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Clark Engineering Scholars
For six budding engineers, Clark Scholars program offers more than financial aid; it’s ‘an immersion experience.’
May 24, 2012
One plays the French horn, another is on the crew team and another sings a cappella; some already have their hands in research, others in mentoring and entrepreneurship. Now as the half-dozen sophomore engineering students chosen to be the inaugural class of A. James Clark Engineering Scholars, they also are getting the chance to receive rigorous training in the fundamentals of leadership.
"I think a lot of people have the view that leaders are born, but most leaders that we talk to say leaders are created; that you can learn to be a leader," says David Dolling, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "We firmly believe that people can acquire leadership skills through experience, and that’s what we hope to give the students who come through the program."
The enterprise, launched in January, was created with an $8 million gift from local entrepreneur A. James Clark, board chairman and CEO of Clark Enterprises Inc., one of the nation’s largest privately held companies and the parent holding company of Clark Construction Group LLC.
"Clark Construction and GW have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship," Mr. Clark said when the program was announced. "We have built many buildings together and our company has hired, and continues to employ, many fine GW graduates."
Clark Construction Group, through a competitive bidding process, has been involved in the building or renovation of several GW facilities, including The Avenue, the new complex across from GW Hospital.
Education, said Mr. Clark, "is the key to our nation’s future and the Clark Engineering Scholars program, coupled with a GW education, will provide an excellent foundation for a lifetime of opportunity, enjoyment and contributions to society."
GW President Steven Knapp said the gift reflected Mr. Clark’s enthusiasm for the university's plans to build the new Science and Engineering Hall. "His vision and generosity will enable us to create a signature program to educate the next generation of engineering leaders."
Mr. Clark also is a GW trustee emeritus, and last year received an honorary doctorate of engineering from the university.
The scholarship program is open to SEAS freshmen, and is renewable each year on the basis of merit. But beyond the financial award, students in the Clark Scholars program also take on internships and agree to spend a semester studying abroad as an element of the program.
"It's more than a scholarship. We call it an immersion experience," says Dean Dolling. "You're given a series of experiences."
Internship opportunities might range from jobs in the federal government or big business, to local start-ups and nonprofits. And study abroad will be offered through established partnerships—currently at University College Dublin and Korea University, in Seoul, South Korea—that eliminate sometimes-prohibitive concerns for whether grades and credits will transfer.
That was an aspect that sparked the interest of Janeen Williams, one of the Clark Scholars, who is studying in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "I think studying abroad can really transform a person and engineers really never had that ability before," she says. "The fact that the scholarship was pushing for a new type of engineer, an emerging leader in the engineering field, that just really appealed to me."
The Clark Scholars also had their first "boot camp" in August, where faculty members and alumni discussed leadership attributes and professional responsibilities and ethics. Dean Dolling says he's hoping the program eventually will include at least one event per month for the group, and likely other students, to interact with successful alumni, like the upcoming Oct. 27 talk by Anousheh Ansari, MS '92, the first female private space explorer and chief executive officer of Prodea Systems.
Speakers will come from a mix of backgrounds and professions, Dean Dolling says.
"The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is seeing what’s possible," says Liam Cusack, a Clark Scholar from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The boot camp "was eye-opening, as to what can be done with an engineering degree," he says, and he's anticipating future events with alumni "and seeing the different paths that are available."
For Clark Scholars John Donahue and Molly Olsen, it’s also an opportunity to impact others.
Mr. Donahue says he’s hoping to help develop the program for future recipients. "We need to do a lot, work hard and maybe create some interesting things, and that way we can set an example."
Ms. Olsen says she hopes she's able to "inspire other students in SEAS to—it sounds corny but—dream big." She arrived at SEAS without a clear vision (eventually deciding on the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) and was nervous about applying for the Clark Scholars program. "But now I'm taking advantage of everything that SEAS has to offer, and it's going really well for me."
"When you meet a group of students like this," says Dean Dolling, "you realize that the world will be in good hands. They're energetic, they're responsible, they're wanting to learn, they're wanting to do good things."