By Christine Reslmaier
Lifelong learning has been key to Reatha Clark King's success and personal satisfaction. She has earned three degrees and worked to help others have the same opportunity. Born Reatha Clark in 1938 in Pavo, Georgia, she moved many times while growing up because her mother had to look for work were she could get it. Clark was often teased for being poor, but she focused on her studies, graduating high school as valedictorian and winning a scholarship from Clark College in Atlanta as a home-economics major. A black Ph.D.chemistry professor in college inspired her to pursue a career in chemistry. Her senior year there she won a Woodrow Wilson scholarship, which enabled her to enroll in the University of Chicago graduate program. She studied physical chemistry with a focus on thermodynamics, and earned a master's and Ph.D.
As an undergraduate, Clark met fellow chemistry major, N. Judge King, at a Morehouse College basketball game. They were married in 1961 and later had two children.
It took a while for Clark King to land her first research job after grad school, but it was worth the wait. She became a project leader at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., determining the effects of heat on alloys (a combination of two or more metals). Clark King invented a coiled tube that allowed hot liquids like fuel to cool, so they wouldn't explode; research that was vital to NASA. She left the Bureau after five years when her husband got a teaching job in New York, where she also switched to become an educator. In 1968 she joined the faculty at York College, an inner-city school in New York, later becoming an associate dean, all while earning an MBA at Columbia University.
In 1977, Clark King became president of Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for 11 years, promoting opportunities for minorities and women in higher education. "I realized early in life that education is our best enabling resource," she has said, "that technical skills are important, and that my stamina for championing educational opportunity for all people is inexhaustible."
Clark King then joined the General Mills Foundation as executive director and a vice president, in charge of the company's $50 million citizenship and charitable-giving program. For 14 years she directed the company's philanthropic efforts, including direct social investments and volunteerism. She retired in 2002.
Recognition she has received includes: several honorary doctorates; the Exceptional Black Scientist Award from the CIBA-GEIGY Corporation (a worldwide pharmaceutical and chemical company that provides products and services for health care, agriculture, and industry); and being named one of Ebony magazine's Top 50 Black Executives in Corporate America. She has served on educational, community, and corporate boards, including Hispanics In Philanthropy and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and she was recently inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame.
On her nomination to the hall, she said: "From my own personal experiences, I know that the individual who pursues continuing education and lifelong learning is continually equipped to overcome social barriers to opportunity. Lifelong learning has been one of the key factors in my successes over the years. From my interactions with others, it also has become clear to me that the best gift any person can give another is the encouragement and actual assistance that the person needs to continue his or her education."
Reatha Clark King
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