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Staff Achievement Award Honors a Quiet Leader in Community Relations

Samuel Mark’s contributions to the university and to the community have earned him the President’s Award for Staff Achievement.

Photo by Irene Fertik

SAMUEL MARK, whose diligent efforts and unassuming leadership style have helped improve the quality of life and create lasting change in the communities surrounding USC, will receive the 1998 President’s Award for Staff Achievement.

For nearly three decades, Mark has served the university tirelessly in a wide range of capacities. An alum, he started working as a teaching assistant in Spanish in 1973 and moved up the ladder to his present position, assistant vice president for Civic and Community Relations.

Community leaders and colleagues at USC describe Mark as “exceedingly humble” and a “local hero.” Among his many admirable traits, they cite Mark’s gentle demeanor and devotion to getting things done by working behind the scenes. Under Mark’s leadership, dozens of programs and partnerships between USC and community entities were ushered through fragile stages to become successes benefiting the community – especially the 8,000 children attending the USC Family of Five Schools.

“When Dr. Mark sees a need to be fulfilled, he quietly, steadfastly, tirelessly works until a useful, workable solution can be achieved,” wrote Kay Song, assistant vice president and executive director of Civic and Community Relations, in a letter of nomination.

Martin P. Galindo, principal of Vermont Avenue Elementary School, noted that just about every program developed at Vermont over the last five years has been influenced by Mark. “As a result of his unselfish, caring and unassuming leadership, I feel there is a ‘we’ attitude being fostered in the community surrounding USC.”

Mark, whose multicultural heritage includes Hispanic and Asian roots, is recognized as a leader in minority education issues, particularly in bringing his carefully reasoned insights on higher education to Hispanic parents and students nationally as well as locally.

Among his many accomplishments has been the publication of eight editions of the “Directory of the Hispanic Community of the County of Los Angeles,” for which he has received honorary citations from the mayor of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the California secretary of state. Internationally, he was knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain with the Order of Isabella the Catholic in recognition of his work in promoting Hispanic culture in Southern California.

BORN IN CUBA, Mark emigrated with his family to the U.S. during the early part of the Castro regime in the 1960s. They settled in Los Angeles, and Mark attended Los Angeles Unified School District junior high and high schools. He came to USC in 1970 as an undergraduate student majoring in Spanish. He earned his B.A. in Spanish in 1973, his M.A. in Spanish in 1976 and his Ph.D. in Spanish literature in 1980, all from USC.

Mark said he never planned a career in community outreach work; he learned on the job. It didn’t hurt that he knew firsthand what it was like to be a minority growing up in the inner-city.

In 1981, he began working in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Division, helping to create the Institute for Hispanic Media and Culture, which presented Hispanic cultural events on campus. In 1985, he founded the Office of Hispanic Programs, responsible for early outreach and recruitment of Latino students.

In this capacity, Mark targeted junior high school students locally through a student speakers bureau and throughout the country through newsletters, brochures and college admissions material. He kept in touch with a database of about 30,000 students. The year these students were applying for college, USC saw a 50 percent increase in Hispanic applications.

Also in this capacity, Mark wrote numerous articles in La Opinion on a range of issues from human relations to higher education. He also translated articles by other USC faculty and press releases from the USC News Service into Spanish. In addition, he wrote a column called “Ask the Prof” for the national magazine VISTA.

IN 1988, MARK became director of the Office of Civic and Community Relations, where he coordinated the efforts of the Education Consortium of Central Los Angeles (ECCLA) and continued much of the same outreach work in the Hispanic community. In 1990, he was promoted to assistant vice president of Civic and Community Relations. In this position, Mark said his most satisfying achievements have involved coordinating the USC Family of Five Schools project, created four years ago to carry out the university’s children and families initiative.

The Family of Five Schools is a public-private partnership that provides special educational, cultural and developmental opportunities to the 8,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the community surrounding USC. Mark has been instrumental in launching such Family of Five Schools programs as Kid Watch, the Afterschool Enrichment Program, the Intersession Enrichment Program and the Parent Workshops Series.

MARK ATTRIBUTES much of the schools project’s success to the groundwork laid by past USC and community leaders. It also helped that the new project targeted university resources at just five schools.

“This way, we could develop much more personal relationships, service them better and tailor programs to respond to their needs,” Mark said.

Mark also worked to quickly turn talk into action, encouraging people to stay interested and involved. He remains a catalyst and facilitator for the many projects spawned by the Family of Five Schools committees. Mark also coordinates the behind-the-scenes grunt work, such as sending out agendas, making reminder calls and supplying coffee and food for meetings.

It takes persistence to push for change. Mark tries to visit the local schools and agencies often to stay in touch with the community. He also avoids burnout by seeing the results of his efforts.

“What makes my job worthwhile are the small victories,” Mark said. “When you’re working with children, you can really see that you’re making a difference.”

Staff Achievement Award Honors a Quiet Leader in Community Relations

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