In Gratitude

By President Sian Leah Beilock

President Sian Beilock portrait of her standing, in black and white

Nearly six years ago, I stood in front of you at Riverside Church and laid out a new path forward — one I believed was worthy of this incredible institution. I spoke about making science a foundational part of the liberal arts, extending our classroom into New York City and beyond, strengthening the College’s mission to be diverse and inclusive, and empowering students to focus on and nourish their well-being so that they can succeed long after they have left Morningside Heights. I told you on that day I like to move fast, that I had grown up wanting to be a jockey, and patience was not exactly my calling card. But I also knew my first job was to listen, learn, and understand the culture that is singularly Barnard.

I look back on those early months as the secret to everything. I sat in faculty offices and gained insight into their research. I met with students in Diana to hear about their day-to-day experiences, challenges, and dreams for the future. I chatted with alums and parents on the lawn (now known as Futter Field). It was in those moments that we wrote Barnard’s future together.

No president’s tenure is predictable. Mine has been no exception. From a global pandemic to an overdue nationwide reckoning with systemic injustice, there have been challenges. But here is what I believe deeply: We have met this moment. And what we have achieved, we have achieved together.

The examples are endless. I think about the conversations with students who spoke candidly about how their well-being outside of the classroom — whether mental, physical, or financial — was shaping academic performance. Out of those conversations came our Feel Well, Do Well campaign and the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being.

Or one of my coffee chats with students, when a first-generation student mentioned how difficult it was to secure the funding needed to present her research in New Mexico. I told her the school had a program for exactly that purpose — but she correctly pointed out how complex and bureaucratic it was to access that kind of support. That moment launched Access Barnard: the first-ever program to directly reach international, first-generation, and low-income students and make their transition easier.

I leave Barnard with endless gratitude to every community member who has pushed us forward. We have much to celebrate. Welcoming the most diverse class in Barnard’s history. Seeing more than 40% of our students go into math and sciences. Growing our endowment by nine figures.

And more than anything, I will miss this community. My goal as a cognitive scientist and leader has always been to better understand the way people perform, to foster learning and collaboration and create a special alchemy where we become more than the sum of our parts. At Barnard, that magic exists. I have seen it too many times to count.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for making Barnard the extraordinary place it is. I know I leave you in the best of hands. I cannot wait to see what comes next. 

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