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Innovation, Leadership, Liberal Arts

Since fall 2014, Katie Clark has been “a one-woman show” building Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership (CIL). A nexus for student leadership development, innovation, entrepreneurship, and alumni engagement, the CIL owes much of its shape and success to the Smith and Penn grad’s creative, collaborative guidance.

What’s ahead for the CIL?

It has been exciting to think about how to create a new center that adds value to Swarthmore and its long history of doing good in the world. My goal for the CIL is to continue lifting up leadership skill sets and opportunities to enhance the innovation process for students. Much of this work is only possible because of the connections I’ve built with different offices, departments, and groups on campus. I hope the CIL will continue to grow and provide another space for students to gain practical skills they’ll use in and outside the classroom. 

What does leadership mean to you?

Enacting skills and capacities that fit your personality and applying them in a way that pushes a project or movement forward. Leadership isn’t something we do alone, and it doesn’t always look the same. I want our students to understand that all of them can be leaders—and many already are. 

What don’t we know about you?

I have always had an affinity for the ocean, and my office shows this in the smattering of sand dollars on my bookshelves and the Pacific Coast abalone shell holding my business cards.  I formerly worked for a program called Williams-Mystic (of which I am also an alum), where I learned how to sail a 130-foot-tall ship, read Moby Dick on the high seas, and practiced blacksmithing on an anvil. This kind of experiential education has deeply informed my career and my inclination toward practical and tactile learning.

What keeps you motivated?

My students’ optimism and energy, even when they’re tired or stressed. It may sound cliché, but we all work here to make their lives—and, we hope, the world—better, but I’ve found that they make my life better by pushing me. My dream is that the CIL helps students become the people they’re supposed to be, so they can enact positive changes wherever they are. Hopefully, as a community, we’ll all do that, too.

How can alumni help the CIL?

Alumni engagement is one of our pillars, and I am always excited to hear about an alum’s interest and expertise. We are often looking for alumni mentors in personal leadership development, entrepreneurship, and many other projects. 

Workwise, what makes you proud?

Playing the long game. I am happiest when I hear from a student that something we talked about or a CIL program has impacted them long-term. Now, in my third year on campus, I’ve had the benefit of seeing individual student growth. I enjoy seeing them recognize how much work and dedication they’ve put into not only their academics, but also their personal development—it’s what makes my job feel meaningful and impactful.