Clark turns the 'wheels' at Goodwin College

BY Noelle Talmon
Special to the Hartford Business Journal

Photo | Steve Laschever
Photo | Steve Laschever

Ann B. Clark

Executive Vice President & Provost

Goodwin College

Goodwin College helps nontraditional students, who often struggle with time, money or support, reach their dreams of earning degrees in many disciplines, including nursing, public health and accounting.

More than 50 percent are the first in their families to pursue higher education.

Over the past 20 years, Executive Vice President and Provost Ann Clark has been instrumental in helping these students fulfill their dreams and growing the college from 400 to 3,500 students with 12 baccalaureate degrees, seven associate degrees and a number of certificates. One of her biggest functions is being a problem solver.

"I think probably the best characteristic for this job is I'm a little bit fearless about talking about things. And as I've gotten older I've gotten more fearless, not less," she said.

Clark, 73, met the college president, Mark Scheinberg, in the 1970s. She hired the then 22-year-old for his first position out of school. Twenty years later, he owned the Data Institute and called Clark to help him make the school degree granting, start a nursing program, and build a new campus on the Connecticut River.

Clark was not a nurse, had never worked in a college environment, and Scheinberg did not own a single piece of land near the river, yet they were not deterred. "You see this marriage of two people going, 'What could go wrong and how could we not accomplish whatever it is we set out to do?' " she said.

When she began working with Scheinberg, he told her to find the biggest problem and fix it. Over the years, Clark has worn many hats: chief academic officer, chief operations officer and chief of staff. She also worked in human resources and payroll. She is a bit of a "guru," according to Scheinberg.

"Much of what I do is outward facing, and I'm negotiating and much more visible," he said. "Internally, all the things that are happening, the interdepartmental communications and collaborations, all that is being done under her hand. My part looks really, really pretty. Her part ends up being something that is massively important but oftentimes unsung."

By 1999, the college became degree granting. Goodwin graduated its first nursing class in 2003 and moved to a campus on the Connecticut River in 2008. And while Scheinberg is the face of the college, they both agree that Clark makes the wheels turn.

One of the things Clark has to do is put out the proverbial fires, which often involve students. "I have a tendency when everyone's going crazy, I get calmer. I used to do a lot of whitewater rafting, mountain climbing and kayaking — some dangerous things I knew if you panicked, you could die," she said. "So, I don't panic. I think I strive on stress."

In March, the nursing director told Clark that an assistant mistakenly sent out a letter of acceptance to a student. Clark had to smooth things over with the family. "I feel really bad we did something to hurt this girl," she said, adding that the college offered to do whatever they could to rectify the situation, such as providing a tutor. And as long as the student earns the right to enter the program, the college will also pay her tuition.

Clark is able to handle stressors like this with ease. "I'm a believer in never letting them see you sweat. Especially when you've got young people around you who are unsure of the next step," she said

According to Scheinberg, Clark has a talent for saying the right thing in not-so-great circumstances. "What's beautiful about Ann is that people are comfortable and feel safe in her judgment when she's making tough conversations in a very, very honest and authentic way," he said.

In addition to crisis management, Clark hires and manages her staff and believes one of her biggest accomplishments is her ability to pick talented people. Scheinberg agrees, adding that she's also very good "at helping people architect their work."

A few years ago, Clark established an endowment scholarship named the David Award after author Malcolm Gladwell's book, "David And Goliath." Her husband is also named David. It was created for "the little person who's had a tough road and gutted it out," according to Clark. One of her goals is to get the endowment to a sustaining level before she retires, which isn't happening in the foreseeable future.

Clark continues to look towards the future of Goodwin College. Expansion plans include an international student market as well as residential halls. The college is also in the process of incorporating a master's degree program. "That may be my last hurrah," Clark said.

Every year her staff meets at a retreat, and she asks them if it's time for her to go, and every year they keep saying "no." As long as she can continue to contribute, Clark said she will keep working.

"My legacy is to see this organization thriving and offering the same kind of support to students who have had a pretty tough way," she said.

What legacy do you want to leave after your career is over?

I've been so fortunate to be one of the women who helped define an institution that has turned into today's Goodwin College. Considering that almost 80 percent of our students are women, Goodwin strongly endorses a spirit of leadership in women.

Over the years, we've built a great team and established a culture of caring and support for our students to help them overcome the many challenges life has thrown their way. Hopefully, my legacy will include a safe, supportive environment where hard-working students can thrive and reach their highest personal and professional potential. To that end, I've established an endowed scholarship to encourage students for years to come to persevere against all odds.

What are your keys to maintaining business success?

I'm the luckiest person I know. I have always had positive role models in my life who have instilled in me a strong work ethic, a willingness to take risks, and permission to be myself. As one of the architects of Goodwin College and guided by the amazing vision of Mark Scheinberg, the school's president, I've been involved with the hiring of most of Goodwin's leaders.

We're not what most would envision as a traditional group of college administrators — for instance, I'm an academic with an MBA. What we are is a highly competent group that collaborates well, takes personal responsibility for our roles, and bought into the Goodwin culture of 'The student comes first.' We have complete trust in one another and are not afraid to speak the truth as we see it.

What are your keys to maintaining work/life balance?

I am truly the poster child for the saying — love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life. At Goodwin we work extremely hard, but we play every day. Having fun at work helps all of us reduce the stress of our critical mission — the success of our students. I may spend long hours at work, but when I leave the college, I can, fortunately, leave the stress behind and concentrate on my family, friends, and my own well-being.