Priscilla Clarkson, 66, visionary leader at UMass Amherst
Like the ballerina she once aspired to be, Priscilla Clarkson turned the complex choreography of her exceptionally full life into something dazzling to behold.
“You’d look at her, and it was a bit breathtaking,” said Maria Urso, one of Dr. Clarkson’s former doctoral students.
As dean of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Dr. Clarkson was the key administrator guiding to completion the program’s new complex, into which students will move for the first time on Friday, just days after her death early Monday in her Leverett home.
“She was a visionary leader,” said James V. Staros, the university’s provost and senior vice chancellor of academic affairs. “She was uncommonly intelligent, even among academics. She was a star scientist.”
Dr. Clarkson, who was 66 and had been diagnosed about four years ago with breast cancer, was also devoted to creating an exemplary undergraduate educational experience. “She was committed to the honors college because it was a way of modeling what undergraduate education can be at a large public university,” Staros said.
Leading the honors college was less a capstone than a continuation of her life on a campus that was Dr. Clarkson’s academic home since she arrived as an 18-year-old student. She received her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from UMass Amherst, and after graduation immediately started teaching there, becoming a distinguished university professor of kinesiology and an associate dean before taking the reins of the honors college in 2006.
While rising swiftly as an academic and an administrator, Dr. Clarkson also founded and ran the university’s Muscle Biology and Imaging Lab and lent her scholarly expertise to everything from a state panel to NASA and the NCAA. She also was a fellow and former president of the American College of Sports Medicine.
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