On Jan. 1, 2019, Cyril Clarke assumed his role as the executive vice president and provost at Virginia Tech. Previously, he served as dean of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine from 2013 to October of 2017, and he became interim executive vice president and provost at Virginia Tech after Thanassis Rikakis stepped down.
Collegiate Times: Why do you believe you are fit for this position?
Cyril Clarke: President Sands said some very nice things about me. But I want to point out that in all of those programs, whether it was the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative or whether it was the early phase of the Calhoun Discovery Program or with the innovation campus, I was just one of a lot of people working to make that happen. I think to be a provost you need to firstly (have) a commitment to the core mission of an institution. And the core mission of an institution like ours has to do with preparing students, preparing graduates to meet their own expectations, and serve their communities for the rest of their lives. And so I've been an educator for over 30 years now, and I've been an educator at universities that are all land-grant universities. So, Virginia Tech is a land-grant institution, and land-grant institutions are a particular type of university that are committed to this tripod-type mission involves teaching and learning and research and outreach and service. And so, these are already connected. So, while I am a health scientist, a veterinarian, and while I've done a significant amount of research in my career that's fascinating, what really grabs me is trying to understand how students learn and how to facilitate that by advancing, supporting and enabling faculty in that task. And I don't know, maybe that was part of (becoming provost).
CT: What interested you the most about Virginia Tech?
CC: So previous to that, I actually served as dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State. So, I left Oregon State to serve as dean at Virginia Tech. I had a great experience at Oregon State, very satisfactory and I liked living there, but I was really excited by Virginia Tech because on the one hand, it's aspiration, it's aspiration for program development, moving ahead in a manner that really served student interest and that met the mission of a land-grant institution. But on the other hand, the balance of that aspiration with this commitment to Ut Prosim, “That I May Serve,” there's a certain humility that is embedded in that ethic of service. And so, Virginia Tech is a very interesting institution because it has this ambitious aspiration. But that aspiration is framed within this commitment to service, which is a commitment that actually depends on humility as well. It's got the aspirations, but it doesn't have the swagger that I think is often inappropriate with a land-grant institution. And then from a personal reason, I came to Virginia Tech because I was fascinated with the prospect of being part of that enterprise that was building health sciences, education research and outreach in a very interesting way.
I think as we move forward in the future, Virginia Tech will continue to climb in terms of its national and international visibility. I think it's going to continue to advance in terms of its reputation, its legacy connected with engineering and science and technology, but in addition to that, it will be recognized across many other areas disciplinary contexts. I believe that the Blacksburg campus will continue to have a strong core identity as a hub of an institution, but we'll see an even stronger presence of Virginia Tech in northern Virginia, centered around the innovation campus. Roanoke, I think, is going to be much more expansive as an academic health center with not only a vibrant and reputable school of medicine, but a very productive and impactful research institute and then through the partnership with Carilion Clinic and other enterprises. The third element, I think, is really going to be one of economic development and the impact through the translation of research discoveries into business enterprises that ultimately allow us to apply those discoveries to the health and welfare of the patients.
CT: Can you describe your experience during your time in South America?
CC: I've been an American citizen for quite some years now, but I arrived in the United States in 1983. Well, in 1983, I was already a veterinarian and I'd seen practice for a few years in South Africa and I came to United States to enroll in a graduate program (for a) Ph.D. When I completed that, I stayed. And so, I am in every respect a citizen of the United States and fully committed to this nation, but there's part of me that'll be African forever that's connected with a sub-Saharan Africa and its people and its geography, its topography. And so, as an immigrant, I think about this experience in certain ways. One of the ways is with a very high sense of appreciation for the opportunity to advance a career, to serve a community, to be part of a nation and its welfare, even though I wasn't born here. That to me is a special privilege.
CT: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
CC: You know, just to reiterate, Virginia Tech is an extraordinary institution. It is built on a foundation, a commitment, a tradition that serves as an important legacy. But, we're a forward-looking institution and in the coming year and the coming years, we will continue to adapt and adjust in a manner that we can really move forward and meet that goal of serving the needs of students, of advancing research that makes a difference in people's lives and taking both that education and that research and extending it to the communities; and this commitment, Ut Prosim, we'll continue to do that and as we go forward in innovative and creative ways, but building on the tradition and the legacy that we have.