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A. James Clark Scholars Program

In 2017, a visionary $15 million gift from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation to Vanderbilt University established the A. James Clark Scholars Program at the School of Engineering. The Clark Scholars Program enables talented undergraduate students to become engineering pioneers who reflect the character, passion and vision of the program's namesake.

The Clark Scholars Program is the foundation's signature academic program. It emphasizes three key components -- engineering excellence, business acumen and service learning -- characteristics the late A. James Clark embodied and wished to cultivate in others.

The inaugural class of 10 students arrived on campus in August 2017.

By fall 2021, the Clark Scholars Program is approximately 40 students strong. The program, which is part of the university’s Opportunity Vanderbilt initiative, provides scholarship support to exceptional students representing many backgrounds and viewpoints.

“My father never forgot that his business successes began with an engineering scholarship,” said Courtney Clark Pastrick, board chair of the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and one of Mr. Clark’s three children. She is also a member of Vanderbilt’s Board of Trust. “He firmly believed in the power of education to develop young leaders — and that engineering leaders can change our world for the better.”

Program Description

The Clark Scholars Program provides numerous opportunities to develop a specific type of engineer who merges superb leadership talent, a dedication to civic engagement and a world-class engineering education. As the practice of engineering becomes increasingly diverse, it must retain its emphasis on the public good while contributing to economic growth. While this is an age-old mission, the nature of engineering problems has changed and the complexity of solutions has increased. Clark Scholars will be uniquely prepared to lead in a changing world where technological developments will depend more on human-centered design and engineering problems will become more difficult to solve.

The goals of the Clark Scholars Program are to combine experiential learning, coursework, mentoring and summer experiences into a unique undergraduate career supporting first-generation, women and underrepresented minority students; and to develop a cohort of engineer-leaders with a deep appreciation for and capacity to collaborate across the School of Engineering and the university. Ideal students for this program will want the peer and professional support provided by a cohort model, be academically qualified to complete an engineering major, have a desire for exposure to business concepts and experiential learning situations, possess leadership potential, and be motivated through civic engagement. Combining engineering, leadership, business acumen and service learning creates a new engineer with the capacity to draw from a catalog of learning experiences, which influences professional development, and sets a habit for continued life-long learning and mentorship of others. We are excited for the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation to create the opportunity to build such an engineer at Vanderbilt University. 

The Clark Scholars Program focuses on scholar development in three essential areas: leadership, business acumen, and service learning grounded in experiential opportunities spread over the four-year student experience .

A first-year early start (FEST) summer program is required of entering students for the purposes of cohort building, academic preparation for engineering study, and initiating professional development. FEST 2021 will be virtual as a pilot program and move to its residential model for the summer of 2022.

Leadership development occurs throughout the program in various forms. Vanderbilt students typically have a high propensity for leadership roles even before they matriculate; however, the Clark Scholars Program will provide a unique opportunity for students to hone these skills. The Office of the Dean of Students runs an award-winning leadership development program for undergraduates ( Clark Scholars will be introduced to this office’s numerous programs. The coursework to support leadership development will combine leadership theories and practice with professional development. Mentoring by upper-class Clark Scholars and alumni to younger students is well-established in the School of Engineering and comes in the forms of the alumni mentoring program, ambassador programs through the Wond’ry, the Design Studio, various engineering student organizations, and special access to programming at the Owen Graduate School of Management, such as networking breakfasts, pitch sessions and entrepreneurial seminars. Participation in these opportunities will be encouraged.

Business acumen is developed among the engineering students through the engineering management minor and undergraduate business minor programs, which are designed to expedite the contribution of new graduates to their employers. Students will learn and will have the opportunity to be certified in project management and apply finance and accounting principles as they directly translate to an engineering, technical or manufacturing environment. Additionally, scholars will have access to a personal financial management seminar. The experiential learning opportunities will most likely involve public-private partnerships with local business and government, and students will have opportunities to witness and contribute to business deals benefiting the civic cause.

Service learning is accomplished in partnership with the Office of Active Citizenship and Service. Clark Scholars will be some of the first students to complete a human-centered design boot camp that leads into structured, semester-long service learning projects through the Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience (DIVE) program. Students may participate in as many of these co-curricular projects as they like and as their schedules allow. Additionally, global service learning opportunities are available in the summer as well as existing opportunities such as Alternative Spring Break and the Service Learning and Leadership course in biomedical engineering.