Eight thousand miles separate Cyril Clarke’s hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the campus of Virginia Tech. Another 4,000 miles mark his higher education journey between universities in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and finally Blacksburg, Virginia.
But it’s the 1-mile path from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine to Burruss Hall that could represent one of Clarke’s biggest and most impactful moves for Virginia Tech.
“There are a number of very exciting and important initiatives being advanced at Virginia Tech and we have an opportunity to develop them into significant areas of distinction,” says Clarke. “I believe my colleagues across the campus share in a commitment to developing these initiatives, and the common interest we have in seeing them succeed is the main reason I’ve accepted this role.”
Clarke is the new Interim executive vice president and provost for Virginia Tech, serving as chief academic officer and lead for the institution’s academic enterprise. In this role, he will work closely with President Tim Sands, college deans, and administrators to advance Virginia Tech’s cross-disciplinary initiatives, which are designed to position Virginia Tech as a 21st-century global land-grant university.
“President Sands has a vision to elevate and advance Virginia Tech around these major strategic initiatives,” explained Clarke. “My role is to support and strengthen this vision and to help facilitate the further development of these initiatives, making them work for the entire university.”
Clarke replaced Thanassis Rikakis, who stepped down as executive vice president and provost in October. Clarke, who had served as the dean of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine since 2013, will continue the pursuit of many of the strategic designs created by Rikakis and Sands, including Beyond Boundaries, Destination Areas, and the Partnership for an Incentive-Based Budget (PIBB).
“Through these initiatives, we have significant opportunities to create impacts beyond the Blacksburg campus and to build programs and partnerships in Roanoke and the National Capital Region,” said Clarke. “I’ve been a strong supporter of these visions and recognize the amazing creativity that my predecessor brought to developing these programs.
“These initiatives are directly connected to how we want to elevate the reputation and contributions of our institution and differentiate Virginia Tech from its peers.”
From his first day in his new role, Clarke knew that one of his most pressing needs would be to help the campus community better understand the importance of the Destination Areas to the future of Virginia Tech. Although much has been accomplished in bringing together talented people to advance these areas, he emphasized that Destination Areas are not designed to be all encompassing.
“Destination Areas (DAs) are essentially centers of excellence for Virginia Tech,” explains Clarke. “However, they do not capture all of the creativity, all of the innovation, and certainly not all of the aspirations of the entire university. We have to offer those within the university community who are not directly engaged in the DAs the opportunity to develop their own passions and areas of interest.
“We need these areas to evolve over time and in such a way that we can identify other opportunities and ideas that perhaps develop into new initiatives that can work alongside or even become future Destination Areas.”
Clarke has also recognized the need to effectively communicate and engage with faculty across the campus, especially as it relates to critical processes, such as the PIBB model and promotion and tenure.
“Over the past few weeks, I have spent almost all my time having in-person conversations with a variety of campus groups and individuals, listening to their ideas and concerns to identify some of the challenges as they see them,” said Clarke. “I am working to be sure that we are clearly communicating our goals so that we can provide a sense of assurance that we are moving forward in a manner that will benefit the campus community and the institution. I would not have taken on this role if I didn’t believe that we could be successful in doing that.”
Working closely with the campus community to build strategic areas of excellence that are distinctive, relevant, effective, and sustainable is where Clarke expects a large part of his focus to be as Virginia Tech moves toward the new year. Listening to the perspectives and experiences of people across the university is how he will forge his path and serve his constituents as interim executive vice president and provost.
“Through conversations and collaborations with the people who are impacting the various academic areas of the campus, I look forward to facilitating efforts by faculty to identify compelling ideas and connect them in ways that advance the university’s commitment to excellence and public service.”