For the July edition of In the Lead, Judi Brown Clarke answers a few questions about her career as an academic, athlete, and public servant. She is an alumna of the EY Women Athletes Business Network.
This week, Judi spoke at an IWF Executive Development Roundtable (EDR) supported by the Knight Foundation in Miami, Florida. The EDR was a two day training for female entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders.
You’re an accomplished professional athlete with an Olympic silver medal. How would you say that your athletic career shaped your later success?
Every strategic tool that has led to my professional success was mastered through my participation in sports. I learned the collective value of being on a team and the individual talent of being a good teammate. I learned how to establish a “stretch goal” and to master each step until the goal was achieved. I can navigate barriers and overcome disappointments in “real time,” like resiliency in the middle of competition. As an elite athlete, I developed an acute sense of my personal strengths and the receptiveness to accept criticism in order to master my weaknesses. This insight plays out in a strong desire to seek and master grand challenges.
You just took part in a panel discussion on the importance of overcoming obstacles at an EDR supported by the Knight Foundation in Miami, Florida. Becoming an elite athlete requires preparation, commitment, and discipline. What is the most important aspect of mental toughness that you learned from your time in sports, and how does that relate to all aspects of leadership?
I have learned how to quickly identify what I can control and dismiss “unproductive noise” which I cannot control. This gives me a high-performing advantage of where to strategically and effectively dedicate my time and attention.
You were a member of the first class of EY Women Athletes Business Network mentees in 2015. What was that experience like?
Phenomenal, there was an immediate kindred connection through our participation in sports and desire for excellence. I walked into a room full of incredibly accomplished and brilliant women from around the world, and walked out with new friends and teammates.
You are currently the Director of Diversity at Michigan State University’s BEACON Center. Could you tell us about the work of the BEACON Center and your role there?
The BEACON Center is a $25 million National Science Foundation-funded Science & Technology Center. The goals of BEACON are to develop and apply evolutionary principles of adaptation and resiliency in computer science and engineering design, and to use computational systems in tandem with biological experiments to test complex biological hypotheses. BEACON research projects are highly multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional.
My responsibilities include the recruitment, retention, and mentoring of students and faculty; grant writing and securing external funding; teaching and facilitating workshops; program assessment and project development; and collaborative networking with partners and stakeholders.
You recently launched a campaign to become the next Mayor of Lansing, MI. What prompted you to enter public service? Has your gender come into play in ways that have surprised you throughout your campaign?
I entered public service because I have experienced so many positive opportunities and I saw it as my time to pay it forward and pay it back! I hope to be a role model of hope and courage to other community change-agents and leaders, grounded in the belief that the collective “we” hold the solutions to the challenges of our community. However, throughout my campaign, there have been sobering experiences of “isms” and “ists” from both men and women. While it can be frustrating and disappointing, I am so focused on the goal of serving the public that I have categorized it as extraneous “noise”!
When did you first feel like a leader in your field?
When people stopped describing me as “an Olympian that is a leader” to “a leader that is an Olympian”. I know it sounds subtle, but it was the first time that I felt my intellectual merit preceded my physical accomplishments.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts. Knight Foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit KnightFoundation.org.