Clark Scholars Program Comes to Tech

This past March, Georgia Tech was selected to receive a $15 million endowment grant from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation to establish a Clark Scholars Program in the College of Engineering. Clark Scholars will receive a debt-free education and be selected from among incoming students who exhibit strong academic potential, leadership skills, engagement in engineering, and financial need.

The Clark Scholars endowment is not only a big commitment — the largest single commitment for endowed scholarship support ever received by the College of Engineering — it’s also a big deal. From a reputation, programmatic, and philanthropic standpoint, having a Clark Scholars Program at Georgia Tech brings the Institute that much closer to being the very best choice for the very best aspiring engineers.

“The Clark Scholars Program will have a huge impact on the College of Engineering’s ability to attract the brightest young minds,” says Steve McLaughlin, dean and Southern Company Chair. “It will help us further cultivate an inclusive and diverse student body — and the entrepreneurial spirit, community-minded values, and drive for excellence it encourages align perfectly with the mission of the College.”

Buidling a Legacy 

When A. James Clark (1927 – 2015) was a young man, he was awarded a much-needed scholarship to attend engineering school. From there, he went on to achieve legendary status as a builder, heading up one of the nation’s most expansive construction conglomerates, Clark Enterprises Inc. But the “King of Concrete” also made sure his legacy would build opportunity, especially for young engineering students who could use help like he had received.

His foundation has endowed engineering scholar- ships since the 1990s, and he made a naming gift to the engineering school at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, in 1994. Now the A. James Clark Scholars Program, announced in 2011, is spreading his legacy even further. Georgia Tech is a natural fit for the program, joining other “Clark Schools” such as George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stevens Institute of Technology, Vanderbilt University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech.

Clark Scholars not only pursue a rigorous education in an engineering discipline, they also comprise a cohort of students who participate in specially designed academic and leadership activities during the summer, take a complement of business courses, engage with entrepreneurial programs such as CREATE-X, mentor one another, and work on community service projects.

Approximately 10 students will be selected for the program every year, starting fall 2018, so it will take Georgia Tech several years to build up to an anticipated cohort of 40 to 50 students. This year, since the program is brand new, Georgia Tech was not able to specifically recruit for the program, but instead made offers to existing applicants. Just like with the Stamps President’s Scholars Program, efforts were made to create a balanced cohort with gender, racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity.

Buidling a Cohort

Even before the endowment was secured and the program was announced, educators and admin- istrators across campus have been working to ensure that the Clark Scholars Program will get off to a strong, successful start.

David Torello, MS 2013, Ph.D. 2017, a lecturer in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, was brought into initial discussions with the Clark Foundation to inform and shape the “type of person”

Georgia Tech would select to direct the program. Many months later, he was pleased to get a call inviting him to become the program’s first director.

Directing the Clark Scholars Program is now 50 percent of Torello’s job, and given the tight turnaround between the announcement this spring and implementation this summer, he went into high gear to prepare for the first cohort. He visited a few other Clark Schools to see how they operate, and he also looked closer to home for programs he could model and resources he could tap into, including OMED (Office of Minority Educational Development), ORGT (Outdoor Recreation Georgia Tech), FASET Orientation, Stamps President’s Scholars, and CEED (Center for Engineering Diversity).

“I have gotten the most helpful advice,” Torello says. “One big thing was to make expectations clear from the start, but we’re also going to get the cohort together twice a month throughout the year to see how the students are doing, ask what they think is working, what they would like to see — we want them to have input into the program.”

Georgia Tech’s Clark Scholars will also benefit from interactions with the Clark Foundation and Clark Scholars from other schools.

“The Clark Foundation is not like, here’s the money, we’re out of here,” Torello says. “They are involved in helping the students with opportunities and experiences,  and building a network with Clark Scholars at other schools.”

It might take a while to establish the Clark Scholars Program at Georgia Tech and build the level of name recognition that similar programs enjoy beyond the Institute, Torello says, but he thinks the College of Engi-neering’s strengths in research, innovation, and student entrepreneurship will give it a powerful boost.

“Hopefully, once we’re established, people will know, first, this is a Georgia Tech grad — that means they are a hell of an engineer,” Torello says. “Then, on top of that, the fact that they’re a Clark Scholar will show they have business acumen, a strong service background, leader- ship experience — looking at those two things together will tell people a lot about these students and what they can achieve.”

Shrinking a Stubborn Funding Gap

More need-based, four-year, full-ride scholarship offerings like the Clark Scholars Program are exactly what Georgia Tech needs to compete with other premier universities, says Director of Admission Rick Clark (no relation). This is partly because, as higher education costs continue to rise, more students are being priced out of attending Georgia Tech, and partly because peer institutions are investing more in robust financial packages.

The result is an increasingly skewed demographic at Tech — kind of like a barbell, Clark says. “We have amazing work that’s being done around the Tech Promise Scholarship, which helps students from Georgia whose families earn less than $33,300 a year, and we have great programs like Stamps President’s Scholarships, which are offered regardless of family income,” he points out. “But then there’s that middle group that’s getting squeezed.”

Stellar students from this economic level are being lured away from Georgia Tech by schools with larger endowments, he says.

“We admit a lot of great kids who have established need who would love to come to Georgia Tech, but when they get that financial aid letter offering a full ride from MIT, or Carnegie-Mellon, or Johns Hopkins — that’s where they’re going to go. You shouldn’t feel sorry for that kid; you should just feel motivated to help Georgia Tech keep these students in the future.”

This year’s cohort of Clark Scholars could very well include admitted students who might otherwise have gotten away, Clark says. “These kids we’ve selected, they’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, they’ve overcome adversity, they’re concerned with things way bigger than just themselves — based on what we know about the Clark Scholars Program, the type of student they are looking for is core to who we are as an institution. We wouldn’t have admitted them otherwise.”

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