Tracy Clark, Alumni Leading Our Community

Tracy Clark

Interim President, White Earth Tribal and Community College
Associate Professor, Social Work, MSUM
Social Work and Criminal Justice, 1993

"Being in an environment where deep critical thinking was not only valued, but also required, was very transformational in discovering who I am."

How did your MSUM experience transform your life?

The transformation I experienced, even though it was unbeknownst to me at the time, was simply navigating the world of higher education through and with MSUM. My parents didn’t understand the process, so I had to show a level of maturity, self-motivation and tenacity to survive. Learning to be independent in a safe environment at MSUM and trusting the college to get me where they said they would take me is my initial recollection of transformation.

Who were the faculty members that inspired you?

I had wonderful faculty across the board but two in particular stand out. Jim Svobodny had a very nurturing and accepting demeanor by providing constructive criticism in an empathetic and kind way. I was always intrigued by how beautifully he did that. I would reflect and decide if I agreed or disagreed, but always respected what he said. Recognizing that was part of my transformation because whether I realized it or not, I decided that’s how I wanted to be with people.

Dick DuBord is memorable because on my last day of my last class in the social work major he asked me if I ever considered graduate school because he believed in my ability and potential. Since Dick was known as one of the more rigorous instructors in the social work department, the fact he said that gave me much faith in my ability and boosted my self-esteem.

How did your time at MSUM shape you to be the leader you are today?

MSUM gave me a supportive learning environment and the professors opened up worlds of ideas to me, so it wasn’t one thing, but the culmination of many good things that helped me grow as a leader. I remember sitting in a philosophy class and thinking there are people here who think deeply about things, because I had often been told I thought too much. Being in an environment where deep critical thinking was not only valued, but also required, was very transformational in discovering who I am.

Share a story about failure that made you a better leader.

I was working with a group of children to build trust, empowerment and boundary skills, and they were to choose a puppet for role-playing. A girl started throwing a temper tantrum because she didn’t get the puppet she wanted and she threw it on the floor. That puppet was affecting her because she identified it as the bully puppet and didn't want that bully in her life anymore. She was speaking to me in her way but I hadn’t been listening at her developmental level. After I realized what happened, I put her on a chair and I got on my knees and I thanked her for helping me learn. I apologized for my mistake, and I humbled myself in front of her and the other children and facilitators to fix my mistake. It’s not the only time I have failed, but it represents what has helped me to be a better leader. I definitely hope that when I fail I can be humble enough not to let my ego get in the way of fixing my mistakes. This four-year-old girl taught me a big lesson that day.

What advice would you give someone striving to improve their leadership skills?

Be fearless. You will experience fears but do it anyway. Be humble. Be an observer and a listener. And don’t be afraid to uplift all the leadership around you. There are many great ideas, talents and capacities, which if shut down, is to lose out on all of the talents and synergies possible. But still, don’t be afraid to lead when the time calls upon you to do so. It won’t always be easy, but do it anyway.

Parting thoughts?

MSUM is a part of my DNA. I graduated from there, I’m employed there as an Associate Professor of Social Work, all three of my children graduated from the littlest dragon preschool. MSUM feels like coming home because it’s where I started my young adult life, and it's where I've spent the majority of my professional career. I can’t say enough about my commitment and the role MSUM has played in my life.