. She has conducted research focused on the success of girls and women in math and science. Her work as a scholar also helps her lead the faculty, positions her well to find new and unique ways to further involve the faculty, and helps her interact with alumnae and students.
There is palpable excitement across campus as students are back and eager to get to know President Beilock. It is evident that she is excited to engage with students, learn from them, and forge meaningful dialogue across the community. While each president achieved great things for Barnard, they also left opportunities for Barnard’s growth, and I am confident that President Beilock will be a great resource for and supporter of Barnard students.
The author is president of the Alumnae Association of Barnard College and a Barnard trustee.
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