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NCCU's Dr. Vernon Clark was honored with the endowment of $200,000 for a scholarship in his name and was also presented with a bronze bust in his likeness to be displayed in the biology department of the Mary M. Townes Science Building.
Published: Friday, April 27, 2007

At the annual meeting of North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) Pre-Professional Health Society, Dr. Vernon Clark was honored with the endowment of $200,000 for a scholarship in his name. 

Looking back at his life, Dr. James E. Graham, retired gynecologic oncologist and associate professor from Michigan State University College of Medicine, recognized that if not for the influence of Clark, he would never have become a doctor.  Now in a position to express his gratitude to the man he considers to be a consummate mentor, he and his wife Sadie D. Graham, M.P.H., have established the Dr. Vernon Clark Endowed Scholarship Fund at their alma mater to assist minority undergraduates enrolled in NCCU’s allied health programs.  In addition, a stipend will be made available to new minority graduates from NCCU who intend to pursue further education in medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy. 

The ballroom at the Durham Hilton was filled with current and former Clark students professing their respect, admiration and thanks to a teacher who has dedicated his life to inspiring health science majors to reach higher.  Dr. Graham said, “He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”  This sentiment was echoed throughout the evening.  Presenter and pediatrician Dr. Gwendolyn Todd-Houston said, “I would not have become an M.D. if not for him.”   
Clark has always taken a personal interest in the achievement of his students, inviting them to attend meetings of the Pre-Professional Health Society that he guided into existence 30 years ago and continues to serve as its first and only faculty advisor.   He exhorts these promising students to become doctors and dentists rather than lab technicians and assistants and offers them arguably the most rigorous courses of their career at NCCU to better prepare them for their future academic challenges.  “He was rough and tough,” said Todd-Houston.  “I knew if I made a B in his class, I would make an A anywhere else in the world.”

In addition to the endowed scholarship, the Grahams commissioned Clark’s likeness to be cast in bronze.  The bust by Michigan artist Suzanne Johnson will be displayed in NCCU’s Department of Biology in the new Mary M. Townes Science Building and the biology wing will be named in Clark’s honor. 

Regarding the tributes bestowed upon him, Clark said, “It is highly gratifying but somewhat difficult to express in words what this really means to me.  Although this effort has been directed to me, I share it with my students.”

Sadie Graham, a former Clark student and NCCU alumna in health education, said, “When we look back at this historically, this is the least we can do – to give back to other students and to an HBCU.

Her husband, James, who admitted he was a C student in high school, left NCCU to earn his medical degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine (UNC-CH SOM) and complete postdoctoral studies at Duke University and Southwestern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

“Hopefully, this endowment will stimulate others to give back to the community and to the school,” said Dr. Graham.  “This is the pinnacle of my career – to give back in this way.”

Graham marveled at Clark’s seemingly endless energy as the associate professor currently plans for his 48th academic year teaching in the biology department at NCCU.  Clark was a 1951 graduate in biology from Shaw University.  After successful stints teaching high school and also for the U.S. Army, Clark attended and earned his master of science in biology at NCCU.  With his graduation in 1958, Dr. James S. Lee, the first chair of the Department of Biology at NCCU, offered Clark a teaching position for the fall of that year.  While serving as an instructor at NCCU, Clark attended UNC-CH SOM, earning his Ph.D. in cell physiology and biochemistry in 1968.  A two-time recipient of outstanding teaching awards presented by the students themselves, he continues to amaze his classes by lecturing without reference to notes.

Clark has also served as an adjunct professor at UNC-CH and Duke University. He was the first African American to direct a Governor’s School, the prestigious summer program for gifted and talented rising seniors enrolled in North Carolina high schools.  

Clark has been president of the National Institute of Science and the Research Triangle Park Chapter of the National Technical Association, two organizations with the mission to enhance science scholarship and research at minority serving institutions.  He is past president of the National Alumni Association of Shaw University and for several years, Clark served as editor of the Beta Kappa Chi Bulletin, a publication of the Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honor Society. 

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