Feb. 5, 2013
by Chris Weinman
Tiffany Clarke is living the dream of any second-semester college senior. Needing only three credit hours to fulfill her degree requirements, the Duluth, Ga., native is enrolled in just one class this spring to complete her human and organizational development major. That class--Dr. Deborah Tobey's HOD 2750, Managing Organizational Change--meets two mornings per week.
But don't expect Clarke to be sitting on her hands all semester. The 6'0" post player makes sure to keep herself busy in the time she finds away from Memorial Gymnasium. Clarke serves as the community service chair of Vanderbilt's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and plans to find a professional internship.
Clarke has never had a problem finding things to do since coming to Vanderbilt. She took part in the United States Olympic Committee's F.L.A.M.E. (Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere) program, which encourages minority college students to further their personal and professional growth, in the summer of 2011. As a junior, Clarke volunteered at Nashville's Cockrill Elementary School.
This past September, when she and her teammates took a group trip to read to kindergarteners at nearby Eakin Elementary School, Clarke took the initiative to ask if the school could use more help, and she returns there regularly to tutor students. You might expect that a Peabody senior with such experience working with children would be preparing for a career in education, but that is likely not the case for Clarke.
"Nothing like that," Clarke said. "I want to work in sports management or maybe public relations. I just like kids. I have a 7-year-old brother and my sister just turned 10."
Six 18-year-old sisters were added to Clarke's Vanderbilt family this fall, when six freshmen joined Head Coach Melanie Balcomb's Commodore squad. As the squad's lone senior forward, Clarke's desire to mentor youth has been quite an asset for the women's basketball team this season.
"Before I was able to lead by example and not say as much," Clarke said. "Especially with me being the only upperclassmen post, coach told me, `You're the senior. You have to be more vocal and do more of the coaching.' And that's something I had to definitely step into because I'm more of the quiet one. Now I have to be the more vocal, talk to my teammates, lead them, tell them what I need from them. I've had to step outside my comfort zone that way."
Clarke has worked to mentor all of her younger teammates, and especially the four freshmen post players. She says teammates call Dayton, Ohio, native Rayte'a Long her "little sister." Long appreciates what Clarke has meant to the team in practice.
"She's like a big sister off the court," Long said. "On the court, though, you handle business and she makes sure of that. I think she's done a great job pushing us to be better every day. She challenges us in so many ways, physically and mentally. It's tough banging against her but it's what you have to do if you want to be better as a team."
Clarke is having a strong close to her Vanderbilt career. Wearing the No. 34, Clarke recently became the 34th Commodore to score more than 1,000 points in her career when she went for 22 points in a 67-45 victory over Hartford on December 6. Clarke averaged 15.8 points per game to lead the Commodores in scoring during non-conference play, barely edging out teammate Christina Foggie, the Southeastern Conference's reigning scoring champion.
A second-team All-SEC preseason selection, Clarke also has been tabbed a candidate for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. An acronym for "Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School," the award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities. The 10 finalists for the award will be named this month, and fan voting at seniorclassaward.com will factor into naming the winner.
Postseason honors are nothing new for Clarke. She was named an SEC All-Freshman honoree in 2010, earned All-SEC Tournament recognition in 2011, and was recognized as second-team All-SEC by league coaches last year. This season, the senior hopes she can lead the Commodores not only to their 14th straight trip to NCAA Tournament, but to their first appearance in the event's second weekend since 2009.