New UD PCS associate dean Mark Clodfelter poses in his office next to his cherished trumpet.
Mark Clodfelter, new associate dean for UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies, wants to create new roads to success for workers seeking “newcollar” jobs: careers that demand deep technical know-how yet are accessible through non-traditional pathways and alternative credentialing.

Lifelong musician says his role is to listen, then lead through collaboration 

Back when he was a young trumpet player with a love for performing live, Mark Clodfelter learned something about creating beautiful music: You need to listen to the other players, so that everyone has the power to shape the song. 

Otherwise, cohesion will always be an elusive goal, and the true potential of the music might never be heard.  

In many ways, that same creative, collaborative mindset shapes his approach in his new role as associate dean of the University of Delaware’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies (UD PCS), where Clodfelter now oversees a growing lineup of classes designed for busy professionals and other “nontraditional” college students. 

At UD PCS, those noncredit classes are only part of the mission: The unit also includes the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and UD’s ACCESS Center, which provides free academic advisement, career counseling and credit registration assistance for non-degree students, prospective and returning UD students and other members of the community.  

To excel in his new role, Clodfelter knows he must listen — to the creative minds of the professionals around him and to the market forces that are making continuing education an increasingly crucial avenue for career preparation.  

“One of the skills of a great musician is that you can listen louder than you play. What I mean by that is that you shouldn’t put the sound of your own musical voice in front of the accomplishments of the group,” said Clodfelter.  

“I see the role of leadership here in PCS in very much the same way,” added Clodfelter, who assumes the role of former PCS chief George Irvine, now UD’s associate provost for online learning and innovation. “My vision should constantly be informed by the voices of the people who are closest to the information. And in this way, I become a lens through which to focus collaboration on behalf of our constituencies.” 

Those constituencies — including the students themselves and the Delaware businesses that rely on UD’s teaching expertise — are demanding more educational opportunities that are convenient and relevant. For Clodfelter, that means reimagining and reenergizing UD’s role in providing those real-world skills for an evolving array of careers. 

Clodfelter calls them the “new-collar” jobs: careers that demand deep technical know-how yet are accessible through non-traditional pathways and alternative credentialing. ‘’The skills-based economy is here to stay, and these are good jobs,” said Clodfelter, a North Carolina native, Grammy-nominated recording artist and self-professed techie. “They’re the jobs in tech and other emerging industries, and they are embracing the kind of education PCS provides.” 

This new skills-based economy resonates perfectly with Clodfelter’s experience as a full-time musician, where skill is nearly always the main measure of competence. His performing days gave him the opportunity to appear with some of the top artists in the industry and also allowed him to parlay his love for music into several successful business endeavors. That eclectic journey eventually led to roles as professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and the University of Kentucky.  

Reading his broad resume, and sensing his administrative skills, UD saw him as a key asset for its music program as it entered a time of change in 2019. Hired as a trumpet professor, he was quickly tapped to be the director of the Department of Music, where he led its transformation into the School of Music and helped raise in excess of $5 million for the program — all while navigating the challenges of the newly discovered pandemic.  

The breadth of his experiences showed him that not all successful journeys need to follow the expected trajectory. In the same way, he believes that while the pathways UD is developing through PCS may not always lead to a degree, they should always deliver success. 

“These new options are something that I want to see evolve from onramps into superhighways because that is where the market demand is moving,” he said. “These alternative pathways give PCS a unique ability to contribute to the University of Delaware and complement our robust degree offerings.  

“So, I see PCS and these alternative pathways as the frontier for growth for the University of Delaware, and I’m excited about that. I’m excited to be in a place to contribute to the overall ecosystem of the University in a way that is going to be future-facing and impactful, not just to the University but to the lives of the students we touch here in Delaware and our surrounding states.” 

He’ll surely be helped in that quest by his experience as an entrepreneur: He ran his own music instruction studio, and for a short time even dipped his toe into operating a DJ business. Musical endeavors have been Clodfelter’s muse since he was 3, when he began banging the drums and marveling at the sounds of the trumpet that he heard on his grandmother’s Herb Alpert recordings. 

“I was a pretty good drummer. I could play,” he said. After briefly considering picking up the trombone (too big), he settled as a teen into the rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll drumming while also honing his computer skills to such a degree that he taught a class in his high school. 

Then, in an unfortunate but perhaps career-defining development, his prized drum kit was stolen, along with the truck that contained it. 

With it went his starry rock ‘n’ roll dreams. But he could never give up on music entirely. It would be a tough call, choosing between computers and music as his major, but music won.   

“I decided it was time to get serious about the trumpet,” he said. 

And the trumpet would lead to much of what has followed: There have been gigs with such performers as The O’Jays, Gladys Knight and The Moody Blues, and several music-centered business ventures that still inform much of what he does. 

“I think the fact that I’ve had entrepreneurial endeavors throughout life is an asset,” he said. “It’s a matter of reading what the market needs, understanding where you stand in relation to those needs and then constantly creating a feedback loop with the people you serve so that you’re evolving to meet those needs. 

“That entrepreneurial mindset is part of what I want to bring to the table here,” he said. “It’s in the DNA of PCS.” 

That kind of experience helped make Clodfelter an outstanding choice for the role, said Lou Rossi, dean of the Graduate College and vice provost for graduate and professional education. “We are fortunate to have Mark join us in the Graduate College,” he said. “Like many in the Graduate College, he has broad interests. He has a rare combination of talent and experience as an entrepreneur, an academic and of course a performing musician. Most importantly, he brings with him an exciting vision for Professional and Continuing Studies.” 

To mesh the offerings of PCS with current employer needs, Clodfelter knows he must nurture partnerships with the local business community and with local community colleges. And he knows that UD itself must continue to broaden its scope and its vision, working to create even more educational opportunities for so-called “nontraditional” students. 

“PCS is uniquely poised to be that resource,” he said. “All we have to do is just not stop.”