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Robert Clark Jr.: Engineer of the Year

Robert Clark Jr. knows full well the power of engineering to help drive innovation and create jobs. An entrepreneur, he developed technology that was the basis for several companies while he was at Duke University.

Today Clark is an integral part of the Rochester startup community as dean at the University of Rochester Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and as UR senior vice president for research. Clark is helping to establish the AIM Photonics manufacturing headquarters in Rochester and has a seat on the governor’s AIM Photonics board.

He also has been involved in  planning the local optics, photonics and imaging industries as part of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

Clark lived and worked in the booming Research Triangle region of North Carolina. A Duke faculty member for 16 years, he came north in 2008 and is upbeat about Rochester’s prospects.

“I think Rochester is entering a new era,” Clark says. “Kodak has been so important to this community in so many ways, but the technical community has evolved, and there are great strengths here. We are now organizing better as a community, and I think there are many reasons why companies and talent should be looking at Rochester as a location for future development.”

Under Clark, undergraduate enrollment in UR’s Hajim engineering school has risen by 1,000 to around 1,750 over seven years, and at the same time the quality of students has improved in terms of GPAs, SAT scores, diversity of thought and culture, he says.

A childhood fascination with the space program attracted Clark to engineering. He wanted to be an astronaut when he learned many were pilots with engineering backgrounds. An expert in acoustics and in bio-nanomanufacturing, Clark grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of  Virginia.

“I was fascinated with space,” he says. “I also enjoyed math and science and loved problem-solving. My dad restored antique automobiles as a hobby, and I spent many years in the garage with him taking things apart and putting them back together.”

Clark went to Virginia Tech for his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and held various  positions at Duke, including dean of the Pratt School of Engineering. He founded the university’s Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems, a multimillion-dollar program involving more than two dozen faculty members.

“I am very happy with the evolution of my career,” he says. “I’ve practiced engineering in industry, in academia through research, as a consultant, as a founder of startup companies and most recently as a dean of engineering. The range of opportunities possible for engineers to explore is significant, and the opportunity to express creativity for the benefit of society is rewarding.”

Clark says his proudest achievement has been to successfully mix work and family. Clark and his wife of more than 28 years, Dana, have two children, Amelia and Trey.

“Maintaining a balanced life while seeking professional excellence is my greatest accomplishment,” Clark says. “My wife and I allocated time to coach our children in soccer and baseball, teach them to fish and water ski, support their academic and extracurricular interests, and expose them to diverse cultures through international travel.”

4/8/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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