BRATTLEBORO -- An Educator of the Year award wasn't just a prize to Karen Clark. It was also a confirmation that she was doing the right thing.
Clark, an academic coordinator at the Community College of Vermont's Brattleboro Academic Center, received the honor at the Vermont Educational Opportunity Programs conference on Oct. 9.
The award is presented annually to a faculty, staff member, tutor or administrator who has made significant contributions to furthering educational opportunities for VEOP students. The 2012 conference was held at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.
"I was totally surprised," said Clark, who did not know ahead of time she would be the award's recipient. "I really have found my professional niche. I help kids go to college and complete their education."
She has been with CCV for several years as a faculty member and 10 years as a coordinator.
Clark said she was nominated for the award and got three letters of recommendation -- one from Janet Groom, a fellow academic coordinator, Heather Weinstein, the director of student support services at CCV, and Hilary McAllister, an advisee.
"It was pretty awesome to see what my co-workers thought of me, as well as my students," she said.
CCV is Vermont's second largest college, serving more than 7,000 students each semester. There are 12 locations, online learning options and 20 degrees and six certificate programs.
Groom, who works at CCV's Bennington location, said she has known Clark for nine years and still marvels at her dedication.
"I said the day we awarded her the honor, ‘We all work hard. Everybody works hard. But Karen goes above and beyond and is always extending a helping hand,'" said Groom. "She is particularly astute with technology."
Groom said her colleague is always willing to help others as if it's never a bother.
"She does it happily and with a smile. She puts aside whatever she's doing," Groom said. "What a terrific colleague to be able to work with."
Weinstein, who works out of Montpelier, agreed with that sentiment, adding that Clark will assist anyone, even if her plate is already full.
"Karen is one of those people who, if something needs to get done, she is always ready to raise her hand to volunteer to help," she said. The director of student support services also said Clark has a special relationship with those she helps.
"She genuinely, genuinely roots for her students," Weinstein said. "Karen is a nurturer. She has a real skill for recognizing what students need. She helps students learn how to advocate for themselves."
Clark has, since 2002, worked with students in CCV-Brattleboro's TRiO Student Support Services Program, a federally-funded program designed to assist students and meet their educational and career goals.
The TRiO program is funded to serve 225 students, who are selected through an application process that assesses motivation, academic need, and ability to benefit. TRiO coordinators serve as an academic mentor, advisor, transfer counselor and resource consultant.
In her nomination letter, Weinstein wrote, "Karen's TRiO students have gone on to be CCV graduation speakers, Ada Comstock scholars, Student Advisory Board Representatives on CCV's Academic Council, participants at TRiO Legislature Day, and panel members at CCV's faculty summer Institute. Karen embodies the spirit of TRiO, and she sets the bar high for professionals supporting the success of students."
McAllister is one of those students.
"One might think of an Academic Advisor as someone who helps students schedule classes each semester and that is it. My relationship with my advisor is so much more than choosing classes, because I am fortunate enough to be involved with TRiO," McAllister wrote in her letter of recommendation. "Karen Clark is one of the kindest, most dedicated educators I know, and each year, as I see new students walking in and out of her office, I know that they are just as fortunate as I have been.
"It is because of Karen Clark that I have the ambition, determination, and strength to continue my education," she continued. "There will never be enough words to express the amount of gratitude and respect I have for her."
McAllister noted in her letter that she has applied to Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.