LEEP springs ahead with kickoff celebration and conversation

Students streamed into Tilton Hall yesterday to launch themselves off a platform, strike mid-air poses, and land in the welcome padding of a high-jump mat, their indoor flights caught on camera for posterity. These aerial acrobatics — executed, appropriately, on Leap Day — heralded the official announcement of LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice), Clark University’s pioneering model for higher education that expands and amplifies the opportunities for Clark students.

Tuesday’s event was both informational and celebratory. Students, faculty and staff circulated among three conversation stations to discuss the LEEP framework with administrators, hashing over the major components like guidance and mentoring, effective practice, and world, workplace and extracurricular activities. Student participants reflected on their LEEP experiences today and expressed their hopes for LEEP in the future. “I’m impressed with this,” said Jennifer Six ’14 as she surveyed the crowd. She noted that LEEP perpetuates the kind of beyond-the-classroom learning that is already an essential part of her Clark education. Six cited her involvement with Worcester organizations like Jeremiah’s Inn, a men’s homeless shelter where she’s been able to work with clients on programming decisions. “LEEP makes it official,” she said with a laugh. “It just kind of snuck up on us.” The LEEP goal of fusing a liberal education with intense world, workplace and personal experiences appealed to Irene Nakabonge-Lugude ’13, who already can boast her share of all three. The Uganda native attended Clark as a freshman in 1994-’95 as a pre-med major, later leaving for personal reasons. From 2000 to 2003 she worked on three start-ups and in 2003 helped to start an investment bank. She later went on to coordinate and assist in managing the fellowship program for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Now an economics major, Nakabonge-Lugude is most interested to see how LEEP can help her build on the years of professional experience she’s accrued, fuel her education, and enhance her post-Clark prospects. “I love this idea, and I’m intrigued by it,” she said of LEEP. “This place has always been inspiring, motivating, and socially forward.” In his campuswide message, President David Angel said “LEEP reaffirms the hallmarks of a Clark education, including our passion for the liberal arts, the opportunity to work closely with faculty who are leaders in their fields, and the drive to mobilize knowledge and education to make a difference in the world.” “We are deepening and aligning the connections among all aspects of a Clark education through innovative curriculum initiatives, through creative new approaches to student advising and mentorship, and through impactful partnerships involving leading employers, faculty, students, staff, and alumni,” Angel said.

Abdallah Smith Jr. ’13, a political science major, said that “if Clark is this abstract thing, then LEEP gives it focus and shape, and lets us apply what we learned in the real world.” What that ultimately will mean for him remains less focused. Smith said he’s formulating a few plans, with Plan C to pursue a career in his native Ghana, and Plan B to live and work in the United States. And Plan A? “Graduate,” he laughed. “You have to start there.” Senior Dan Pologe, an international development major who next year will pursue a master’s degree at Clark in community development and planning, looked around at the crowd inside Tilton and remarked about LEEP: “I should be a younger student. This is going to be great.”

Pologe said LEEP’s values have infused his education, but the initiative “takes what Clark already has and makes it marketable; makes Clark more competitive.” “I’d be interested to come back here in four years and hear how it made a difference for the Class of ’15,” he said. Tuesday’s happening concluded with some fun, including hula-hooping and ice cream sundaes served up by the administration. The night’s highlight involved Clark students and staff, including President Angel wearing a red “LEEP” t-shirt, being photographed while springing off a temporary platform. Check out the gallery of students doing their best LEEP day leaping.

~ Jim Keogh, Director of News and Editorial Services