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Four-Year Plan

The structure envisioned for the Clark Scholars Program balances individualized mentoring and the support of a cohort community to achieve three learning outcomes:

  1. cultivate creativity
  2. generate intellectual curiosity
  3. spark a passion for diversity of thought

The program is not intended to oversubscribe students to a list of requirements that places burden on them, but to accomplish the program’s objectives through a unified approach to the many options available for student development. We aim to administer this program while addressing the unique needs of first-generation college students, women, and underrepresented minorities in engineering.

Clark Scholars will attend regular meetings, participate in at least one service learning project, complete coursework, and pursue optional research or design projects during the summer. Some of the meetings will attract all cohorts, others will be tailored specifically to the student’s academic class as outlined in the following four-year plan, and some will address concerns common to first-generation students.

External speakers and campus leaders will frequently enrich the programming for the Clark Scholars. The dean of the School of Engineering will attend at least one event per semester as appropriate based on the topic. As a first-generation college student himself, the dean is particularly motivated to host informal conversations with all Clark Scholars at least once per year in order to understand student perspectives and provide guidance to encourage academic and professional development.

Students will also participate in an experiential learning program, part of the cross-campus DIVE program being developed to guide immersive experiences using the theme of human-centered design. Global experiences, either study abroad or service learning, will be encouraged and fit comfortably in the School of Engineering’s existing culture.

Year 1: Creating the cohort community

Upon entering the School of Engineering, creating community among the cohort of 10 students will be critical for long-term success. In order to do this and adjust to campus life, regular cohort meetings will take place and cover a variety of issues facing first-year students. At the beginning of the semester, the cohort will participate in a targeted orientation that includes a service day event designed to build community as well as engage in active citizenship. After this experience, students will have the opportunity to reflect on the activity, tie their experiences to the learning outcomes and plot a course for continued community service events throughout the academic year.

Every first-year engineering student at Vanderbilt is required to take the Introduction to Engineering course where they self-design their learning path in order to sample up to three different engineering disciplines. This series of short courses are typically hands-on, design-based, and address contemporary engineering problems across a variety of engineering disciplines. Clark Scholars will be advised as a group throughout the course by the course director so they can choose a major that best aligns with their interests.

Regular meetings will involve all four cohorts with some being topically specific to an individual cohort. Examples of cohort meetings for first-year students include visits by campus professionals on topics including time management/study skills by the Center for Student Wellbeing, making the right decision on an engineering major by engineering faculty, service learning opportunities by the Office of Active Citizenship and Service, adjusting to campus life by residential staff, academic career planning by engineering faculty. A joint academic effort between the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Science provides tutored drop-in hours for students needing support in core engineering, math and science courses. Some of the regular cohort meetings could be used for more structured tutoring in these core courses if needed. Clark Scholars will also be encouraged to attend lecture series, such as the Chambers Family Entrepreneurial Lecture and the Schmidt Family Lecture on Educational Technology, that address School of Engineering priorities.

A hallmark of the Clark Scholars program is guaranteed support for an immersive experience on campus in the summer after the first year if students choose to participate. This signature program in the School of Engineering pays students to do research or engage in design projects on campus during the summers. The dean of engineering matches stipends typically provided by a faculty researcher or a research grant. While this well-established program has been in existence for two decades, we continue to innovate for diverse types of summer experiences. This experience lasts approximately eight weeks depending on the projects undertaken. Students seeking a design experience will interface with the various engineering makerspaces on campus, benefit from mentorship at the Wond’ry, and become undergraduate mentors for other students interested in working in the makerspaces.

Year 2: Developing leaders through in-depth service and mentorship

During the sophomore year, Clark Scholars will focus on diversifying their activities. As part of the DIVE program, the sophomore cohort of Clark Scholars will participate in a semester-long service project conducted by the Office of Active Citizenship and Service in partnership with the Mayor of Nashville’s office to focus on one of five civic concerns: glass recycling, food deserts, refugee and immigration efforts, impact of neighborhood gentrification, and access to employment by impoverished youth. This experiential program begins with a boot camp-style onboarding process conducted using a cohort model. Groups are paired with a community partner with whom they work for the semester. The program ends in a poster presentation event. Tying this experience with the students’ engineering education is critical in setting up future experiential learning opportunities. Students will be expected to use their experience to guide their choice in electives, minor programs, and student organization involvement to further enrich their undergraduate experience. We anticipate some of these projects will continue into future semesters.

