University City

UNCC’s Clark honored for innovation

When Steve Clark retires at the end of this month as UNC Charlotte’s director of classroom support, he’ll be able to look back at his career with a sense of accomplishment.

Clark, 50, is responsible for leading the charge to revolutionize the campus’s classroom technology. Over the years, his ideas and innovations have caught the attention of many, including N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, who last month presented the Governor’s Award for Excellence, the highest honor a state employee can receive, to Clark.

“It was quite a nice surprise,” Clark said of the ceremony, which included a luncheon at the governor’s mansion with McCrory, who peppered him with questions about technology.

Clark would be the guy to ask. His transformation of the standard classroom took it out of the Stone Age and into a savvier, modern one.

“When we first started, faculty pushing around TV carts across sidewalks and into classrooms was the norm,” he said. “Most classrooms had overhead transparency projectors, and that was considered high-tech.”

Today, 500 classrooms on campus are equipped with “smart spaces” that allow the professors to use a variety of electronic tools with ease. A DVD/VCR combo player, document camera, personal computer, projector and retractable screen can all be accessed with a touch-panel control system located on the classroom’s podium.

Referred to as the “brains” of the smart classroom, the podium’s panel is as user-friendly as they come, allowing professors to focus on their own tasks instead of juggling with the complications of multiple technologies.

“Press one button and the projector comes on, the screen comes down, and the volume gets set to a classroom level,” said Clark. “It literally is, ‘Press one button and the system gets you where you need to be.’”

If a problem does arise, Clark designed each smart podium with a two-way intercom that he said solves about 90 percent of the issues.

“They press the big red ‘help’ button on the panel and they’re talking with a tech in two seconds.”

According to nomination letters sent on Clark’s behalf for the governor’s award, his in-house design and building of the smart podiums have saved UNCC between $12 million and $15 million.

Technology and labor would have cost twice as much, he said.

Clark’s plan to mass-produce the smart spaces using the university’s greatest resource – its students – paid off.

“Our students build, configure, install and support all of the systems in the classrooms,” he said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for them, and it’s a great labor pool for us.”

Clark, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from UNCC, began working as a laboratory preparatory in 1996, eventually moving into a technology position on campus. In 2005, he became director of classroom support, managing a team of 10 full-time and 12 student employees.

At the end of this month, he’ll hand over the reins to a new director that Clark is sure will continue the tradition of creating innovative and efficient classrooms. What’s next for classrooms, he said, remains to be seen.

“Everything we do is driven by the needs of our faculty and students.”