Cardinal Cadence - Spring 2007
While growing up in Beaumont in the late 1970s, Rena Clark ’84 considered herself a typical Southeast Texas youth, yet she was uncommonly good at math and science, so much so, in fact, that her father encouraged her to consider studying engineering when she entered college.
“It wasn’t a career path I saw a lot of blacks choosing,” she said. “At that point in my life, I didn’t know any engineers.”
She attended Hebert High School in Beaumont’s Pear Orchard, and ranked second in her graduating class. Taking the top spot was another Lamar alumna, Dr. Tamerla Chavis, who studied engineering at Lamar and today is the only female neurosurgeon in the Golden Triangle.
Today, Clark is vice president of community affairs/corporate philanthropy for The Kraft Group and the New England Patriots. “I have shaped my own path,” she said. “It’s eclectic, but it felt right.”
The youngest of three children, Clark learned about school and community pride in the neighborhood where she was raised. Her parents, Clarence and Bernice, always expected her to attend college. “I was taught I could be anything I wanted to be,” she said. “I had confidence that I could.” She graduated cum laude with a degree in mechanical engineering.
She was vice president of Lamar’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers her junior year and president of the organization her senior year. Shecredits her advisor, Richard Price, who recently retired after 35 years of teaching at Lamar, with nurturing her leadership qualities. “I was able to take flight,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience for me.”
As an undergraduate, Clark tutored other engineering students and participated in study groups. “We were committed to one another,” she said. “We were a tight-knit community.”
Looking back on her decision to attend Lamar, she said, “I loved my education there. I’d choose Lamar again. I made lifelong friends at Lamar.” She recently returned to her alma mater to attend Price’s retirement party. She calls Price a phenomenal person, role model, advisor and a great friend. Clark learned her craft well, gained experience and continues to reinvent herself. She isn’t one to stay in a job for comfort’s sake; rather, she wants to continue to learn, grow and evolve.
She found her first jobs through the department’s cooperative education employment program, working three semesters for Texaco and Union 76. After earning her diploma, she was selected to participate in a multi-year corporate development- training program with General Electric. She spent one year with Major Appliances in Louisville, Ky., and then worked with GE Factory Automation in Charlottesville, Va., before heading to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a two-year assignment in GE’s Flight Simulation division.
Four years after graduating from Lamar, she decided to attend business school and applied to several, including Stanford, Columbia and Harvard. When she attended women’s admission day at Harvard, she said, she fell in love with the campus.
She wasn’t naïve when she applied to Harvard. “I think the quality of education at Lamar prepared me academically to do anything,” Clark said. The small classes at Lamar gave her opportunity to spend more time with her professors who made themselves accessible.
Clark earned her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 2000 and worked as a consultant for a year, but she soon found herself drawn back to the campus she loved when she was chosen to serve as managing director of the M.B.A. program for four years.
Clark likens her relationship with Jim Cash, the first black tenured faculty member in the Harvard Business School and chairman of the M.B.A. program, to that of Price. During his career, Cash served or currently serves on the boards of General Electric, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Knight-Ridder, Tandy Corp. (now Radio Shack) and United Telecommunications (now Sprint Corp.). Clark said she had an amazing time working with Cash and John McArthur, the then–15-year dean of the business school.
From 1995 to 2001, Clark was an entrepreneur, owning and operating two middle-market manufacturing companies. Although she truly enjoyed the autonomy, she eventually had to make a change to free her for the next step in life—adopting a child.
As an entrepreneur, she said, she spent 90 percent of her time away from her home in Boston. Friends said she’d only come to town to get her mail and do her laundry. Finding a new job would give her the opportunity to spend time with her daughter, Sydney, now 2, while giving back to the community.
“Being a single parent is harder than any work I’ve ever done,” she said. “I don’t have any regrets at all. I can’t think of life before Sydney. But it’s challenging. I have great support, a great church and friends.”
Clark says her current job is a perfect marriage of things important to her, including community and her passion for sports. The position allows her to be home at 6 p.m. on most nights and weekends. Clark met Jonathan Kraft while attending Harvard, and the two became friends. Years later, Kraft, president and chief operating officer for the Kraft Group, convinced Clark to come on board with the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots. She is responsible for team-related community affairs and outreach programs and oversees all the charitable giving efforts for the Patriots Charitable Foundation, coordinating similar activities for the Kraft Group. The foundation gave $3 million plus in grants, scholarships, and in-kind gifts to nonprofit organizations in New England during her first three years on the job. Clark, a huge sports fan, is now in her fourth year with the company.
“In this job, I get to impact the community in a beautiful way,” she said. Clark, who is active with many organizations, including the United Way and Junior Achievement in Boston, said the position’s stable hours was the last puzzle piece that made it possible for her to adopt.
To make sure her parents have opportunity to bond with their granddaughter, she visits Beaumont as often as possible. Clark said she is home on every major holiday, so Sydney will know her grandparents, aunt, uncle, nieces and nephews.
“I have had the opportunity, privilege and blessing to work with some incredible human beings—from Richard Price to John McArthur to Robert Kraft,” Clark said. For her, it has always been not only about opportunities, but also about people, she said.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”