A Legacy of Excellence
At the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, Nancy Clark will step down from her position as Roger Hadfield Ogden Dean of the LSU Honors College after more than ten years of service to the college.
Clark has held the position of Dean since 2003 and has overseen tremendous growth of the Honors College during that time. Her achievements as Dean include increasing the number of courses offered to Honors students, tripling the number of professorial faculty teaching those classes, growing the Honors College staff, and developing a four-year, research-oriented curriculum. Clark also worked tirelessly to bring about renovations to the entire Honors campus, including a $50 million renovation of East and West Laville, the Honors residence halls. More recently she has secured the funding necessary to carry out a long-planned renovation of the historic French House, the Honors College academic building, de facto headquarters, and an LSU landmark.
“I’m really happy I’ve been able to broaden the Honors College—broaden it, but also deepen some of the experiences that the students have, whether it’s through study abroad, community service, or research,” Clark said.
Clark oversaw the development of the Honors College co-curriculum of service, study abroad, research, and thesis—themes that have become a familiar guidance system for incoming students. In the freshman year, Honors students participate in community service and experience life outside the classroom, while helping others and developing leadership skills. Students are encouraged to study abroad in the sophomore year in order to expand their worldview and practice self-sufficiency in unfamiliar environments. In the junior year, Honors students begin pursuing long-term scholarly research projects or internships in their fields of interest. In the senior year, students use their research and experiential learning to complete an Honors Thesis, which must be successfully written and defended in order for students to graduate from the Honors College. Clark noted that she chose these four points because they are also the qualities of many successful Rhodes Scholarship candidates.
“I know that Honors students are very highly motivated, very energetic, and very talented,” Clark said. “I know that they always want to contribute and emerge as leaders in any situation. It seemed to me something that was really important for us was to help them become leaders before they actually graduated—to go out into the world, and to give them some experiences that would enhance their leadership capabilities.”
The Honors College had its humble beginnings in the 1960s; at the start its only course offering was a sequence in Western Civilization. Today, Honors students can enroll in over 120 Honors courses offered by both the Honors College and by outside academic departments. Under Dean Clark, Honors College staff has increased from three in 2003 to thirteen in 2014. In the same time period, LSU professorial faculty teaching Honors courses has risen from nineteen to over sixty.
“Across campus, faculty and students understand that the Honors College is not something that’s separate,” Clark said. “Faculty can come over here and teach. We have students in every major on campus.”
Dean Clark also instituted the annual summer study abroad trips offered by the Honors College. Over the past ten years these Honors abroad trips have taken students to South Africa, China, and, this summer, to Cuba.
“What we’ve found is that the students who are able to take advantage of all of these opportunities have been our most successful graduates,” Clark said. “All of the Honors students are so ambitious, but I think to be successful in your ambitions you need to have a really broad understanding of other people and life, and to be able to see things from different perspectives.”
A California native, Clark attended UCLA as an undergraduate, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in History. Clark also received her Master of Arts in African Studies from UCLA.
“I think I’ve always had a lifelong love of big state schools,” Clark said. “I had a tremendously great time when I was at UCLA. I always joke that I liked college so much I decided to stay.”
After graduation, Clark worked in Washington D.C. for five years, for a US Senator and later as an Analyst of African Affairs for the Library of Congress. Clark’s research analyst position led her back to school, where she attended Yale University and received her PhD in History. Clark's research interests focused in on apartheid in South Africa. Since her first visit in 1983, Clark has returned to South Africa ten times to continue her research.
“When I first visited South Africa, it was an extremely interesting time to go there, in retrospect, because everything has changed so much,” Clark said. “I feel lucky to have chosen that country to study because the last twenty or thirty years the country’s undergone such change, and it’s actually turned out to be relatively happy story, with the end of apartheid.”
After Clark completed her coursework at Yale, she received a teaching position at California Polytechnic State University where she taught African and South African History for fifteen years. She also founded an Honors Program while at Cal Poly, which prompted her interest in joining LSU in the capacity of Dean of the Honors College. Clark arrived at LSU in 2003, and has been working to improve the Honors College ever since.
While the themes of the Honors College will continue to inspire students after her departure, Clark now hopes to address her own research and return to the field. In the coming years, Clark plans to work on writing and editing two books on the history of apartheid, as well as a textbook on African history. Clark will remain at LSU as a Professor of History.
After ten years of hard work and dedication as Dean, Clark and the initiatives she founded will continue to bring the Honors College to an unprecedented standard of excellence.
“I’m really grateful for the fact that the students and the faculty have been so open and supportive to all of the changes that we’ve made,” Clark said. “And especially for the students, that they’ve been open and willing to engage and to work so hard to become such successful students. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-0083.