Diversity champion Clark retires after 20 years at College of Science


Barb Clark

Barb Clark gives a speech during her retirement party in October.

Oct. 31 marked something more than tricks, treats and costumes. The day spelled the end of an era in the College of Science administration.

After 20 years, Barbara Clark, director of the Science Diversity Office and director of Women in Science Programs, retired from fulltime duty in the College of Science. However, Clark remained on at part-time (20 hours a week) to help with her colleagues’ workload while her replacement was being searched for.

The replacement was found in the office next door when Dr. Zenephia Evans was named new Science Diversity Office director Jan. 4. Clark's last day at Purdue was Jan. 16.

With her tenure at Purdue now complete, Clark reflected on her decades at the College of Science, and she revealed what she plans on doing post-retirement.

Q: What made you want to stick around the College of Science for 20 years?

A: My background perfectly aligned with this job. My major was computer science and I worked for a number of years as a computer scientist. That was in the 1970s and ‘80s. During that time, there was a lot of discrimination in terms of gender for people in STEM in particular but computer science very specifically. I experienced that myself. I had a few years I worked in social services. My minor was psychology so that was an interest I had as well. So I worked for places like the Crisis Center and the women’s center – some various places like that where I had some experiences working with people, interacting with people one on one, which is a passion of mine.

When the job came available to be an academic advisor for Computer Science students, that was a really good alignment of my psychology background and my computer science background. … I also worked on a grant part-time that had to do with increasing the number of women in the College of Science. The grant work was really diversity work and I started to concentrate on the diversity work rather than the academic advising. It took me from the individual level to the systematic level of dealing with gender diversity. There was some overlapping. From gender diversity, I moved to a more general diversity, which included race and ethnicity. A lot of the issues are the same; the target population is different.

I felt like I really enjoyed the work with the students. That was really reinforcing for me. I felt like the work we were doing was really making a difference. Those things just make you keep coming back.

Q: Is there a moment or accomplishment that sticks out most to you during your tenure at the College of Science?

A: This was probably in the early 2000s. I was working with a group of people called the Diversity Leadership Group and we were working closely with the provost at the time, Sally Mason. It was a very energized group and it felt very empowering, very collaborative, and that group together came up with a document that was a strategic plan for diversity called “Mosaic.” It’s still around and I still hear people referring to it as a blueprint of where we can go to be more successful in our diversity efforts.

The culmination of that “Mosaic” document was a dinner that was hosted by Sally Mason that was a very unique event. Of all of the events I’ve been to at Purdue, it really stands out in my mind. We had a very diverse group of people attending. We had entertainment from very diverse people. There was an effort for the food to be from diverse backgrounds. It was a real highlight, that event, the celebration of the “Mosaic” document.

Q: Just how vital is the Science Diversity Office director's position today?

A: There is definitely still work to be done. When I first started in this position, it was pioneering to have people working with students in terms of diversity but now it’s kind of mainstream. Most universities now have mentoring and support programs for underrepresented students, so if we stopped having those programs, you would quickly fall behind. Universities need to do the same amount of work today that they did 20 years ago just to stay even and then they need to do even more to get ahead.

The College of Science doesn’t stand alone as the environment for a new person coming to campus. This is why I do work at the university level and also at the community level. … If you don’t impact the climate for diversity on every level, then it’s not a welcoming environment for people that for whatever reason are at the margins.

Q: What do you have planned for 2015?

A: I have some plans to travel, spend more time with family, do some projects at home, definitely have a slower pace to my life, and I want to give myself some time to adjust to that. Once that all happens, I have some ideas of some places I want to volunteer but I don’t want to get committed to that until I see how this new pace of life works for me.

Barb Clark

Barb Clark (middle) visits with colleagues at her retirement party in October.

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