Salt Lake Community College offers dozens of great services for students, from childcare services to a well staffed health center. The Dean of Students, Dr. Marlin R. Clark, coordinates many of the great services students enjoy. I had the opportunity to meet with him and find out more about him and his position.
Me: So tell me, what exactly does the Dean of Students do?
Dr. Clark: The Dean of Students I think, in a way, is kind of a general position. I supervise six departments. Health and wellness, services, international and multicultural initiatives. Student life and leadership, childcare and the Thayne Center for service and learning. And having these six areas, what I’m able to do is serve students in a number of ways with my directors and the people that they supervise. And I think that provides a strong service component to the academic piece that the students are involved in. In addition to that I am the judicial officer for the college. That means I govern the student code of conduct in terms of inappropriate behaviors, academic side, working with faculty on issues in the classroom, from cheating to disruption. In addition to that particular job the Dean of Students has a strong responsibility I think for working with the constituents of the college, to make sure from entrance to exit the students are given every opportunity to succeed while there here. And so it’s a myriad of responsibilities along with trying to work with this wonderful administrative assistant, Miss Maurine Hendrickson. To make sure we can work together to do face-to-face kinds of things when students can just drop in and say, “I need to see the Dean of Students”. So we sometimes are a default if students don’t know where to go and so we are able to direct them and help them personally in terms of meeting their needs.
Me: Wonderful. It sounds like you keep busy.
Dr. Clark: I think so you know because we still haven’t talked about having a connection to the community in terms of trying to build stronger bridges of engagement and relationships with commercial businesses, the non-profits and corporate in general. So I think that this position, even though it has a number of challenges, I wouldn’t have another job. This is truly a job that has a different character every day in terms of what you can look forward to. And today it’s you.
Me: And I really appreciate that you took some time out for me.
Dr. Clark: My pleasure. I’m glad that you even considered coming by and spending some time.
Me: I know a lot of the students don’t know a lot about this department, or a lot about you. So tell me a little bit more about yourself.
Dr. Clark: Well I was raised in Michigan, Grand Rapids Michigan, and once I completed my formative K-12 experience it was important for me to then do two things. One- go into the military, I was in the Air Force, and I was going to pursue my education at the same time. So I was fortunate enough to both be in the Air Force and pursue my education at the same time, which is what lead me to where I’m at now which is a PhD in leadership philosophy from Gazette University. Let me back that up. Once I left Grand Rapids I went to Allen Hancock Community College in Santa Maria California. And then once I graduated from Allen Hancock I then went on to Laverne University in Orange California. And then took my talents to Europe, where I was able to be both in the military and pursue education with George Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee so even though I wasn’t on the campus I was able to be in Europe and have an experience there for over 3 years. I then came to Spokane, Washington where I went to Gonzaga University, worked and pursued my education there and that’s where I got my PhD.
Me: So you’ve been kind of all over?
Dr. Clark: Yeah a lot of places. And I really am grateful for having an opportunity to be able to have a number of experiences in education as well as out of education.
Me: So what brought you to Salt Lake?
Dr. Clark: You know, I have a best friend who was working at Westminster as a Director of Career Services named Bev Cristy, and Cristy being my best friend said, ‘Hey there’s an opportunity now that you’ve got your PhD, why don’t you consider something here? They have a dean’s job open at Salt Lake Community College and being that you came from those roots this is a way to come back.’ So I had some thought about it, I applied, and I was fortunate enough to be selected to come here. So she was the catalyst for me to look at this job very seriously and then make that move.
Me: Well, it sounds like it was a great move.
Dr. Clark: It has been a really good job for me and it wasn’t just a job, it was a career move. I’ve been here five years and no looking back. It’s been good for me.
Me: So then when you do have some spare time, between working with six departments, plus everything else that you do, what do you like to do?
Dr. Clark: Well, when I can I like to catch up with the Jazz, while the season is in progress. And if I am fortunate enough to connect with horses, I like to go out and ride them every now and then. And then we have this thing where my good friend Miss Maurine has invited me to be part of her family, too. We have dinners with them on Friday evenings when I’m available and they have time. And that’s a thing that they do. Gives me that sense of family with her family and it helps me to feel based in terms of my social life here in the community. And that’s good. So every now and then I join with my friends there and hang out with them but other times I hang out with the Jazz and ride horses as much as I can and that pretty much serves my needs. I’m not a skier, and I have no regrets there but I do get out with the horses.
Me: And this is good country, too, for horses.
Dr. Clark: Yeah it is. And I have some good friends back in Spokane who have farms and I go back there and ride their horses and spend some fellowship time with them. So it’s good.
