She can delight an audience with her high-spirited banter and her lighthearted tales of moving around the country with an accomplished family of doers. But today Mary Clark is back at Marshall for the second time and she’s on a serious mission to complete her Ph.D. so she can add those cherished letters after her name.
Currently she has a dual role, both as the coordinator of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) in the Office of Multicultural Affairs and as the Graduate School of Education and Professional Development's Minority Faculty Fellow, in a program that aims to assist and encourage doctoral students as they complete their dissertations. And actually, the two are meshing together quite well, she says.
LSAMP, she explains, is a National Science Foundation grant that supports students of color who are majoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. “The goal is to foster community at an institution and encourage and support students to pursue their science majors while building a community among one another to participate in research symposiums and to learn how to conduct research on and off the campus,” she explains. “We try to promote relationships between students and their departments so that they can have research possibilities with their professors and then make presentations on both local and national levels.” As a program coordinator, she also has other duties.
Clark first came to Marshall in 2003 as the Director of the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program, which provides academic services to the Athletic Department. She stayed until 2006, when she moved to St. Louis, Mo. In truth, moving around the country has been a big part of her life. Growing up as the daughter of an attorney and an educator, she, her two sisters and a brother, attended schools in five states. “We lived in Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky. I finished high school in Louisville, Ky. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southeast Missouri State University and my doctorate will be from Saint Louis University.” Now retired, her parents live in Wichita, Kan. That’s an area Clark knows well because for one period in 1998 she and her father both worked at Wichita State University, he as the Director of Equal Opportunity and University Counsel, and she as an admissions recruiter. Then for her it was on to Marquette University in 2001, where she served as a student involvement coordinator in athletics, managing eight different teams in addition to managing the tutorial program, the supervision and coordination of study hall, and advising the student-athlete advisory council. Her work at Marquette prepared her well for her role in the Marshall Athletic Department.
In the summer of 2010 Dr. Shari Clarke, Vice President for Multicultural Affairs, contacted her to see if she was interested in assisting with some programs during the summer. “I worked for four months, then went back to St. Louis before I came back to Marshall a year ago to work on the NSF grant. When I saw a notice for the Minority Faculty Fellowship, I applied. I’ve taught undergraduate courses but I would like to teach on the graduate level. To do that you have to go through a process, have mentors on the way to becoming faculty. I wanted to have something that would support me in this endeavor and the fellowship seemed a good way to do that.”
And from a practical viewpoint, she sees another advantage. “ I sat in the
classroom for so many years I wanted to see what it’s like from the other side.
I wanted to know what goes into faculty research and service and how you manage
students in a classroom. I have always understood class from the perspective of
the student and as a doctoral student going to classes was the easy part. Now
I’m in the process of writing and editing the chapters in my dissertation. I’m
trying to stay on track because it’s easy to get away from the work and ignore
Her dissertation centers on the challenges facing black Greek-letter organizations. “I’m focusing on the duty of institutions to provide or support and provide leadership development for them. The goal is to create a set of best practices and recommendations for predominately white institutions where there is a population of black Greeks.”
Clark has experienced, and her research has concluded, that often black Greeks don’t get the same type of attention because their structures and practices are different from typical white Greek organizations. “I’m looking at this unique population because there are challenges from both inside and outside their governing council that affect the type of support they receive, so I want to bridge the gap. My goal is to research these practices and make recommendations so that gap can be closed, because we’re missing out the development of an entire group of student leaders.”
There’s one myth she’s fervently working to dispel about Greek organizations—all Greeks, she says firmly. “Too many times when people think of Greeks, they automatically think of hazing. There’s so much more that sororities and fraternities do. Part of my research is to expose those myths and change the false perceptions. Within the next 10 years the majority of Greek-letter organizations will be 100 years old or older—they’ve stood the test of time and members need to reflect on that greatness. The title of my dissertation is ‘Old School Traditions versus New School Attitudes.’ We need to take our new-school attitudes with the new millennium generation and remind them of the old school traditions and the luster and prestige of these organizations.”
Clark is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the chapter secretary for the Huntington Alumnae chapter. As a fourth-generation member of fraternal organizations, she’s carrying on a long family tradition. One of the earliest members was her paternal great- grandfather, who went on to become the first black graduate from the University of Kansas Law School.
With an undergraduate degree in mass communications, a minor in retail management and a M.A. in guidance and counseling with an emphasis in higher education, she’s creatively incorporated these seemingly diverse degrees into her work through the years. As an undergraduate she worked in the University Communications office and went on to land a prestigious internship with the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). “My first job was in the university bookstore and I did the display windows and loved it, that’s where my retail and graphics training came in. I’ve always worked in small offices where two or three people do everything, so I usually do program planning, meet with students and design flyers, brochures, invitations, whatever is needed.”
Although her schedule is very tight--“I need to keep everything balanced and in perspective” she admits--she does try to build in some flexibility to watch athletic events, She’s partial to football and basketball games and also likes to visit with friends who live fairly close and make periodic trips to visit her family who are spread out across the country. “And of course, I love shopping!” she says with a laugh.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs is a busy one, she adds, with a wide-ranging array of creative projects always on tap. Clark’s schedule recently reflected the wide variety of projects she manages all within a span of a few weeks. She started off with her sorority’s Go Red for Women program, conducted a brown bag lunch presentation of her dissertation research, created a resume workshop presentation to a student group and concluded with the fancifully named “Are You a Peacock or a Penguin,” showcasing the Office of Multicultural Affairs initiatives. And just on the horizon is the highly popular St. Patrick’s Day celebration, a fun event the office puts on for the university.
“The fellowship here has helped me tremendously,” she reflects. “It’s helped me focus on when I need to switch gears and I can do that. My goal is to have a dual appointment and the current situation is letting me experience that to some extent. But right now I love what I’m doing. I get to see how other offices operate and get some perspective on what it means to be faculty. We’re such an active office. There’s always something going on, students coming in and out, events to be planned for. But the bottom line is we have a lot of laughter in our office.”
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