Building Barnard’s Future

Scholarship and academic opportunity thrive at Barnard, which is launching its most ambitious fundraising endeavor | VIDEO

By Jennifer Altmann and Abigail Beshkin

Photograph by Joel Barhamand

Professor David Weiman

Faculty Director of the Empirical Reasoning Center

Barnard’s Empirical Reasoning Center, located in the new teaching and learning center, “ensures that our students will graduate with an increasingly vital literacy, enabling them to navigate a world awash in data.”

Francesca Sisk ’16

Getting support from the College’s Joyce Kosh Kaiser ’57 Internship Fund in the Arts last summer “meant I could focus on my internship [at the Philadelphia Museum of Art] and not stress about finding a paying job to supplement it.”

Daphne Philipson ’69

“I’m extremely involved with social and political issues relating to women—a direct result of my Barnard education. Barnard gave me the gumption to get emotionally, intellectually, and financially engaged with the world.”

Professor Brian Morton

Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences

“Faculty across different departments at Barnard often work together on important initiatives. There is a spirit of collaboration at the College that I value.”

Mariany Polanco ’13

“Barnard opened my eyes to everything that was possible. It changed my life.”

Professor Kimberley Johnson

Director of the Urban Studies Program

“Having an endowed chair allows you to think bigger, to be more ambitious with your research goals and in terms of projects you can do.”


Mariany Polanco ’13 was born and raised in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, a few miles from Barnard’s campus. She wanted to attend Barnard but knew her parents, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, could not afford to send her to college. “If Barnard had not given me a full ride, I would not have attended,” she says. But even more critical than the funding she received was the support of professors who “didn’t give up on me,” she says. “Because they invested so much time in me, I could never let them down.”

Wendy Schor-Haim, the associate director of the Writing Program, “helped me revise my essays 100 times,” Polanco recalls. “She would meet me in office hours or after hours. She was so dedicated to ensuring I was successful.”

Polanco, the first in her family to graduate from college, has worked at Goldman Sachs since 2013, in the human capital management division. “Barnard opened my eyes to everything that was possible,” she says. “It changed my life.”

Financial aid and close interaction with faculty are two of the cornerstones of Barnard’s mission. The College is committed to meeting 100 percent of qualified students’ financial need, and half of Barnard students receive some form of financial aid. But exactly how much students will need each year fluctuates. Financial aid represents the greatest area of unpredictability in the College’s finances, for as the need for scholarships increases, other areas of the budget suffer to bridge the gap.

Strengthening the College’s ability to provide financial aid is one of the chief objectives of The Bold Standard: A Campaign for Barnard, the College’s most ambitious fundraising endeavor in its 126-year history, launched in May and announced at Barnard’s Annual Gala. The campaign’s financial goal is to raise a total of $400 million to address the College’s three priorities: growing the endowment, building a new teaching and learning center, and expanding annual giving. The College has already raised a record $265 million toward this goal during the so-called quiet phase of the campaign, which began in July 2012.

“It’s no secret that Barnard is rich in scholarship, intellect, and academic opportunity,” says President Debora Spar. “But it’s also a known fact that Barnard has never been a wealthy institution. We were founded on an idea—that women deserved equal education and opportunity—rather than on a large financial endowment. And over the College’s 126 years we have actively welcomed immigrants and students who were the first in their families to attend college, opening our gates to all those who deserved to be here.” The College’s endowment, in fact, is only a quarter of those at some of our notable peer institutions. “Quite literally, we ‘punch above our weight,’ doing so much with so little,” says Spar. “But the time has come to change that.” The campaign’s three priorities are:

1. Growing the endowment

At $276 million, the current endowment generates an annual income that offsets only six percent of the College’s operating budget, leading the College to rely heavily on tuition revenue. “The endowment benefits every part of the academic experience,” says Kim F. Hall, Lucyle Hook Chair and Professor of English and Africana Studies. Having a strong endowment bolsters student financial aid, attracts and supports the world’s best faculty, and grows programmatic initiatives.

“There are many reasons for giving to Barnard and for growing the endowment,” says Lois Champy ’67, a trustee and a longtime financial supporter of the College. “For my husband Jim and me, a wonderful attribute of Barnard is that it has continued to be able to attract the best students regardless of need, through a generous scholarship program that we continue to support.” 

Currently, Barnard is able to draw on the endowment to meet only 17 percent of its financial aid commitment. Increasing endowed funds for financial aid by $100 million would enable the College to rely on income from endowed funds to support 30 percent of its annual financial aid commitment. Scholarships help students like Francesca Sisk ’16, who was thrilled to receive the Mary Gordon ’71 Scholarship for Studies in Literature. Gordon, an acclaimed novelist who is the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of English and Writing, also served as Sisk’s adviser for her thesis on author Jean Stafford.