The sophomore Clark Scholars cohort will enroll in a leadership development course offered either through the engineering management program in the School of Engineering or in the undergraduate business minor. For example, the engineering management course, usually taken in the sophomore year, teaches students how to deal with conflict, build teams, reward and reprimand, assess and predict behavior of others, type personalities, and it presents leadership theories. It also emphasizes the organizational and societal benefits of diversity in all its forms. The course is often cited by engineering alumni as one of the most valuable courses taken as undergraduates in contributing directly to their professional life.

Cohort meetings will continue during the sophomore year as in the previous year and will include relevant topics such as the “sophomore slump,” participating in Wond’ry activities and seminars, planning for a summer internship using the Career Center in addition to the annual lecture series such as the Chambers Lecture and the Schmidt Lecture. Guest speakers will discuss leadership skills and practices to support their coursework in Applied Behavioral Science.

It is especially important to begin linking the various cohorts together. Sophomore scholars will meet and have the opportunity to mentor the cohort below them. Some of the monthly meetings will be dedicated to undergraduate mentoring between the cohorts. As the Clark Scholar pipeline reaches steady state, engineering alumni working for Clark Construction can join the School of Engineering’s robust Alumni Mentoring Program and be paired with Clark Scholars.

 The summer after the sophomore year can be used in a variety of ways. Continuing with service learning, the Office of Active Citizenship and Service hosts global service learning experiences over six weeks in four locations where students can participate and part of their expenses covered by their Clark Scholarship. Summer research and design experiences continue as in the previous year, except that sophomores have the opportunity to mentor first-year Clark Scholars in design projects. Of course, a summer industry-based internship is encouraged for all engineering students.

Year 3: Defining interests, expanding the network of Clark Scholars

During the junior year, the engineering curriculum becomes more discipline-specific as students are expected to begin solidifying their career plans. The Career Center will play a larger role for Clark Scholars in their junior year with students participating in information sessions, resume reviews, and interview coaching. Those students interested in attending graduate school will also be mentored by professionals from the pre-health advising office, the pre-law adviser, and the engineering administrators and faculty heavily involved in graduate studies. The cohort meetings will continue as in the previous two years. Leadership seminars, where the speakers change annually, will become more relevant as their graduation approaches. Successful mentoring relationships will continue between the cohorts and with alumni. New mentoring relationships can form based on compatibility between individuals and can be aligned by career aspirations or community service interests.

The engineering curriculum will be supplemented with a course in project management offered by the engineering management program. Open to only juniors and seniors and part of both the engineering management and the undergraduate business minors, seats will be reserved for the cohort across the various sections of the course in order to accommodate the varying major course obligations. Project Management teaches the PMBOK (project management body of knowledge) and, through an academic arrangement with the Project Management Institute, qualifies all students to take the CAPM (Certified Associate Project Manager) exam – the first step to PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. Clark Scholars would be highly encouraged to take the exam and would have their exam fee covered. Currently the CAPM exam pass rate for students taking the project management course is 98 percent.

During the junior year, we think it would be advantageous for junior cohorts from the other Clark Scholars programs to meet and network at a Clark Scholars Summit linking these diverse groups of engineering students. The meeting creates the capacity for involvement of mentors from the students’ fields of study who are outside Vanderbilt. Additionally, it would be a unique opportunity for program directors to collaborate and share effective program ideas. The location for this summit could be on a campus or another central location.

The summer after the junior year should be reserved for industry-based internships or an intensive summer research experience if a student is preparing for graduate study. At this point in the students’ academic careers, they will be well-equipped with tools to almost guarantee their success.

Year 4: Solidifying leadership through Senior Design and Business Knowledge

Upon return to campus for their senior year, Clark Scholars will share their experiences with the cohorts below them and allow for younger students to ask questions and gain advice on how they can proceed through the next academic years. Regular meetings will continue though the seniors will take on a greater mentoring role with the other Clark Scholar cohorts. These meetings will also involve the Career Center and address licensing options for the various engineering majors. Clark Scholars will know the value of taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and will be encouraged to take it. Year over year, around 99 percent of Vanderbilt engineering students who take the FE exam pass it.

Also in the senior year, the senior design project courses begin. To supplement the engineering curriculum, Clark Scholars will be enrolled in an accounting course offered by either the engineering management program or the undergraduate business minor. For example, the engineering management course focuses on accounting principles but also introduces various advanced concepts regarding financing, financial reporting, taxation, debt structuring, time value of money, etc. The course is highly quantitative and uses specific engineering scenarios and cases to illustrate the concepts. One noteworthy case involved the class deconstructing and tracing the financing models for the construction of Nashville’s new convention center. The professor who teaches this course also teaches a personal financial management seminar to senior engineering students in their final semester. He maintains his CPA license and teaches students principles of employee stock options, insurances, personal debt management, 401(k) programs, etc. Adding a section specifically for Clark Scholars will be another featured component of the program.