University Communications

The Newsletter for Marshall University        February 23, 2011

Profile: Clark Egnor

Sitting at his Marshall display at a career fair in King Abdullah High School in Amman, Jordan, Clark Egnor was delighted to hear students chanting “We Are….Marshall” as they approached his table. Actually a counselor had told him earlier to expect a large crowd at his display. The Jordanian students were very familiar with the 2006 movie, “We Are Marshall,” because it had been used in their freshman orientation as a lesson in overcoming adversity.

“They all knew the movie. It has given us recognition all over the world,” Egnor, who is the Executive Director of the Center for International Programs, says. “It was really gratifying to be singled out like that since there were colleges and universities from all over the United States represented there, including Purdue, UCC-Berkeley and WVU, among others.”

But then even without the movie Marshall is steadily gaining international recognition for its determined effort to broaden its international scope and provide more opportunities, not just for students but for the community and the state, to interact on multiple levels with other parts of the world, Egnor says.

And he should know. Born and brought up in Huntington, he always had an insatiable curiosity about far-flung parts of the world. Following graduation from Huntington High School he took advantage of a rare opportunity to see Japan off the usual touristy track when a Japanese exchange student invited him to accompany him there that summer. “I wanted to see the world and I loved Japan.” he says. “I traveled all over the country that summer and I was learning the language. I was not a particularly good language student but I found that I’m one of those people who can become fluent studying it in the country where it’s spoken. I just got out and talked with people from all walks of life."

Back in the states he attended Boston University, majoring in journalism, but found the profession held little interest for him. And the lure of the Orient was great by this time. “I really wanted to go back to Japan,” he remembers. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I knew I needed to go there. At the time I didn’t know anything at all about international opportunities. I never imagined I would be doing anything like I’m doing today.”

Egnor spent five years in Japan and they were productive ones. Of greatest importance, he met his wife Miho and their daughter Laina, who is now a sophomore at Marshall, was born during his stay. He found work teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at an American University and at one point worked as a travel agent. He and Miho also had their own import/export business specializing in Americana from the 1940s and 1950s, which was all the rage then with decorators and collectors. But finally it was time to come home, he realized, and a master’s program at West Virginia University designed to train teachers to teach English to those who spoke other languages seemed just the bridge needed to bring him back, not only to the U.S. but to West Virginia as well. By now quite fluent in Japanese, he was hired as a graduate assistant and taught classes at Fairmont State College as well. But with graduation looming he needed a job either as a teacher or an administrator and the opportunity came in the form of Dr. Will Edwards who was then heading up Marshall’s international programs. Marshall was planning to establish an English as a Second Language program so Williams visited WVU to learn about their program.

“I knew this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. To have an ESL program in my hometown was wonderful,” Egnor recalls. “Someone pointed out Dr. Edwards to me and I literally cornered him at his car and asked him to consider hiring me. I told him I would work for free in the beginning. I pestered him with daily phone calls because I really wanted to be associated with this program.” The program was operating on a small grant and his enthusiasm and persistence paid off—he was hired on a contract basis with a contingency—he had to recruit students before the grant ran out in order to continue his salary. He met the challenge, enrolling five students in the initial program. Today the L.E.A.P. intensive English program is strong, with around 10 part-time and full-time faculty members and 80 full-time students. “It has become the engine that drives our international initiatives.” he says proudly.

Egnor brims with enthusiasm for the international connections taking place at Marshall. “We’re the only institution in the state offering a Japanese major. We have about 50 majors now. We have an alliance with 10 Japanese universities where we send our students for usually a year of study. We’ve been able to focus on China and India as well. We send approximately 50 teachers a year to China and they do their training online. We meet in Shanghai and arrange placements throughout China where they teach English. In 1995 we started a joint venture, whereby about 20 Chinese students come to Marshall to earn a B.A., so Marshall is gaining good name recognition in China. In addition, we’re now getting established in India, where a M.B.A. program initiated by Dr. Chandra Akkihal has been operating since 2005.”

When an international business, such as the Toyota manufacturing plant in Buffalo, comes to the state, Marshall inevitably becomes involved in some way, Egnor says. “Many of the top-level managers are from Japan and they wanted to ensure that their children had the same sort of rigorous education found in Japanese schools ... they wanted a Saturday school set up using both English and Japanese textbooks where their children could attend for extra instruction. The teachers are MU teaching graduate assistants and that school has become the center for the Japanese community, as is traditional in Japan. Marshall has played an important part in this investment.”

