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‘Perpetual curiosity’ drives new VP

June 10, 2002

A native of New Orleans, Emily Clark says her birthplace is a city unlike any other—ethnically diverse, culturally rich, intellectually stimulating, and infused with an offbeat ambience that is much more Caribbean than Southern. Growing up in that energizing environment allowed her to thrive.


“My mother was a professor of social work, so I was exposed at a very young age to the importance of attending to social problems,” says Clark. “When I was in first grade, my sister and I were among a handful of children who didn’t boycott on the day a little girl named Ruby Bridges rather famously desegregated our city’s schools.”


Clark was also a quiet, intellectual kid who read books on history, Egyptology, and ancient Greece and dreamed of being an archaeologist. Dual passions for social justice and the life of the mind have led her down a nonlinear career path—a journey that brought her to Lewis & Clark in January as vice president for planning and secretary of the College. In this position, she will coordinate the work of the administration and the Board of Trustees, as well as manage the College’s long-range planning.


Early in her career, Clark’s study of the classics earned her the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a year of archaeological studies at Oxford University, and fieldwork in Crete. Though she found the work intellectually stimulating, Clark’s practical nature took hold.


“I was concerned about choosing the life of a classicist at a time when it was very difficult to get work,” she says. “My family was intact, but my mother was the main breadwinner, and I grew up with the idea that I would have to support myself.”


Clark switched gears, earning a master’s degree in social work at Tulane University. She did fieldwork on the effects of Head Start on school-age children, managed a parent-child center, and immersed herself in lobbying state and national legislatures on public policy issues.


Feeling that she had gone as far as she could in the public-policy arena in New Orleans, Clark headed to Tulane University, where she became vice president for public affairs.


“I loved the university setting,” she says, “and I began to realize that many academics are doing research that puts them on the cutting edge of social responsibility and civic engagement.”


Convinced that academia offered the opportunity to merge her fervor for social justice and the life of the mind, Clark went on to earn a doctorate in American history at Tulane. She won sundry fellowships and awards, including the William R. Hogan Fellowship Award for excellence in teaching and a two-year Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in American History at the University of Cambridge. Most recently, she was an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi.


In addition, she has lectured and published widely in her field and is looking forward to the publication of her first book, The Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834, by the University of North Carolina Press.


“The Ursulines were the first activist nuns,” says Clark. “Before them, all nuns were cloistered. As the first teaching order, they were instrumental in the development of colonial society in Louisiana.”


Impressed with Lewis & Clark’s “stunningly good faculty and President Mooney’s vision,” she’s also looking forward to the evolution of her role at the College.


“Next year, I anticipate being involved in a broader strategic planning process arising from the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Teaching, and the Faculty Advisory Task Force on Diversity,” says Clark.


In the meantime, she’s exploring Oregon’s towns and hillsides with her husband, Ron Biava, and their puppy, Sophie. Clark has a passion for opera and is a serious cook who loves to throw dinner parties. And when it comes to art, she says nothing compares to the exquisite works found in Venice. “Friends who know me say that I have ‘an appetite for life and perpetual curiosity.’”


— by Pattie Pace

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