Dr. Richard L. “Rick” Clark Jr., Engineering professor at Virginia Western Community College, received the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence April 6 at the VCCS New Horizons Conference at the Hotel Roanoke.
The award is given annually to one teaching faculty member in the Virginia Community College System who distinctly represents teaching excellence. Award criteria are instructional effectiveness, student focus, discipline competence and personal attributes. The recipient receives a stole and a $5,000 award.
In her nominating letter, Virginia Western STEM Dean Amy White praised Clark’s student-centered approach, his energy in seeking federal grant funding and his embrace of new technologies such as the electron microscope, water jet cutters and robotics – all to enrich the classroom environment.
Clark was especially invaluable as the campus transitioned to online learning during the pandemic. “Dr. Clark had developed online synchronous upper-level Engineering courses long before COVID forced the rest of us to do so,” White wrote. “He was able to help the entire campus make this transition when it became emergently necessary. His classes became a model of instruction for many as he continued to teach using this model. His classes were not at all impacted by the transition and he helped many other faculty and administrators make this switch.”
Former student Melina DeLaHunt credited Clark with encouraging her interest in Engineering classes, which she began taking as a Virginia Western dual enrollment student in high school. “He provided excellent insight and knowledge that served me well as I moved beyond high school to pursue Engineering at Virginia Tech,” Hunt wrote in her nominating letter. She eventually received a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Tech.
“No student who has had Dr. Clark will soon forget his intelligence and joy while teaching,” DeLaHunt wrote. “No question was too dumb, no topic left purely theoretical, and no student un-aided. What separates an average teacher from an excellent one is the ability to provide students with the material to grow in knowledge, but also the environment to grow passion.”
Dr. Elizabeth Wilmer, Virginia Western Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, praised Clark’s work in strengthening an Engineering transfer program that prepares students to succeed at Virginia Tech, one of the nation’s top engineering schools. Virginia Western offers “a rigorous program with strong foundations in several engineering pathways, including construction engineering and engineering computer science. Rick has ties to Virginia Tech and has built an effective transfer relationship that has helped Virginia Western’s engineering students gain seamless access to VT’s engineering programs.”
Wilmer noted that Clark’s online classes now draw students “from all over the nation. Rick’s online classes are unique in their use of technology to create an interact and engaging online experience.”
Clark lives in Blue Ridge with his wife, Julie, and four children: Micah, Cayman, Charis and Elijah.