Deborah Bial receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Mount Holyoke College in 2014
1965 (age 52–53)|
New York City, United States
|Awards||MacArthur Fellows Program|
|Thesis||Alternative measures for college admissions : a relational study of a new predictor for success: the promise of the Bial Dale college adaptability index and the success of the Posse program (Harvard) (2004)|
Bial is known for the concept of her foundation, which is to send groups of around ten students to collaborating colleges so that they can support each other and achieve a greater success rate. She is also known for the Bial–Dale College Adaptability Index, an activity-based test of college readiness that incorporates Lego play.
Bial was born in Manhattan and grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. Her father worked as a bassoonist for the New York Philharmonic and her mother worked as a public relations professional for the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She describes her younger self as shy and not standing out in any way: "There was nothing remarkable about me growing up." Her childhood ambition was to become a writer and illustrator of children's books.
She attended Brandeis University, graduating in 1987. She worked briefly as a paralegal, and then became a counselor for the CityKids Foundation in New York, where she got the idea for her own foundation. After starting her foundation, she returned to graduate school, and earned master's and Ed.D. degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996 and 2004, respectively.
She delivered the 2012 commencement speech at her alma mater, Brandeis University. She has also been chosen as a commencement speaker at DePauw University (2008), at the University of Rochester (2015), at Vassar College (2017), and at Kalamazoo College (2018).
Bial's Posse Foundation sends disadvantaged youth in "posses" of approximately ten students at a time to cooperating universities, with the intention that the students in each posse will support each other. The idea for the foundation came to Bial in 1989 when she was working as a youth counselor in New York City. One of her clients had dropped out of college; when she asked why, he told her that he would have stayed in school if only he had his posse to support him. Based on this experience, she started her foundation as a way to create these posses as support groups for underprivileged students. As well, she designed the selection process of the foundation to focus on urban students who might otherwise be overlooked by traditional college admissions processes.
As well as being known for this concept for the foundation, Bial is known for co-developing the Bial–Dale College Adaptability Index, a method for determining whether students are ready for college that avoids written testing in favor of interviews and activity-based assessment. It has been dubbed "the Lego test" because of its incorporation of play with Lego bricks as one of its components.
Besides winning a MacArthur Fellowship in 2007, Bial has been given honorary degrees from Brandeis University (2012), Hamilton College (2014), Colby College (2015), Agnes Scott College (2017), and Hobart and William Smith Colleges (2017).