The University of Houston-Clear Lake made history Aug. 1 when it welcomed Ira K. Blake as the university’s fifth president — the first woman and first African-American to serve in the role.
She joins the university after having served as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania since 2009. She also was associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education at Dixon University Center, as well as assistant to the president for public engagement at Kutztown University, before her stint at Bloomsburg.
Blake, who is the middle child of nine children, credits her sharecropper father and homemaker mother with instilling her with a confidence that she and her siblings could do anything they desired if they took education seriously.
After a whirlwind of meetings with faculty, staff, community members and students during the summer semester, Blake has been settling into her new role on a campus she considers the “perfect match.”
“When I accepted this position, I remembered the words of my father who always said do not let location interfere with opportunity,” Blake said.
“The oneness of voice signaled in the leadership profile is what attracted me to the university. A university that was student-focused, partnership-oriented, and community-minded, resonated with me. Those are the institutional values I believe best prepare a student for a satisfying personal life, a contributing role in the community and a compassionate self-agency to support a healthier global society.”
Blake said the university was what it promoted itself to be.
“I submitted my materials, came to campus and found that UH-Clear Lake is exactly what it says it is — committed to student success through multidimensional partnerships and supportive community engagement,” she said. “UH-Clear Lake and external stakeholders clearly found a coherence between my vision for public higher education, the accomplishments I have achieved so far and the mission and direction of the university.
“In essence, we believe we are a good match.”
Blake — a first generation college student — received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from George Washington University. She holds a doctorate and master’s degree in developmental psychology from Columbia University, and a second master’s degree in educational psychology from San Francisco State University.
And although this is a first for the university, which was founded in 1974, Blake reflected on women mentors who helped her along the way.
“I remember seeing few women and even fewer African-Americans and other minorities in leadership positions during my undergraduate years,” Blake said.
“I also recall what it felt like when my first graduate school adviser — a woman — encouraged me to go on for my doctorate and to come back to San Francisco State and take on her role as chairwoman of the department.
“Later, while working on my doctorate at Columbia, two additional women were inspiring role models and mentors; one was Jewish and the other African-American.
Throughout her professional life, Blake had many female and minority role models and mentors, she said.
“Their approaches to their roles and work were distinctive,” she said. “Their personal and professional life goals were distinctive. They helped me to see possibilities rather than one approach or a single life pathway. It does make a difference. You can see yourself and the strengths that you bring more fully in leadership roles.”
Blake said she’s been welcomed by students on the campus.
Her first priority is to continue the university’s evolution into a comprehensive four-year university, keeping its mission focused on the delivery of high-quality educational experiences for all students, and working with community partners and leaders, she said.
“Partnering with leaders and organizations within our region is vital to the health and evolution of UH-Clear Lake, particularly with our four-year initiative, which is beginning its fourth year,” Blake said.
Blake said she would work with the university’s internal team and external stakeholders to revisit the existing strategic plan, which included the implementation of the four-year university initiative.
“My sense is that all minds — faculty, students, staff, alumni and invested partners in the community — are committed to articulating clearly and well what that means for UH-Clear Lake. These are exciting times.”
One of her overriding objectives is to be inclusive, to listen to all voices and to engage members of the university community, she said.
She also noted that while having the desire to learn is key for students, finding the financial means to realize the dream is often difficult.
“We need to look for additional ways to fund education to assure that students can attend the university and can receive a high-quality educational experience,” Blake said.
Blake and her late husband raised three children who now live throughout the United States. She is a grandmother to six.