By Mallory Graves
When one door closes, other opportunities arise.
Stacy Sparks, associate professor of communication and faculty advisor for The Collegian student newspaper, has been at Southwestern College for 15 years. She has been teaching for 33 years.
Despite living in Kansas almost her whole life, Sparks is not a Kansas native. She was born in Alva, OK. She moved to Dodge City, KS when she was two, and stayed there until she went to college. She completed one year at Dodge City Community College and the other three years of her undergrad at Fort Hays State. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in communication with an emphasis in public relations.
“I did not want to stay in Dodge City and live at home, so I took a lot of hours, so I could leave after one year instead of two,” Sparks said.
Sparks first started being involved with journalism in high school. She continued down that path in college, where she found her passion for it.
“I had outstanding journalism and communication professors,” Sparks said. “They challenged me and I enjoyed the classes.”
Sparks made some personal decisions during her college years that she was glad she made.
“I really enjoyed my friendships during college,” Sparks said. “I very carefully figured out that if I wasn’t going to get an A, that I was going to get the lowest B I could in a class. I did that, so I would have time to spend with my friends. I made that decision and I lived with the consequences, and I have no regret about any of it.”
Sometimes, life has a funny way of making you do something you thought you would never do. In this case, Sparks never dreamed of being a professor.
“I always swore I would never teach,” Sparks said. “My dad was a grade-school principal and my little sister teaches and I also have aunts and uncles who are teachers. It never occurred to me to teach at a college- I never thought I could do that.”
Sparks was looking for a job when her previous job closed down. This is how she got into teaching.
“An opening was available at the community college in Dodge City for an interim position while the person who taught the journalism course was on sabbatical,” Sparks said. “So, I filled in for him while he was gone, and he told the administration when he was leaving, that he didn’t really want to teach journalism anymore. After that, they hired me to teach journalism. I stayed 14 years there.”
The journey to Southwestern was an interesting one for Sparks. She was recently divorced, and just started dating her current husband, when she was looking for a full time teaching job. She moved to Winfield in 2006.
“My boyfriend Pat, which is my current husband lived in western Kansas,” Sparks said. “There was no job opportunities there, and I wanted to find a job that was in an eight hour radius of Dodge City. The job at SC was the one that was the best fit for me. He decided that he was going to find a job in Winfield as well, so all within about a month, we moved, got married, and started new jobs.”
Southwestern turned into a second home for Sparks.
“I have loved teaching at Southwestern,” Sparks said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed Winfield and south-central Kansas. My husband and I have taken many adventures in the area and in the region. I am now teaching with and working with some amazing people. The students have almost always challenged me. To be an effective teacher, you have to be challenged all the time either by what you are trying to teach students, or by what they are teaching you. I love my work; it is rewarding and fulfilling. I am going to miss teaching, my students, Southwestern, and Winfield.”
Sparks thinks back on her favorite times during her years at Southwestern.
“I have always enjoyed production nights for newspaper in the days before the pandemic when we got together and all the challenges that it came with,” Sparks said. “It was a really difficult process to pass down to students, but it is also extremely exhilarating. I have enjoyed watching my students grow in closer relationships with each other towards the end of the semester when they are really comfortable with each other. It is fun to see them having fun with each other while learning something.”
Another thing that Sparks enjoys is meeting up for a bite to eat or coffee with former students.
“It is just so amazingly rewarding to see the adults that they are and that they have become,” Sparks said.
Sparks has also made friendships with other professors during her 15 years at SC.
“I have some really good faculty friends and we spend a lot of time laughing and talking about our work,” Sparks said.
Not only does Sparks educate students, but they teach her things as well.
“I’ve learned from students is that it is okay to have fun,” Sparks said. “Seeing students grow and mature gives me hope and patience for the younger and future students who are still trying to figure out who they want to become.”
Sparks has helped develop two classes while she was here. She has also gotten students involved with Kansas Collegiate Media.
“There was not a media law class when I got here, so I wrote the curriculum for that, and developed the course,” Sparks said. “I also developed an editing and design class.”
Sparks not only uses her time educating students, during their years of college, but she also helps them for their future afterwards.
“I try to use my contacts and connections to help students get scholarships, jobs, and internships,” Sparks said. “I work hard to try and launch their careers. It is important to me just as much as it is to them.”
Sparks has not spent a lot of time thinking about retirement.
“It is just a crazy period in life right now, and there is not enough time to think about it just yet,” Sparks said. “I know there is going to be a void in my life without teaching, students, and Southwestern. However, I have worked since the summer of my eighth grade year so, I am looking forward to not setting the alarm. It is different if you wake up early on Saturday morning to go on a little adventure then when you get up on a Monday to go teach.”
Sparks fully believes that Southwestern is going to find the person to take her spot that is best suited for the job.
“I hope it will be someone that doesn’t have any of the same approaches that I do,” Sparks said. “I have been doing this for 33 years and I have tried to change with the times, but it is a lot different when I started doing it. I hope the new person embraces all of the change with technology and the world around us.”