Professor turns love of personal narratives into fulfilling career

by STACY JOHNSON//Editorial Assistant

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Whether she is taking on the roles of coach and tour guide, or entrepreneur and metaphorical gardener, Wanda Clark has worked to help students, professionals, and the community blossom.

A central Pennsylvania native, Clark has taught behavioral science courses at South Plains College for 20 years and has lived in Lubbock for nearly 30 years.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“I was just fascinated with people’s belief systems,” Clark says.

She then went on to earn a master’s degree in English and American literature from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. After studying anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle, she returned to Texas Tech, where she completed a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy.

Clark says her degree in marriage and family therapy led her to begin teaching psychology at SPC. But education did not stop with college for Clark, who describes herself as a “perpetual student.”

“As long as I can keep learning, I kind of feel like that’s contagious, and then students keep learning, too,” Clark says.

Clark says she considers her work to be interdisciplinary, and she recognizes that her passion for behavioral sciences stems from her interest in people.

“The theme that draws all of my coursework together, though, is I love people’s stories,” she says.

“My mother taught me to read when I was 3 years old,” Clark recalls. “I was reading before I went to kindergarten. I was such an avid reader that that idea of stories started very, very young and has never stopped.”

Clark says the most exciting thing about teaching is seeing students make educational breakthroughs as they learn to apply classroom knowledge in meaningful ways.

“When I see students connect things that they haven’t connected previously, I find that to be the most fascinating and most interesting thing,” she says. “When I can learn from my students, that’s really exciting too,” she adds.

Clark says her favorite things about teaching at SPC are the way the small class sizes allow her to get to know her students, as well as the sense of community.

“There really is a family atmosphere,” she says. “People care about each other.”

Clark says metaphors and language are of great interest to her. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she investigated the language that therapists used to describe their work.

“It’s very revealing, very quickly, about where people are coming from,” she says. “I think it gives you a snapshot view of who that person is.”

Clark uses many frequently changing metaphors to describe her work as a professor. This week, Clark says she would describe herself as a coach helping her students practice for game day.

“Sometimes, in World Cultures, I feel kind of like I’m the tour guide, and that we’re kind of going on a trip together,” she muses.

Clark says people describe her as a “workaholic,” but she does not see it that way.

“When you love what you do, that doesn’t feel like work,” she says.

When she is not teaching, Clark says she prioritizes fitness and physical activity. She describes her interest in family genealogy as a hobby she could spend hours on.

According to Clark, her fascination with genealogy began with that of her own family. However, it eventually broadened to a new way of understanding more about history.

“When you have an ancestor, for example, who was like a Civil War veteran, all of a sudden the Civil War becomes very interesting,” Clark says. “You can invest in it in a different way.”

Clark says she has always been active in LGBTQ causes. In 1990, she and her partner opened Ellie’s Garden, a small gay and lesbian bookstore that operated in Lubbock until 1994, when Clark closed Ellie’s Garden to pursue her postgraduate education and subsequent career as a professor.

Named for her grandmother, Ellen, who enjoyed gardening, Clark describes Ellie’s Garden as a place where people could gather without fear of discrimination.

“That was at a time when there really were not safe spaces for LGBTQ people to go,” she says, “and that was one of our goals, to try to establish a place.”

While Clark’s experience running Ellie’s Garden was not without challenges, she says she was pleasantly surprised by how many supportive people she met along the way.

“I expected a lot more resistance or pushback, and was kind of mentally prepared for that,” she says. “And there were certain other pockets or communities that were very supportive in ways that I didn’t expect, which sort of renewed my faith in people in general.”

The transition from entrepreneur to professor was a natural one for Clark.

“When you’re a good sales person,” she says, “it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re selling books or magazines, or ideas. It’s all the same skillset.”

Author: Plainsman Press Staff

The student newspaper of South Plains College.

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