Nov 20, 2023 - News

Fisk University's new president wants to "flip the story"

A portrait of Fisk president Clark.

Agenia Walker Clark. Photo: Courtesy of Fisk University

Agenia Walker Clark spent decades developing connections to Nashville institutions. One of her early stops after moving to town more than 30 years ago was Fisk University.

  • She worked at Fisk for a while as a volunteer marketing instructor. She says she was quickly impressed by the caliber of her students and their dedication to Fisk's storied history.

Walking back onto campus this fall as Fisk's newest president, she says, she found the same level of passion.

  • "That kind of took my breath away," Clark says. "It hit me that there is no other place I'd rather be."

Why it matters: Fisk leaders say Clark's deep well of experience in Nashville — including 19 years as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, time on the Tennessee Board of Regents, and service on corporate and nonprofit boards — will be the key to reversing long-standing challenges at Nashville's oldest university.

  • Fisk board chair Juliette Pryor said Clark's "unique combination of fundraising and brand-building skills [is] exactly what Fisk needs today."

State of play: For a while now, Fisk has had a revolving door in its president's office.

  • Clark is pledging a new era of stability.
  • "The past flips and flops of leadership have allowed us to get away from talking about why the institution exists," Clark says.

Driving the news: One of Clark's top priorities is trumpeting Fisk's academic bona fides. She's asking faculty members about their latest research, and she keeps a thick bundle of their academic papers within reach at her desk.

  • Pushing the spotlight from turmoil to hard-won success will be vital to attracting donors and repairing Fisk's financial footing, she says.

What she's saying: "Fisk is wealthy. It is wealthy in students. It has great wealth in its faculty," Clark says.

  • "We just don't have economic wealth. And despite that, there are amazing things going on."
  • "In my tenure, I want to flip the story. Because if I don't, we will not get the economic investments we need to move forward."

What's next: Clark says she's putting her Rolodex to work. She already knows many local stakeholders, so there's no need for perfunctory getting-to-know-you meetings.

  • Instead, she says, she's diving deeper and looking to establish new partnerships.
  • "Things are percolating. And I'm surprised that they're percolating this fast."

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