Stevara Clark wins VCU Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment
Stevara Clark has a go-to coffee mug with a message that can be as much of a pick-me-up for her as the caffeine-fueled drink inside.
It’s easy to understand the need for both when you consider all Clark has on her plate. Officially, she’s the VCU School of Social Work’s online M.S.W. coordinator and assistant professor in teaching. But she has other unofficial titles, including leader, mentor, search committee member, event planner, student in VCU’s doctor of education (Ed.D.) program, and mother.
And now, officially, she’s also one of five winners of the VCU’s 2020 Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment (PACME) – the first winner from social work since 2009 (Randi Buerlein) and just the third overall (with Elizabeth Cramer in 2006).
“It’s an honor to be nominated, let alone to win the award; just a huge honor,” says Clark, who is also a two-time alumna of the program (B.S.W. ’09, M.S.W. ’10). “It’s one I don’t take lightly, especially considering they only give out one or maybe two (faculty) winners every year. So to be recognized not only as a member of the social work community and the faculty, but also to be recognized by the university, it’s definitely an honor and one I hold dearly.”
Watch the virtual awards ceremony live at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 30.
Clark’s leadership style has been influenced by her doctoral program, which in turn has led her to adapt her teaching philosophy.
“It’s understanding that I am not the expert of all things just because I’m at the head of the classroom. We’re going along this journey together, we’re going to learn with and from each other,” she says. “I think by valuing my students as adults, as adult learners, and as experts who bring their own experience and knowledge to the classroom, we’ve been able to have some really great conversations, even on topics that students may not be interested in or are hard to talk about.”
More succinctly, her philosophy is the simple phrase, printed on her mug, that she calls the six C’s: Compassionate communication is the soul of a collaboratively, competent community culture.
“When I know it’s going to be a bad day, that’s what I drink my coffee out of,” she says.
Clark’s work is making a difference for all students – and the entire school community. She embraces all the PACME award criteria: advocating equity, building community, establishing cross-cultural initiatives, nurturing acceptance and promoting civility at VCU.
Every step of her career at the school, starting as a student success adviser in 2013 to assistant professor in teaching in 2016 to her current role leading the online M.S.W., she’s been conscious to see who’s on the outside and needs to be brought into the fold.
“When I was an adviser and working with transfer students, I was able to raise the questions, “Is this environment built for non-traditional students, is it built for minority students?’ When I switched to a faculty role, I was in an online position for field education so I was always having those conversations of ‘What about our online students? Does this benefit them? How can they learn? We’re having these events, and are online students able to attend?’
“So I think that is one of the things that I always embody, thinking about who am I here for? And what is my role in making sure that whatever we do, they have an opportunity to experience that?”
Clark believes online students identify with her.
“The students typically tend to be older, and they are minority students, and so it isn’t lost on me that when students are coming into the program, they see me as a Black woman at the helm of this program,” she says. “I strive to be a faculty member that all students can confide in and for our Black students to feel that this is a welcoming place for them and that they belong.
“And so for me what that means is when there are bad days, we are challenging the status quo, challenging our colleagues, challenging our policies and practices … it’s about the students; if they aren’t here, then we aren’t. And if they don’t feel welcome or they don’t feel included, then we aren’t doing something right. So I will forever continue to champion student voices, and I know that we can’t get it all right. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.”
Excerpts from Clark’s letters of nomination
- “One year ago, … Stevara [was selected] to lead the redesign and expansion of our distance education M.S.W. program. We sometimes wonder whether she has managed to clone herself, because she manages to track and direct the workflow of multiple functional teams, develop and teach her own online courses, and continues to contribute as a citizen of the school at the “above and beyond” level on search committees and other task groups. (Incredibly, she also manages to progress toward her doctoral degree and parent a young daughter at the same time).”
- “Her leadership and vision have challenged faculty to find new ways to present course content related to diversity and social justice in engaging, interactive ways … challenging social injustices and modeling this work for students. This has brought work teams of faculty together within the school to discuss issues related to social justice, diversity, and inclusion … and to design course content that engages students on these topics in new, exciting ways.”
- “Stevara has a genuine desire to foster a climate of welcome and inclusivity which responds to the needs, concerns and capacities of our students and faculty of color. She manages to nurture this welcome and inclusivity in online and virtual spaces, as well as on-campus and in person spaces.”
- “She is reliable, highly effective, and a team player. In addition, she does not shy away from having hard conversations. This is a particularly impressive aspect of her leadership that my colleagues and I hold in high regard.”