Skip to main content
The Faces of Opportunity Vanderbilt
Photo of Courtney Clark Pastrick

Courtney Clark Pastrick

A. James Clark Scholars Program

It started in 1946, when a young man from Bethesda hitchhiked his way every day to the University of Maryland’s College Park campus to pursue a civil engineering degree. He could not always afford his textbooks, often relying on library copies to keep up with his studies. Despite the obstacles, his university education—fueled by the support of a state scholarship and his own determination to succeed—changed his life.

That young man was A. James Clark, the late chairman and CEO of Clark Construction Group, now one of the largest construction firms in the nation. His company’s work has transformed the skylines of many American cities, and his generosity is changing the lives of engineering students through the A. James Clark Scholars Program.

“Investing in our young people who are future leaders is the best path there is.”

Courtney Clark Pastrick, board chair of the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, remembers her father’s belief in the life-changing power of scholarships. “My dad always said his success started because somebody believed in him.”

In March 2017, the foundation established the Clark Scholars Program at Vanderbilt with a $15 million endowment. In August of that same year, the first cohort of scholars—10 engineering students from across the nation—arrived on campus. The program will grow to 40 students over the next four years.

“It’s like a family,” remarks Jeremiah Woldabezgi, a computer science major. His fellow Clark Scholar, Reese Phillips, shares a similar sentiment. “I’ve found a like-minded group of individuals that I can share with and relate to—and I haven’t had a community like that anywhere else.”

Pastrick, who is also a member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, adds that the program underscores the importance of community, a value that distinguishes the undergraduate experience at Vanderbilt. “The cohort aspect of the program provides such a strong sense of community. Not only will these Vanderbilt Clark Scholars support and challenge each other, they join an extended network of Clark Scholars at nine other campuses across the country,” she says.

But it isn’t just their own community that these students are thinking about—the Clark Scholars have big dreams for influencing communities far and wide. Clark Scholars pursue a rigorous engineering and business course of study as well as leadership and service, which reflects Mr. Clark’s values as a businessman and philanthropist.

Monika Wojnowski, another Clark Scholar, talks about her path in engineering. “If I become a biomedical engineer, I could work on ways for girls around the world to have more access to better health care.”

Pastrick met the scholars at a celebration dinner during their first semester, reminding them of the importance of engineering leaders in our world. “My dad believed that engineers solve world problems. Investing in our young people who are future leaders is the best path there is.”