President Beilock – here on campus and ready to listen

A new school year means new classes, new housing, and, for Barnard students, a new President. While our official interview took place over email, EIC Amara Banks and Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets (both BC ’19) got a chance to sit down with Sian Beilock (pronounced “see-on by-lock”) for a few minutes today to chat. She told us about her summer meeting one-on-one with faculty members to find out what they love (and don’t love) about Barnard. She’s hoping to have similar conversations with as many students as possible; she has already started by talking to first-years during NSOP, and looks forward to developing relationships with returning students. Barnard students can expect multiple opportunities for face time with President Beilock, including Coffee Breaks and Fireside Chats.

The one answer you will not find below is her response to, “Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese?” We asked her in person anyway, and while she laughed and declined to answer, she did say she is not lactose intolerant!

Bwog: What has been your favorite part of NSOP so far?

President Beilock: I really enjoyed meeting students and seeing their energy. The first years, transfer students and I have a lot in common – we are all getting acclimated to Barnard and getting to know a new environment, so it was fun to share in that excitement.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the second year panel session where second years talked to first years about what to expect. I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s experiences and was so impressed by our students – those returning as well as our first year students and the questions they asked. I also learned a new phrase, “FOMO.” My guess is that we all suffer from this to some extent and the panel was a good reminder – to all of us – that you don’t have to tackle everything at once.

Bwog: What are you most excited to do in Morningside Heights?

SB: The Morningside Heights community has so much to offer. I love Book Culture and spend a lot of time in there picking out books for my 6-year-old. I am also discovering the other side of Morningside Park. Frederick Douglass Boulevard has some great restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores.

Bwog: Have you tripped on College Walk yet?

SB: I trip constantly, regardless of what shoes I am wearing… and yes, I have.

Bwog: How have you been preparing for your new role (researching Barnard, talking to students and faculty, etc.)?

SB: I’ve been doing a lot of listening, talking to students, faculty and staff, meeting as many people as I can in order to hear their interests and concerns. It’s the best way I can think of to build my sense of the college in order to look ahead to the future.

Bwog: What parts of your experience in cognitive science and university leadership are you most excited to bring to Barnard’s administration?

SB: So much of success in life is knowing how to act and react when we are in high-stakes situations, and my research focuses on helping others, especially women and girls, to develop the psychological tools necessary for this. There are a lot of pressures that students have to manage. I hope to bring my research to bear in helping Barnard women succeed.

As Executive Vice Provost at the University of Chicago, one of my primary initiatives was UChicago Urban, which was designed to facilitate and foster positive relationships between the university and the city. Barnard’s location adjacent to Harlem and in New York City is an essential part of its value and appeal, and I’m looking forward to working with faculty, students, staff and alumnae to ensure that we not only contribute to local organizations and businesses but learn from all the expertise around us as well.

Bwog: Much of your research and your policy work has involved student stress; can you talk a bit about that work, and how it applies to Barnard and Columbia?

SB: Stress is an important issue and one that the College’s leadership and I take very seriously. I’ve done a lot of research on tools that help alleviate stress and improve performance – simple yet proven methods such as exercise, taking breaks or walks to help recharge, or even journaling. On a personal level, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of these kinds of tools. I use them when I am feeling the pressure.

As Barnard’s President, I am very interested in evaluating and implementing ways to help students relieve stress and ensuring that students have places they can turn to, such as Well Woman, Furman Counseling Center and Primary Care Health Services. I am confident that my conversations with Barnard students, faculty and staff will help identify additional, specific ways we can improve the environment for women’s academic success.

Bwog: On Monday, members of the Barnard/Columbia Solidarity Network released a letter with several introductory remarks and demands for you. Have your read the letter? What is your response to these students?

SB: I appreciate hearing from all students – especially as I am learning about Barnard. In my experience, direct conversations and listening is key to addressing issues of importance. Thus, I am working closely with the Dean of the College, Avis Hinkson, to connect with students, both individually and in small groups, to understand the diverse viewpoints held by on campus.

I took this same approach in my previous role to support graduate students and postdocs, which led to my founding of UChicagoGRAD (an initiative and office that helps ensure that students and postdocs have the skills they need to become the next generation of leaders in academia, industry, nonprofits, and government), and it was and continues to be extremely successful.

[From the Barnard Media Relations team: please feel free to check out the Inside Higher Ed or UChicago Magazine articles that President Beilock wrote, for more background on her work with UChicagoGRAD.]

Bwog: How do you feel about Barnard’s new magnolia tree?

SB: I’ve learned about the importance of the magnolia tree to both students and alumnae alike, and I’m happy to see that one of the clones taken from the original tree is flourishing after being planted over the summer.

Bwog: What advice do you have for incoming students?

SB: Relax—allow yourself to be new and not know everything; make sure to take advantage of the many opportunities for learning and fun that Barnard and Columbia offer. Also remember that first impressions are not always right. I actually had dinner the other night with one of my college roommates. When we initially met, I wasn’t so sure we were a good match – we were pretty different. I went to bed early, she stayed up late. I planned out all my studying, she procrastinated and always got an A. But, with time we learned to really appreciate each other’s differences and we still keep in touch several decades later.

The leading lady via Barnard’s website