Mary-Ellen Boyle lived in Worcester for many years before she joined the Clark University faculty full time in 1999 as a management professor. She was initially attracted to Clark’s reputation for partnering with the city, and, more specifically, with its Main South neighborhood. Today, she’s determined that a Clark student’s education extends beyond the school gates and into the worlds of work, research and public service.
Boyle is now positioned to help make that happen thanks to her recent appointment as dean of the college, following three years as associate dean. On June 1 she will take over from Walter Wright, who has served three separate stints as dean over his long Clark career. Boyle will be a driving force behind the execution of Clark’s LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) initiative, the University’s pioneering model for higher education that will enhance the Clark tradition of melding classroom learning with the kinds of professional and research opportunities that equip students to pursue their career and life passions.
Boyle is intrigued by the prospect of cultivating the LEEP learning approach at Clark. “I really agree with President Angel’s vision with respect to LEEP and why it’s important for our students and the university as a whole,” she says. “As an educator I always believed in connecting students academics with experiences beyond the classroom.
LEEP makes those links, allowing students to see how what we’re teaching them is going to be relevant and important to the future — for themselves, and for the world. That’s very exciting.” In her Statement of Interest for the dean of the college position, Boyle noted that she first became interested in experience-based education while an undergraduate at Yale University, where she initially struggled to find her passion in the classroom.
She perceived a significant gap between how the academic knowledge she was accruing would translate into a meaningful career. Boyle cites her study of philosopher John Dewey, who touted the “essential links” between education, experience and democracy, and her internship with a community service program in New Haven, Conn., as seminal episodes. “I realized then that I learned differently and more deeply when I was outside the classroom, and that I wanted to do work that addressed social and economic inequalities,” she recalls.
Boyle earned an M.B.A. and Ph.D. at Boston College. She has worked for the Massachusetts and U.S. departments of education, and taught at Boston College, Emmanuel College, Roger Williams College (now University) and Vassar College. Prior to becoming the associate dean of the college at Clark, she was the faculty director of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Department and a professor at in the Graduate School of Management, where she taught Business in Society, Entrepreneurship – Social Impact, Global Business Seminar, and Applying the Art & Science of Management.
Over time, Boyle’s research has evolved to focus on the intersection of the private and public sectors, with particular emphases on business, education, and community-university partnerships.
Many of her classes feature significant out-of-classroom experiences, as well as other teaching methods designed to highlight the links between theory and practice. “I love it when students come to Clark undecided about what direction to take, and they get exposed to many different things during their time here that really help them figure out what they want to do. I enjoy seeing the fire that they can summon when it all clicks,” Boyle says. “I especially like the idealism of young people and the critical perspective that Clark students bring. We encourage them to keep thinking about how to improve liberal education, how to improve Clark University, how to improve Worcester, and how to improve themselves.”
LEEP will offer even more opportunities for Clark students to explore their paths within the context of real-world experiences, Boyle says. “I envision a Clark undergraduate experience where all students, not just the academic superstars or world-class activists, have a transformative education,” she says. “This is what inspires me most about the LEEP initiative. I think that we currently do a terrific job for many students, and I would like to extend this to the entirety.”