DOVER — When returning students check into Wesley College today, they’ll find a new addition to the community.
Robert E. Clark II started work in July as the college’s new president.
And for his part, Mr. Clark can’t wait to meet all the students moving into the college.
“A week from today, this place will be bustling,” he said in his office Monday. “And that’s why we exist — it’s the students.”
In April, the Wesley board of trustees named Mr. Clark the 17th college president, succeeding Dr. William Johnston.
Mr. Clark, a former commandant of midshipmen at the U.S Naval Academy, has held several senior executive leadership positions, most recently as Joint Service Coordinator at Pennsylvania State University.
Meeting “the family”
Mr. Clark said he was drawn to Wesley because it was “a small, passionate, tight-knit and very, very dedicated family,” where faculty members know students by name.
For the past four weeks, he said, he and have his wife Ruth Ann been settling into his new home in Dover and meeting the “Wesley College family.”
He’s preparing to discuss the freshmen reading assignment with them; he recently showed up to voluntary conditioning with the student athletes.
“I kind of got in the middle of it, he said, “it was great because a lot of them didn’t know who I was.”
He even helped families move their students into the dorms. One mom asked if he was a coach.
“I said, ‘Well, I kind of coach the college,’” Mr. Clark said.
To him, “the family” is not just the Wesley students, faculty and staff. It’s the community, he said.
From the couple who own the nearby corner Grocery Basket store to the governor, he’s been busy getting to know people in the state.
“What I found very quickly is that ... Delaware is a very inclusive community. People know about each other and they legitimately care about each other and that’s something that I found very refreshing and very welcoming.”
Across the state, he added, it’s “hard to go far” without finding Wesley graduates and influences.
“We are as much a part of this community as the community is a part of us,” he said.
Potential for growth
Moving into the future, Mr. Clark said that he hopes to carry on Dr. Johnston’s legacy and continue the momentum the college has built in recent years.
Wesley has a strong reputation, he said. Admissions are up, and the school is almost full capacity.
“The core curriculum here at Wesley I think is so unique and so powerful because it provides our students the opportunities to grow and mature into critical thinkers,” Mr. Clark said.
During Dr. Johnston’s seven-year tenure at Wesley, he added new programs and majors, opened the new Health Sciences Building and made other infrastructure improvements.
Mr. Clark said he sees more opportunities for growth and potential around the college.
There are plans for future student services center, and a master’s occupational therapy program is set to start in fall 2016. The program will be the only one in the region.
Dedication to service
When he addresses students at Wesley as they arrive back this month, Mr. Clark said he wants them to know they each have the opportunity to succeed.
“I think everyone has a potential for excellence,” Mr. Clark said, “and what seperates individuals is those who are willing to focus, sacrifice and endure and reach that potential, not just the individual, but the collective individual of their class and their generation.”
Mr. Clark, who recently wrapped up a 30-year career in the U.S. Navy, said that the transition to a career in higher education was “a natural progression.”
“To me, it’s service,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s about the students — and supporting those who are working directly with the students.
“For me in this role, my primary job is to ensure that the family has the fiscal means, has the freedoms and most importantly has the support to provide those opportunities and continue our growth into the future.”
He said that education is an opportunity for students to not only better themselves, but in turn to serve their communities.
“Education, in a nutshell to me, is the opportunity for lifelong growth and enlightenment, not for oneself but again for the betterment of one’s community and to keep our legacy on that positive trajectory into the future.”