“It was unbelievable to work with someone so well regarded in the literary world,” Sisk says. “The particular insight that a professor who is also a writer can bring to a discussion is unparalleled.”

Sisk also benefitted from the Joyce Kosh Kaiser ’57 Internship Fund in the Arts, which enabled her to spend last summer working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She did research on exhibitions and gave tours for youngsters, which were a “delightful challenge,” she says. “The stipend meant I could focus on my internship and not stress about finding a paying job to supplement it.”

Endowment funds also allow the College to recruit top faculty and to support their research, their work with students, and their innovations in the classroom and the lab. Endowed professorships, one of the highest honors the College can bestow on a faculty member, provide support to those “whose scholarship is addressing significant questions and is on the forefront of research,” says David Weiman, the Alena Wels Hirschorn ’58 Professor of Economics. Holding an endowed chair gives a professor “the leeway to be able to engage more frequently in the public realm of discussion on critical policy questions. The professors really are public intellectuals.” So far, the College has raised funds to endow 11 chairs during the quiet phase of the campaign.

Kimberley Johnson, who is a professor of political science and urban studies, was recently appointed to a named chair. “Having an endowed chair allows you to think bigger, to be more ambitious with your research goals and in terms of projects you can do,” Johnson says.

She is currently working on a book, Chocolate Cities: Oakland, Newark, and the Future of Metropolitan America , that explores demographic shifts in inner cities and traces the impact of these shifts on local and national politics. The research support she received through the Tow Distinguished Professorship for Scholarship and Practitioners has allowed her to schedule additional trips to California, where she visits archives and conducts interviews.

Johnson, who is director of the Urban Studies Program, is also planning to hold a community workshop with residents of East Palo Alto about their city, which will expand her scholarly work into community engagement. Funding from Barnard has allowed her to pursue offshoots of her research that are “really interesting but don’t necessarily fall into boundaries, but I think will be important. That couldn’t be done without having this kind of freedom.”

2. Raising funds for the new teaching and learning center

An inspiring, interdisciplinary space that will become the College’s academic and intellectual hub, this 128,000-square-foot building will stand at the heart of campus. The center, to open in 2018, will have modern technologies and interactive learning spaces. The College has already received the three largest gifts in its 126-year history for the center, totaling $70 million, from three prominent New York families who are longtime Barnard supporters: Cheryl Glicker Milstein ’82 and Philip Milstein; the Tow Foundation on behalf of Leonard Tow and daughter Emily Tow Jackson ’88; and Diana T. Vagelos ’55 and P. Roy Vagelos.

In addition to a new kind of library with collections supporting a liberal arts education, the building will have a computational science center that will help students with scientific, mathematical, and computational skills. Brian Morton, chair of the department of biological sciences, who will use the center in his teaching and research, says digital competency is “a skill that’s essential in the world today in any number of fields. In the last five years, I’ve noticed a tremendous increase in the number of students who want these skills.” The center will offer a central location where classes can be held—to integrate research skills into the curriculum—and where students can drop in for one-on-one assistance.

Relocating to the new building will be the Empirical Reasoning Center, which provides students with assistance in visualizing, organizing, and analyzing data. “Students need the skills to understand, evaluate, and interpret this kind of information, and unfortunately many do not acquire them, especially in their first two years,” says Weiman, the faculty director for the center. “We need to make sure that’s not the case.” The center has already helped more than 900 students use software to create maps, study spatial patterns, produce graphical analyses, and wrestle with data in other ways.

3. Expanding Annual Giving

Annual giving supports many areas of the College, including financial aid, student travel and internships, scholarly research, career development programs, a vibrant campus life, and faculty-student research collaborations. It also helps cover many of the College’s everyday needs, such as building maintenance.

Daphne Philipson ’69 believes supporting Annual Giving is the best way to assist Barnard. “I want my funds to go toward the College’s greatest current need. A new paint job for a residence hall, maintaining the equipment in a science lab—these are daily ‘checking account’ expenses, and I like the feeling that I’m helping Barnard meet them.”

In whatever way alumnae choose to support the College, their contributions assist faculty, staff, and students to strengthen a school where innovation is paramount, where professors engage in groundbreaking scholarship, and where students receive all the financial assistance they need to make coming to Barnard a reality.

“It’s important for the campaign to have the full participation of all alumnae to reach our goals,” says Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald ’81, chair of Barnard’s board of trustees. “For all who take pride in the education they, their daughters, or other family members received, this is the moment to invest in Barnard.”

Jareline Guerrero ’15 was able to attend Barnard because of the scholarships she received from the College. She now teaches at a charter school in Newark, N.J., where she is helping to inspire a new generation of young, striving students. “My acceptance to Barnard is one of the proudest moments of my life,” she says. “And I think intelligent, hopeful, hard-working women who did not choose their economic status deserve to feel that kind of validation.”

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