Photograph by Jason Smith/University of Chicago
Sian Leah Beilock, who became Barnard’s eighth president in July, was most recently executive vice provost of the University of Chicago. An expert on how children and adults learn and perform at their best, especially under stress, Beilock was a member of the Chicago faculty since 2005 and the Stella M. Rowley Professor in the Department of Psychology, the Committee on Education, and the College.
“Sian Beilock is a researcher and teacher who has spent her career developing psychological tools to help students perform up to their potential,” says Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald ‘81, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees. “Her insights into how students clear psychological and social hurdles to achievement have provided valuable lessons for educators across disciplines. Her keen intellect, her empathic concern for student success, and her experience bridging liberal arts disciplines within an urban context make her uniquely qualified to lead Barnard. Her broad administrative, curricular and co-curricular responsibilities at the University of Chicago, her energy, and her ambitious approach to institutional advancement will help us further the unique mission of the College.”
As executive vice provost and an officer of the University of Chicago, Beilock had a large portfolio aimed at advancing the University’s research and education mission. In 2015, Beilock created and launched UChicagoGRAD, a university-wide office and initiative designed to ensure that Chicago’s 9,000-plus graduate students and postdocs develop the necessary skills—from writing and communication to advanced pedagogy—to be leaders in academia, government, industry, and the nonprofit sector. She also oversaw the University of Chicago’s integrative efforts to bridge urban scholarship, practice, and engagement via meaningful collaborations and innovative programming with Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods and cities around the world. Beilock was also responsible for major academic centers, academic space planning and allocation, and the development and implementation of several major building projects.
In her research, Beilock has focused specifically on girls’ and women’s success in math and science and how performance anxiety can either be exacerbated or alleviated by teachers, parents, and peers. She works to understand the brain and body factors that influence learning and performance and how simple psychological strategies can be used to ensure success, from test taking to public speaking to athletics. Beilock has authored two books, the critically acclaimed Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When You Have To (2010) and How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel (2015).
“Having spent my career investigating how people can perform at their best, I am thrilled at the prospect of leading a college focused on ensuring women have the tools to succeed in any path they choose,” Beilock says. “Barnard’s unique status as a leading liberal arts college associated with a major research university and its unparalleled urban setting provide important opportunities for supporting high-powered young women to reach their potential and for emphasizing the benefits of a diversity of viewpoints in leadership roles. And there could be no more timely moment to highlight the importance to society of women’s intellectual leadership.” •