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Clark Fellowship, namesake honored

By : Eric Coker

Clifford D. Clark returned to campus on Aug. 18 for a reception that honored the former Binghamton University president and the successful graduate fellowship program for diversity that bears his name.

The event, held in the Anderson Center Reception Room, featured President Lois DeFleur; Nancy Stamp, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School; administrators; faculty members; and current and former Clark fellows.

“You have enriched Binghamton with your presence,” Clark told the fellows.

DeFleur praised her predecessor, saying Clark worked to increase and improve the quality of the graduate programs.

“I would say his most prominent legacy is his deep commitment to educational access and diversity,” DeFleur said. “He understands the importance of having varied perspectives on whatever issue or project is being worked on. And he understands how having a wide range of cultures, races and nationalities on campus enriched education for all of us here.”

The Clifford D. Clark Graduate Fellowship Program for Diversity was started in 1987 and is designed to recruit and support students who have been admitted to graduate study and contribute to the diversity of the student body in the graduate programs.

Funded by SUNY and the endowment named for Clark, recipients receive stipends, tuition scholarships, health insurance and research opportunities, such as  travel to professional conferences.

The program has supported more than 500 master and doctoral students and more than 400 have graduated since 1987-88, Stamp said. About 20 new recipients are supported each year, for a total of 60-70 fellows per year.

“This program has become a vital component in our ability to attract and retain top students from underrepresented minorities into graduate programs here at Binghamton,” Stamp said. “Research shows that institutional diversity enhances the growth and development of all students because it broadens perspectives, which in turn promotes creativity, innovation in the workplace and the acceptance of people from different cultures.”

Stamp also pointed to the support that the fellowship provides, such as the Graduate Community of Scholars. The GCOS includes a writing initiative that crosses disciplines and creates a peer support system.

“All graduate students will tell you that when they’re writing their thesis or dissertation, it’s a very isolating experience,” Stamp said. “By having a writing workshop for the Clark fellows, they’ve found that this broadens their perspectives because they are exchanging ideas with students from other disciplines.”

The success of the program also has led to additional funding, Stamp said. For example, a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Alliance for Graduate Education for the Professoriate (NSF-AGEP) helps underrepresented minorities in sciences, education and engineering.

Jasper Chiguma, a Clark fellow who received his doctorate in materials science and engineering in May and is now working as a post-doctoral associate with chemistry Professor Wayne Jones, said there is more to the fellowship than financial support.

“People can always get money from other sources, but it’s difficult to come up with the good ideas that help develop the Clark Fellowship,” said Chiguma, originally from Zimbabwe. “It realizes that the University, which is composed of people from different backgrounds, can offer students a lot in terms of experience and learning how others live and behave.”

Jose Rodriguez, who is starting his third year in the English doctoral program after coming to Binghamton from the University of Texas-Pan American, also attended the reception and emphasized the importance of the fellowship.

“It’s truly invaluable,” he said. “It offers me time to focus on my studies and do the work. It’s really a good thing.”

Chiguma and Rodriguez were just two of the students to greet and pose for pictures with Clark, who had not been on campus in more than 10 years. The 84-year-old Clark served as president from 1975-1990 and now lives in Detroit.

Clark, whose work directly led SUNY to establish funding for graduate fellowships for outstanding minority students, said the program developed on campus over a long period of time. Having a diverse population among graduate students was needed, he added.

“I wanted to have a campus that represented the state of New York,” he said. “We did not have that campus: We had a campus that represented a few parts of New York.”

Helping to open the Dachau concentration camp at the end of World War II also provided Clark with a background to ensure that his work succeeded.

“When you are met with 20,000-30,000 starving prisoners, you begin to appreciate that a society that is inclusive is a high goal to be perceived,” he said. “For the purpose of inclusiveness, I was willing to push for this program.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08