Actually much of what goes on in the community is internationally related, Egnor points out. "When immigrants come to this state, their kids go to school here," he says. "We’ve done a lot through our office to support Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) both in training teachers and by being part of summer schools for these children and their families who have limited proficiency in English. We’ve tried to promote Asian languages, such as Japanese and Chinese. There are strong dual credit programs in Japanese and Chinese at Huntington and Cabell Midland high schools and a Chinese program at Sissonville High School."

He’s always eager to give credit to others. “Marshall’s greatest resource is its faculty and staff,” he believes. “Some of them have incredible connections ... they have loyalty to both West Virginia and Marshall. We want our office to be of assistance to facilitate these initiatives. There are so many programs going on at Marshall; people would be surprised.”

In fact, Egnor’s efforts in fostering international education have been recognized with a series of awards. In 2005 he won the Cyrus Vance Award as the International Educator of the Year, which came from the West Virginia Secretary of Education and the Arts. The award, named for the Clarksburg native who served as Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter, is given to the person who best exemplifies Vance’s legacy, which is dedicated to the understanding of international issues and affairs and to promote greater international understanding among West Virginia residents. Egnor donated the $5,000 he received as part of the award to a Marshall scholarship fund that supports study abroad. The then-chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, Bruce Flack, asked him to head up a initiative to internationalize higher education in the state. He put together a conference that was attended by all the colleges and universities in the state. He takes great pride in that event, which helps promote West Virginia as a destination for international students. “Several thousand international students come to West Virginia each year and they add millions to the economy," Egnor says. "We are helped by this diversity. The consortium also tries to get more West Virginians to study abroad and to learn foreign languages.”

His goal is to internationalize every department at Marshall. “It’s not just about our center. We want people to understand that everyone has something they can do. We provide services that support other departments, but they’re not stand alone. My goal is to see that every department, academic and administrative, is doing something international. My role is to help them with expertise in identifying partnerships, finding grant possibilities. For example, with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the College of Fine Arts now has an exchange program for music majors in Brazil and the College of Liberal Arts offers a dual degree in Psychology in Poland and Hungary. Our goal is to make both the campus and the community aware of international possibilities.”

And there are practical aspects as well. “We want our students to be able to go into their jobs and interact with people from other countries and cultures. We’re a global business community now and that’s what companies are looking for in their employees: international expertise and languages. If we don’t provide these to our students, we’re shortchanging them. Since we don’t have a lot of local diversity, we need to bring it to campus. It’s good for the community and good for us. The students we’ve provided with these opportunities are appreciative. It opens doors not only for them but for Marshall and the state as well.”

And when it comes to languages, he practices what he preaches in his own home. Son Logan, a Huntington High junior, is bi-lingual. Egnor's wife and daughter are tri-lingual. Laina, who spent a summer abroad in Belgium, is fluent in French as well as English and Japanese and is currently supplementing her pre-nursing studies with French classes. Miho has always been a community activist, initiating an after-school language program at a local elementary school, and teaching ESL and Japanese in the public schools. Now she’s become proficient in Spanish and has just gained her certification to teach that language. Egnor can find irony along with some humor in his wife’s accomplishments. “Here’s a native of Japan who came to the U.S. and now will teach Spanish,” he chuckles.

He gives much credit for his success and choice of career path to his parents, L.D. and the late Ann Egnor. They gave him the freedom to try his academic wings, he says, and had the courage to allow the teenager to spend that summer in Japan, which shaped his future. He’s proud that both his parents and his grandmother, Maxie, a Cabell County science teacher, are Marshall graduates. Egnor himself made time to complete a doctorate in Educational Leadership from WVU in cooperation with Marshall in 2001. His father went on to earn a law degree from West Virginia University and later returned to Huntington where he practiced law for several years before becoming the Cabell County prosecuting attorney and later a West Virginia circuit court judge.

These days, Egnor says, “We keep weekends free for family affairs. The whole family kind of lives what we do, professionally it’s who we are. My work is what I love to do and we’re making contributions to the community by bringing our international experiences to others. Every path you take, no one else has taken it. It’s such a thrill to see our community more interconnected to the world.”

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