Clarkson Senior Vice President and Provost
Charles E. “Chuck” Thorpe
Chuck Thorpe wants to see Clarkson show more swagger.
Q: What brought you to Clarkson?
I spent 25 years in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon.
It’s huge. You could spend your entire career without leaving the
building. Then I was tapped to start a branch campus in Qatar. All
of a sudden I’m looking at curriculum for business and computer-
science majors. They need English, philosophy and other subjects.
This opened my eyes to the richness of the college experience and the
importance of surrounding students not just with academics but with
the activities and mentors that can make college so rewarding.
This University is just the right size to give students personal
attention while teaching them hard science and exposing them
to the limitlessness of the arts. The results speak for themselves.
Clarkson students perform superbly in graduate school, they get
great jobs and rise to the tops of corporations.
Partly, I’m here to tell Clarkson how good we can be.
Q: Certainly our students benefit from our size. But is there
something about being a small school that also gives us an edge
in academics or research?
The diversity of our research and Clarkson’s size give us a
tremendous advantage. There are a lot of schools that operate in
silos. When you’re conducting research here, you draw on business,
computer science, chemical engineering and you then get Prof.
Stephen Bird to talk about public policy.
That combination of reaching across different disciplines —
you can’t do that at a big place, but you have to do it at Clarkson.
Q: Speaking of research, the competition for funding is obviously
intense. How do you see Clarkson increasing its funding?
We’re in an excellent position to increase agency and
government funding. Plus, we’ve been very good at tying in to
corporations. We’re rapidly ramping up our distance-education
capabilities. So, for example, when a corporate research lab wants
a three-day course in advanced composites, we can teach them.
We can also show them the kind of capabilities we have here at
Clarkson. So when they need any kind of research, they turn to us.
Q: Clarkson President Tony Collins and you have talked about the
importance of international research. What do you have in mind?
We have lots of people working on international education,
including faculty who travel the world and make connections.
And these can be enhanced and strengthened.
I sit on the board of a start-up university in Karachi. The city
has enormous problems with stable electrical power. We have one
of the great, high-voltage electric power groups here at Clarkson.
A Clarkson alum is about to become executive director
of the Qatar National Research Foundation. The country is
very humid. Dust turns into sandy, corrosive mud. How can
engineers create surfaces or coatings that can stand up to such a
harsh environment? How can these be made sustainably? There’s
opportunity to do research funding there. And it’s good for our
students to understand different parts of the world.
Q: In support of the idea that learning and living are intertwined
at Clarkson, the Office of the Provost now oversees Student
Life, in addition to the traditional academic responsibilities.
What do you see for this expanded role?
I want Clarkson students to get an excellent education: in
their coursework and as a person. I want them to learn how to
build a bridge, how to cross-country ski, how to think critically.
Whether it’s a physics lesson or a business plan, I want students to
learn skills that will last the rest of their lives — and much of that
happens outside the classroom.
The University’s new Senior
Vice President and Provost,
who arrived on campus in July,
says the faculty and students
have a great reputation. “Better
than they let on,” he says, “and
it’s time we show it
show our potential to solve the
world’s great problems.”
Thorpe has his own experience
working on a global stage.
A senior leader at Carnegie
Mellon University, where he
headed the Robotics Institute
and then established a CMU
branch campus in Doha, Qatar,
Thorpe comes to Clarkson
after serving as a White House
Fellow and assistant director for
advanced manufacturing and
robotics in the Office of Science
and Technology Policy, which
serves the Executive Office of
Here, Thorpe talks about why
he came to Clarkson, what
Clarkson offers that other
universities don’t, and why we
need better word-of-mouth to
communicate the enormous
impact we have on the world.
Q: What do you need from the Clarkson community — from
faculty, students, alumni and staff?
What I need, especially as we embark on the next round of
strategic planning, is ideas.
Thomas Edison said the secret of having good ideas is having
a lot of ideas.
I am open — either through my office or the strategic
planning group — to receive lots of ideas. The other thing I want
is a bit of swagger. I’ve looked at a lot of universities and Clarkson
is better than some of us here understand. The reputation out
there is very strong. People that know us rave about us. Clarkson
is so good, we deserve to be better known.
So I need enthusiasm, I need ideas and I need people to go
out and talk about how great we really are.
Senior Vice President and Provost Thorpe with students.
Interviewed by Jonathan Brown