Stevara Clark: Connection, sisterhood and mentorship
Capstone study, flexibility make SOE Online “the right fit” for doctoral student
Stevara Clark was born in Dale City, Virginia. She’s an assistant professor in teaching with the VCU School of Social Work and program coordinator of that school’s Online Master of Social Work program. Clark earned her bachelor’s and master's degrees in social work from VCU, and she’s pursuing her Ed.D. in Leadership in the Higher Education Administration learning community at the VCU School of Education.
What were you doing prior to applying to the VCU School of Education?
I was a term faculty member in the VCU School of Social Work. My area of focus was online field education – assessing students’ competence of applying what they learn in the classroom in a real world practice setting. I wanted to get in front of online education, to figure out best practices and how technology impacts the delivery of field education.
A friend and colleague of mine was in the School of Education’s Ed.D. in Leadership program and told me it would be a good fit for me. I considered the Ph.D. program as well, but I felt that the Ed.D. program would permit me to learn and apply the leadership skills immediately. As a parent of a young child, I also needed flexibility with my time, so I chose the online program.
What drew you to the field of education?
At one point as an undergrad, I wanted to be a teacher. As a teacher counselor at United Methodist Family Services of Virginia (UMFS), I was able to take the concepts I learned in social work and apply them to both youth in foster care and students with intellectual disabilities. I was really excited about teaching and engaging with the community.
After returning to VCU to work as a student success advisor in the School of Social Work, I was able to apply what I learned at UMFS with advising undergraduate students. After about three years, I applied for a term faculty position; this is where I was able to teach in the classroom and in the community again.
"There is an appropriate level of rigor, balancing not just papers and assignments, but really focusing on professional academic writing and evidence-based research. From this perspective, the School of Education was the right fit for me."
When you decided to pursue your doctoral degree, what made you choose VCU SOE?
I looked at other Ed.D. programs, but one of the things that drew me to SOE’s Ed.D. program was the Capstone dissertation. Leadership and change doesn’t happen in isolation, and the Capstone is done in a group and I love that. With the Capstone, we take a real world problem and solve it as a group of emerging scholars. There is an appropriate level of rigor, balancing not just papers and assignments, but really focusing on professional academic writing and evidence-based research. Those things are really important to me. From this perspective, the School of Education was the right fit for me.
How are your classmates and your cohort contributing to your education?
My classmates work at a variety of institutions – a single sex institution, a HBCU, a nursing school, a liberal arts university and a community college. As a result, we've been able to have in-depth conversations about equity and inclusion, and what that looks like in different landscapes of higher education.
Online education can sometimes feel isolating, and since there aren't typically a lot of people of color who complete doctoral programs, it just adds to the isolation. I’m one of four black women in my cohort, and we've really connected. We have weekly check-ins to motivate each other and end of semester gatherings to celebrate our progress. We laugh, we support each other, and we’ve become friends.
We started this program together, and we're committed to finishing it together!
Do any SOE faculty stand out during your time here?
Dr. Tomika Ferguson has been very instrumental in my development and trajectory in the program. One of the things that drew me to her is that she’s one of the few Black women in the educational leadership department, and Black women administrators need effective networking and mentorship in order to succeed in higher education administration. I asked Dr. Ferguson to meet with our cohort each semester and speak about her journey in higher education, sharing any words of wisdom she might have, and helping us to make additional meaningful connections. She does that for everybody, she’s phenomenal – but it’s been especially helpful for me as I persist through this doctoral program.