Q&A with President of Barnard College Sian Beilock

Campus

Current President of Barnard College Sian Beilock is an alumna of PHS, Class of 1993. She became Barnard’s eighth President on July 1, 2017. Beilock’s former positions include Professor of Psychology and Executive Vice Provost at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on performance and success among girls and women, especially in the areas of math and science. TPH interviewed her on Oct. 10.

What was your experience like living in Piedmont and going to the schools?
How did the Piedmont schools prepare you for your career after?

I went to PMS and PHS, so I moved to Piedmont at the start of 7th grade. I really enjoyed high school. I was an athlete, so I played soccer, ran cross country, and played basketball one year. I really think one of the biggest things was the teachers. They challenged me, and I look back at my time in high school fondly. High school can be challenging figuring out where you are going and what you are doing, and I had some great experiences that I think really prepared me to go off to college. I liked my math and science classes, the camaraderie I had with my teammates, and of course, brunch. I loved brunch.

What teachers at Piedmont had a significant impact on you?

I ran cross country and Doyle O’Regan was my math teacher. I remember once I was complaining about him not explaining something to me and he said to me ‘you know, at some point you are going to have to figure out how to do things on your own. So I’m here to help you, but try to get it done,’ and it sort of dawned on me that that was okay. He pushed me and I thought that was great, and he also helped me find my love for math. He still comes to mind when I think about PHS. The other one would be Rich Kitchens, I took an economics class from him and found it really interesting.

How did your high school experience influence your work on performance?

I’ve always been interested in how we perform at our best and why we don’t. I do a little bit of me-search in addition to research. I played soccer with the Olympic development program. I also played violin at Piedmont and sometimes I performed at my best in competitions and sometimes I didn’t. Some of my ‘choke’ experiences got me interested in the mind, the brain and why sometimes we don’t put our best foot forward when we want to and when it matters most.

When you were in high school, where did you see yourself being at the age you are?

I worried about being successful as I imagine a lot of us do. At one point I thought I was going to be a lawyer because my whole family was lawyers. One summer my mom started taking me out to lunch with every unhappy lawyer she knew and it changed my mind a little bit. It wasn’t because she didn’t want me to be a lawyer, but she wanted me to know that there were other opportunities out there, so I think I really didn’t know. I had general worries about doing something that would be meaningful.

What were the most valuable lessons you learned during high school?

I learned to change my mind, that is a big one, sometimes about people or how I felt about things. I learned to start asking for the data and to gather evidence and make my own decisions. It empowered me to think on my own in a lot of ways and I think a lot of my experiences at PHS did that.

What is something you wish you knew in high school?
That you didn’t have to know everything. I felt a lot of pressure to know where I was going and what I was doing, but our paths are nonlinear, and I wish I knew that more.