First Female SGA President: Barbara Sams ’85

Barbara Sams’ Westminster experience all started with a good-looking admissions rep.

“As a person who has made a career in admission and college counseling, I wish I had a much more meaningful story about why Westminster, but it was a classic 16 year old girl’s decision,” says Barbara. “The admission representative at the college fair was really handsome so I definitely wanted to go talk to him.”

After that first impression, Barbara decided to look into Westminster more seriously. She was looking for a liberal arts education. When she visited the campus in her senior year of high school, Barbara was thrilled to find the campus was exactly what she wanted. The campus reminded her of the classic liberal arts schools in New England she had always dreamed of attending.

At the time, Barbara’s family was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was born in New York, but had also lived in Texas for some of her childhood. “I consider myself a native New Yorker though, with a healthy dose of Midwestern sensibility.”

In 1981, she started her freshman year at Westminster College.

Years at Westminster

Barbara considered herself the epitome of a liberal arts student. She majored in economics but she still remembers the classes she loved in political science with Dr. John Langton and history with Dr. Jones. Although their classes were difficult, their passion for the material impressed barb oconnelland inspired Barbara. She loved the academic experience she had at Westminster, particularly the small class size, the seminar style of teaching in most of her classes, the variety of classes she was able to explore, and the personal relationships professors built with her.

In her time at Westminster, Barbara celebrated many triumphs and faced some challenges that shaped her for the rest of her life. Barbara made life-long friends while at Westminster, but her class of women experienced their own struggles being accepted by their male counterparts.  Barbara described some resentment from her classmates in her senior year because women were more engaged in the leadership roles on campus. It was the first time the school mandated that women be considered for positions in the Skulls of Seven.

In spite of this atmosphere, Barbara ran for SGA president – and won. She was among three candidates running for office.

“As I thought about what I might be able to contribute, I decided I would at least run,” she says. “To be honest, I never expected to win.”

But by the end of the two-week campaign, she had faced her insecurities and represented herself well in all the forums and presentations, even when asked gender-biased questions.

“I just felt strongly it was time for a woman to present herself as a full member of the community and a viable leadership candidate.”

Barbara looks back on these struggles as valuable learning experiences. Through everything, she learned the skills she needed for her future career challenges. She described her experience at Westminster as an important growth moment in her life.

Beyond College

Barbara has remained connected to Westminster since her graduation. Originally she had planned to work in the finance world. But in her senior year, Barbara remembers Dr. Langton asking what she wanted to contribute to the world. She realized that she wanted to work in non-profits. Immediately after graduation, Barbara worked for Westminster organizing a network of alumni volunteers. For the next 16 years she worked in admissions and student life at five different colleges.

Barbara has been married and living in St. Louis for the past 16 years. In the last 10 years, Barbara has found the perfect place for her at St. Louis Priory School. She now reaches out to students as a college counselor and builds the same relationships she valued so much in her experience at Westminster.

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