BANGOR, Maine — His words boomed off the walls of Newman Gymnasium. Urgency and conviction filled his voice.
“Education is the most powerful economic development tool in shaping our future,” Robert A. Clark said Friday afternoon shortly after he was sworn in as the sixth president of Husson University.
Although he has been on the job since Jan. 1, Clark gathered Friday with current students, alumni, faculty, staff and special guests for his official inauguration.
It was the first event of Homecoming Weekend for Husson, which was fitting because Clark’s new position as head of the university is a homecoming too. Clark, who grew up in Albion and graduated from the University of Maine, spent nearly three decades of his adult life away from Maine before he accepted the Husson presidency.
Clark succeeds William Beardsley, who held the post from 1986 to 2009 and helped transform Husson from a small business and nursing school to an institution that offers more than two dozen undergraduate degrees, eight master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. Enrollment during that time nearly tripled, and this fall, more than 3,500 students were enrolled.
In introducing Clark, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has her own historic ties to Husson, acknowledged Beardsley’s leadership.
“He wrote amazing chapters in the Husson history. It’s thanks to him that the best chapters are yet to come,” said Collins, who was the first director of Husson’s Dyke Center for Family Business before she got into national politics.
Matthew Teague, student government president, said Clark has shown great leadership during his short tenure and has been receptive to a host of student ideas.
Clark also received a strong endorsement from Clara Swan, 98, a 1930 graduate of Husson who often is called the first lady of Husson. Swan acknowledged each alumni member in the audience and asked them to stand and repeat after her: “We support you 100 percent, and we’ll do anything you ask,” she said to laughter.
Before Husson, Clark most recently served as vice president for strategic initiatives at the University of Evansville in Indiana.
During his inaugural speech, Clark reiterated two goals. The first is to provide more experiential learning opportunities, or more practical applications of what students are learning. The second is to get students, faculty and staff thinking more globally.
“We’re not bound by geography,” he said. “It’s a state of mind.”
Just before he excused the audience of about 600 and invited them to a reception, Clark announced that each person who attended would be handed two daffodil bulbs on the way out. He told the attendees to plant one at home and to plant the other at Husson’s community garden — a living embodiment of Clark’s presidency.