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By John Baker Brown

David Clark was confused. The associate vice president of Campus Life was in his home office and had just joined the online university-wide COVID planning session for spring 2021, when he discovered that his wife was also on the call. Although Kimber Clark works for Emory’s Office for Undergraduate Education (OUE), her role normally would not bring her to this meeting.

“I wasn’t quite sure how she would land in that meeting,” Clark recalled. “We’re in the same house but on different laptops and different email accounts. I thought maybe it was some really weird technical glitch in our home network.”

David Clark Portrait

Fortunately, Clark’s confusion was short-lived. His wife was there to share in the announcement that her husband, unknown to him, had received a prestigious award from the leading professional association for student affairs practitioners. The 2021 AVP/Senior Level Student Affairs Professional Award was presented to Clark by Region III of NASPA, an organization that represents 15,000 professionals and 12,000 institutions around the world.

Clark admitted that he did not even know about the nomination prior to the meeting, much less that members of his staff had submitted it.

“I am fortunate to work with a team of incredibly capable, clever, and compassionate colleagues who hold me and each other to the highest of standards,” he said. “To know that the nomination came from these outstanding folks is truly humbling. I can honestly say that this award is more a reflection of their work than mine.”

Clark’s diverse portfolio includes a team of approximately 100 full-time staff, more than 250 student staff, and represents several university departments. It encompasses Campus Dining, Auxiliary Services, Housing Operations, Residence Life, Sorority and Fraternity Life, Finance and Human Resources, Campus Life Technology Services, University Bookstores, and Student Center Operations and Events. In addition, Clark provides leadership to the EmoryCard Office, Business Services, and Emory Film Management. 

According to the nomination letter, the awardee’s leadership since joining Emory in 2017 has had a major impact. For example, he worked successfully to expand programs and services for students who remain on campus during breaks and reinvigorated the move-in process to allow deeper connection with residential students. He also led development of a new sorority and fraternity strategic plan that enhanced programming and housing for that community.

David ClarkClark met over coffee this spring with student leader Mikko Biana, a senior majoring in international studies.

Clark’s colleagues emphasize that his leadership style and interpersonal skills have been remarkably effective in addressing a range of challenges. According to team member David Furhman, senior director of administration and operations, “David has a unique talent to manage and motivate a broad range of people by providing them with support, confidence, and empowerment, while sharing a tenacious focus on quality outcomes.” 

Kim Pfeffer, director of the EmoryCard Office, agrees. “Working with David has been one of the most productive and supportive supervisory relationships in my more than 20 years in higher education,” she said. “His ability to balance professionalism and innovation with inclusiveness, kindness, and empathy has inspired me as I develop my own team.”

Clark’s colleagues also give him high marks on responding to the unique challenges confronting the nation’s entire higher education community today.

“David has played a vital role in Emory’s COVID-19 response,” explained Scott Rausch, senior director of Residence, Sorority, and Fraternity Life. “He’s worked tirelessly to help develop interdepartmental protocols and the Emory Community Compact that guide behavior and have enabled students, faculty, and staff to begin returning to campus.”

Despite the range of his administrative and management responsibilities, Clark’s bottom line never waivers from serving students and enriching their Emory experience, according to Elaine Turner, senior director of Housing Operations, who cited his commitment to social justice as an example. 

“David’s core goals include creating vibrant student residential and other on-campus experiences that embrace diversity, inclusion, and social justice,” she said. “He has been highly effective in developing and executing strategies and influencing others toward this goal.”

Nor has it all been about management and policy. According to Lina Vargas, senior director of Campus Life Finance, Clark’s “thoughtful and compassionate leadership style has helped anchor the campus community” since the pandemic hit.

“For example, on several occasions, students became ill and had to be moved from their residence halls to receive better care,” Vargas explained. “David personally pitched in, helping students pack and move their belongings. At the same time, he continuously checked on his team’s health and well-being.”

According to Clark’s immediate supervisor, Enku Gelaye, vice president and dean of Campus Life, “We would not have been as successful in dealing with the coronavirus and returning to campus last fall without David’s leadership. But his contributions certainly don’t end there.

“David understands that sustainable institutional change to elevate the student experience occurs when diverse voices are student-centered and represented at the table,” Gelaye added. “He builds bridges with academic affairs to ensure that our financial, operational, and administrative policies and procedures in student affairs optimally serve our students.”

Perhaps no one works more closely with Clark than Brenda Kinchen, his administrative assistant. “David is a colleague and friend, one of the best supervisors I’ve known,“ she said. “He’s an outstanding leader who cares about everybody – especially our students.” 

According to Kinchen, Clark takes time to get to know work-study students who serve his organization and those in other offices nearby, greeting them daily and regularly inquiring about their progress in school. 

“David’s really a very humble guy with a great sense of humor, what we call ‘down to earth’ in New Orleans,” Kinchen added. “Once I witnessed him arrive at an event early and offer to help facilities staff set up tables.”

Clark’s influence has also been felt beyond Emory’s campus. He has been a featured speaker on various panels, addressing topics such as working with public-private partnerships and building for the future. He also served NASPA as chair of the International Education Knowledge Community, editorial board member for the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, and regular participant in the Fraternity and Sorority Life Summit.

Clark is deeply honored to be recognized by NASPA, an organization he describes as critical to the collective success of higher education in general and student affairs in particular. “I am profoundly grateful for NASPA’s advocacy and wisdom as we continue to confront today’s once unimaginable challenges,” he added.

How does he feel about the institution he serves?

“I cannot overemphasize that working at Emory is a privilege I do not take lightly,” Clark said. “The opportunity to serve in this space at this time with such amazing students and colleagues is one of the great honors of my life.”

David ClarkOne evening last fall, Clark and other university executives joined Residence Life staff on their regular evening campus rounds to engage students on the importance of COVID-19 protocols outlined in the university’s Community Compact. From left: Clark; Emory President Greg Fenves; Gelaye; Community Compact coordinator Jeremy Male; Residence Life director Scott Rausch; Community Compact coordinators Nicholas Sapp and Diane Glover.