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Q&A with a Siena alum: Stephen Gilbert '85

Posted By Michelle Lansing | November 7, 2014

Stephen_GilbertWe absolutely love when Siena alumni return to campus—whether it’s to speak to students or to simply say hello. In addition to reminiscing and updating them with what’s new about their alma mater, we get to hear firsthand where their education is taking them in life. And if we have to be honest (which we always are!), we’re never disappointed. In fact, we’re constantly beyond impressed. Such was the case with Stephen Gilbert ’85, who recently stopped by to chat with students about his journey from math major to world traveler as senior vice president of architecture at Burberry. Since prospective students weren’t present, we thought we’d sit down with him and ask a few questions you might want to know. Take a look…

What exactly do you do for Burberry?

My position with Burberry includes design, what we call architectural technology, construction and the analytics of retail, which is done by my store network services group. It’s a broad role of building, analyzing and designing stores in all channels of distribution, from flagship stores in major cities down to outlet stores in suburban areas. 

Did you know you wanted to work in architecture when you were at Siena?

I did not, hence my lecture today on unexpected journeys. I actually started out as a declared accounting major, then switched to mathematics. But because I was a math major, which can be intense, each semester I usually took one class that was very unrelated to anything mathematical. One year I took music theory, for example. And then I ended up taking History of Art and Architecture—which is what sparked the desire to go into architecture, as opposed to engineering. So, after I graduated, I went to graduate school for exactly that.

Can you tell us a little about your liberal arts experience and how you ended up at Siena?

What I loved about Siena is that you get this broad spectrum of education here. I loved my religion classes, my required classes…I think it allows students to really explore what life is really about. It’s not just about what you do for a living; it’s about broadening your scope to community, the arts, theatre and so forth. And also, my parents drove through the campus once and said “this is it, you’re going here. It’s the perfect school for you.” It was just a feeling they got. And they were right. I actually met three people on the first day of orientation and we’re still friends to this day.

Does what you learned at Siena—values, skills, etc.—still impact you today?

Absolutely. As soon as I was settled into my first job, I knew it was time to do what I learned to do at Siena and give back—so I volunteered at a homeless shelter. And I knew how to balance life with work because of Siena. Now at Burberry, I can appreciate the philanthropic efforts we do here through programs that mentor children, fix parks and so on.

I also think it has helped me with my travels. My career takes me all over the world, and when you travel, you really have to be sensitive to other people’s cultures. You have to listen, respect and understand how others live. To that end, I think that sort of people piece of Siena’s education is something I use every day.

For prospective students who aren’t quite sure what they want to do with their lives, what’s your advice?

Work hard and follow your gut instinct. What’s great about a liberal arts college is that you can change directions. Build off of your past—what did I learn from this, where am I taking this—and build skill upon skill. A wise boss told me once to never be more than you are, know what you’re good at and know what you’re bad at. 

Without thinking too much, what’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of Siena?

Special. Siena was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It’s such a close community. I could never replace it and I could never forget it.

Thanks so much to Stephen for chatting with us. Now it’s your turn—contact admissions today to talk more about what makes Siena special.

TOPICS: Alumni

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