James Hairston '06

Director of Virtual Reality, Facebook

Thesis Title: Barbershop Barometrics: The Effet of Black Barbershops on Social Connectedness and the Lives of At-Risk Black Men

The first highlight of Social Studies was feeling utterly intimidated in Social Studies 10 and wondering if I made a terrible mistake surrounded by so many brilliant people. Then I got wind a few classmates had already written books and nearly ran for the exits. I battled my fair share of imposter syndrome, but the department and my thoughtful classmates helped me understand how much I brought to the table. The curiosity about the world our program unlocked has energized me ever since. I also learned it’s totally fine not being the smartest person in the room—but it’s a blast to stay curious and learn from those folks!

Today I look after public policy for the AR/VR and artificial intelligence teams at Facebook. In the role there are plenty of days I feel out of my league working on tough technology problems with brilliant engineers, researchers, and designers. That’s when three lessons straight out of Social Studies come to the rescue: 1) stay curious; 2) it’s probably worth doing because it’s intellectually challenging; and 3) if you can’t find a model to address a new challenge in any one discipline, start combining a few with your own unique lens and see what happens.

I wrote my senior thesis on barbershops and what they can teach us about social capital and the health of communities. A decade later, I still think about the fabric of communities all the time—especially how to build technology that will deepen human connection and understanding.