Me: So what is the one thing here at SLCC that you would want students to know about? What is the greatest thing you can do for them?
Dr. Clark: The one thing I really want students to know is that the access window to their education is wide open and we at SLCC, I think do a very good job at providing both classroom instruction, but also out of classroom experiences that will help them be successful once they complete their educational program, whatever level that might be. And as much as we can get them in front of them and say “Folks, we have what you don’t know.” Like health care. For those who don’t have health care, we can give them some fundamental health care to keep them in school, but also to do something to earn a living for themselves. We offer them wonderful childcare. And a lot of them don’t know the opportunities for childcare will also allow them to be in school. And Student Life and leadership. Their one of the largest budget areas in terms of putting on programs and services for students. I’m thinking that students due to their busy schedules don’t know these things. So I just wish that we can continue to find better ways to create access opportunities for students to take advantage of the pipelines and opportunities that will help them be successful. That is one thing I would like to make a better connection to them. Because we have a number of things that they just aren’t’ aware of that serve truly their purposes both in and out of the classroom.
Me: And you just scratched the surface here.
Dr. Clark: Yes and I think that SLCC has done a nice job of creating a wonderful community for students to come in and have a great experience. It’s not just a community college where people say it’s just a stepping-stone to another four-year environment. It truly is an essential part of the educational experience.
Dr. Clark: Not just a community college. This is a college of higher education that offers a lot of possibility and opportunity. And I wish they would look at it that way, as a higher education experience and not just a community college.
Me: It really is. I know I’ve benefited a lot from it.
Dr. Clark: Yes you have or you wouldn’t be sitting here.
Me: Exactly. What are your goals for this semester?
Dr. Clark: One of my goals is we’ve started having a strong first year experience for students. We’ve targeted students who are challenged in a number of different ways to take advantage of their education. So we’ve created what we call a learning community for students to come and have that experience. Especially ethnic minority students. So we have a high antenna of looking at students who are underrepresented, and in some cases under privileged, and underserved, if you will, coming out of the K-12 system. And to make sure that they have as much of an opportunity in the higher learning as any other student. So I’m really glad that we paid attention. In terms of looking at others students with needs, such as LGBTQ students, we really want to pay attention to make sure they feel welcomed into the community and that they feel included and I think that we have paid good attention to that and I feel good about doing those. Because the general student who comes here and says, “Hey you know I can make my own way. I do need a little financial aid, what do you have?” We don’t have to worry as much about them. It’s those students who are on the periphery, if you will, that we really want to pay attention to, not to neglect the other, but we really want to make sure that we are very inclusive for all students who come to community college. Whereas that’s what I love about the place because it’s open access to all students and we want to make sure that that open access is made available. And with the influx of students I think we’ve handled that pretty well, in terms of making sure we don’t turn students away. Where other schools may’ve said “enough already. There’s too many of you.” In these difficult times we have not done that. We’ve made this a possibility for all students. And I want to be part of that.
Me: Well it sounds like you play a major role in that.
Dr. Clark: I hope so. I absolutely hope so.
Me: So I heard that SLCC’s numbers have really increased over the last couple of years, why do you think that is?
Dr. Clark: One of the obvious is that when you have low employment, you have higher education. So students are not only looking toward trying to increase their skill sets, but also at transferable possibilities. Their looking at maybe a new career and so they come here to develop their education, if they feel like they don’t have enough. But also cross training, or re-training if you will. We at the community college I think, unlike the four year schools, we offer so many possibilities that the students are able to say “I need to come to this school. They have X, Y and Z, where other schools only have Y and Z.” And I like that. They look at us as a smorgasbord of educational possibilities. And so, during these difficult times, that’s what we look forward to, is students coming in. And they have. We’ve had to create a number of additional sections just to keep up. But we’ve done that. And that’s what I like about it. We are a flexible educational unit and students have taken advantage of that flexibility.
Me: What are some of the challenges that you’re facing right now that the students might be able to ease a little bit?
Dr. Clark: I call it “high tech high touch”. We’re looking at being a combination of “high tech low touch”. With the invent of technology and how it’s so rapidly becoming such an integral part of just your waking up hours, I really want students to keep a balance between high tech and high touch, to where they don’t lose those relationships, if you will, not only with their peers and other students, but also with staff and faculty. And so we try to create possibilities in terms of our services to keep students connected so they understand the importance of relationships, inner personal skills, communications, understanding diverse cultures and so on. And I’m proud to be part of all of that. Students can have a more rounded view of what their life is or what it could be.