Faculty Friday: The Full-Circle Journey of Michael Dean Clark, PhD

by Megan Wilhelm

When Micheal Dean Clark, PhD, graduated from Azusa Pacific University in 1997, he had no idea his time at the university was not yet complete. After working as a local reporter, a high school English teacher, and attending graduate school in Milwaukee, Clark was hired at Point Loma Nazarene University, where he anticipated staying for years. “I had everything done for tenure. I just had to complete the last couple years,” said Clark, “Then I got a call from Dr. Bentz, and he said, ‘Hey, we have a position here. Are you interested?’” Clark, a San Diego native who enjoyed surfing between classes, declined the offer. Joseph Bentz, PhD, however, was persistent. After Bentz called two more times, Clark opened up to the possibility. “I applied and then I came up and visited, and it reminded me why I chose APU as a student,” Clark said. “I’ve been back for nine years, taught and done work in many areas, and I love it.”

Clark has taught everything from Writing One to graduate level courses in APU’s Department of English. He loves teaching creative writing, especially his fiction class. “It's a lot of fun to watch students struggle with their writing in the best ways,” he said. For Clark, teaching literature is not only a tool to challenge students but also an avenue to talk about faith. “For me as a teacher, my faith is meeting my students. I try to be intentionally individual with them as much as possible,” he said.

While Clark has found his niche as a professor of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, his journey at APU did not start off with such a clear focus. “When I came here, I was going to study pre-med; I was a singer; I was in the music program; and I was a basketball player. Those were my identities,” he said. “After just six months here, all those things were basically gone.” Clark’s time in college was one of change as he settled into his identity. He credits several of his professors for mentoring him through this process. Having gone through a period of searching in college, Clark recognizes that his students may be in similar situations. “At the end of the day, I'm here for my students who come from any background and particularly ones who come from backgrounds that feel like they don't have people here,” he said. “I like to be their people because that's how it was for me.”

Clark encourages students to be clear in their purpose both during and after college, a lesson he received from an old colleague. “It's not about knowing why or how you're going to get to where you want to go. It’s about knowing what's drawing you there,” said Clark. By prioritizing specific needs they are equipped to meet, Clark believes students will find meaning in their work for both themselves and others. “If I'm doing something, it has to matter. I have to be able to see the impact,” he said. “If I’m thinking about what I’m moving towards, then it gives a sense of purpose to what I'm doing now and what I'll be doing in the future."

Although teaching was not the career Clark expected for himself, he’s grown passionate about his profession. “For me, part of my journey in becoming the kind of professor I wanted to be needed to come here,” said Clark. “I needed to come back so that I could see myself in this place where I first imagined the possibility.” After nearly a decade back at his alma mater, Clark is still learning and growing at APU: “There’s an authenticity that is just stitched into this place and always has been,” he said. “It’s always the students who lead in that way. I'm constantly impressed and moved, and I'm challenged to be better.”

Megan Wilhelm '23 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement.