Deborah Bial

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Deborah Bial
Deborah Bial at Mount Holyoke College.jpg
Deborah Bial receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Mount Holyoke College in 2014
Born1965 (age 57–58)
New York City, United States
Alma mater
Known for
AwardsMacArthur Fellows Program
Scientific career
ThesisAlternative 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)

Deborah Bial (born 1965) is an education strategist, the founder and president of the Posse Foundation[1] and a trustee of Brandeis University.[2]

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.

She was one of the 2007 winners of the MacArthur "Genius" awards[3][4] and is a frequent speaker at college graduations.


Bial was born in Manhattan[5] and grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. Her father played bassoon and contrabassoon with 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.[6]

She attended Brandeis University, graduating in 1987.[7] She worked briefly as a paralegal, and then became a counselor for the CityKids Foundation in New York. After starting Posse, 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.[8]

She delivered the 2012 commencement speech at her alma mater, Brandeis University.[9] She has also been chosen as a commencement speaker at numerous colleges and universities including at DePauw University (2008),[10] at the University of Rochester (2015),[11] at Vassar College (2017),[12] , Kalamazoo College (2018).[13] and at The College of Wooster (2019).[14]


Bial's Posse Foundation sends talented young people from diverse backgrounds 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 student 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 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.[15]

As well as being known for this concept for the foundation, Bial is known for 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.[16][17][18] It has been dubbed "the Lego test" because of its incorporation of play with Lego bricks as one of its components.[16][17]


Besides winning a MacArthur Fellowship in 2007, Bial has been given honorary degrees from many institutions of higher education including Brandeis University (2012),[5] Hamilton College (2014),[19] Colby College (2015),[20] Agnes Scott College (2017),[21] Hobart and William Smith Colleges (2017).[22] and The College of Wooster (2019).

She was one of the 2013 winners of the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education.[23] In 2013, the Harvard Graduate School of Education gave her their Anne Roe Award.[8]


  1. ^ "Annual Meeting Bios A–L". Philanthropy Roundtable. Archived from the original on January 12, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  2. ^ "Brandeis elects new trustees". The Jewish Advocate. May 2, 2018.
  3. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (September 25, 2007), "MacArthur Foundation Gives Out 'Genius Awards'", The New York Times
  4. ^ "Alum Awarded MacArthur Fellowship", News & Events, Harvard Graduate School of Education, September 28, 2007
  5. ^ a b "Deborah Bial '87". Commencement 2012 honorary degree recipients. Brandeis University. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  6. ^ Bryant, Adam (October 4, 2014). "Deborah Bial of the Posse Foundation: Success Isn't Always About You". Corner Office (interview). The New York Times.
  7. ^ Green, Elizabeth (September 25, 2007). "Helping High School Seniors Graduate From College". The New York Sun.
  8. ^ a b "Bial to Receive 2013 Anne Roe Award". Harvard Graduate School of Education. February 14, 2013.
  9. ^ "Deborah Bial '87 to speak at 2012 commencement". Brandeis Now. March 28, 2012.
  10. ^ "Posse Foundation's to Address DePauw Graduates at May's Commencement". DePauw University. November 14, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  11. ^ "Posse Foundation founder and president to deliver the 2015 College Commencement Address". University of Rochester. February 5, 2015.
  12. ^ Lanser, Anika; Schultz, Elena (March 6, 2017). "Deborah Bial announced as Commencement Speaker". The Miscellany News. Vassar College.
  13. ^ "Posse Founder to Speak at 2018 Commencement". Kalamazoo College. May 14, 2018.
  14. ^ "Posse founder and president to deliver commencement address". College of Wooster. May 13, 2019.
  15. ^ Goodman, Lawrence (Winter 2017). "The Power of Science Posse". Brandeis Magazine.
  16. ^ a b Marcus, Amy Dockser (November 19, 1999). "A Number of Colleges Back Recruiting Test for Minorities". The Wall Street Journal.
  17. ^ a b Winters, Rebecca (March 4, 2001). "Here Comes the Lego Test". Time.
  18. ^ Brint, Steven (September 13, 2015). "Merit Square-Off: The Fight Over College Admissions". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  19. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients". Hamilton College. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  20. ^ "Deborah Bial – Honorary Degree Citation". May 24, 2015. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  21. ^ "2017 Commencement". Agnes Scott College. April 3, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  22. ^ "HWS Confer Four Honorary Degrees". Hobart and William Smith Colleges. April 25, 2017.
  23. ^ "Past Winners of Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education". Archived from the original on March 13, 2016.

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