Braley Dodson: You are the director of transitions and programming. What does that entail?
Sparks: I tell people jokingly I’m the director of fun. Between myself and Doug Wagner, our assistant director, and our GAs and our students, we’re making sure everyone is having fun, whatever that might mean. We’re working together to make sure there’s fun stuff for people to do. Then the transitions part is making students acclimated or to the next step in their career. Whether that’s first years transitioning into college, or our commuters or transfers, and then looking at our sophomores and juniors, and our seniors as they are getting ready to transfer out. I just get to hang out with students all day, and night.
BD: What sort of programs do you have to help first-years get acclimated?
Sparks: We actually start in the summer. We send a weekly newsletter to all of the new students. All of the new to USD students, and each week is about a different topic. It might be about dining, it might be about student organizations, it might be about sorority and fraternity life, just all the things they’re going to need to know. There’s like 10 to 12 editions that we send out each week and then I put a little challenge in each of them to encourage them to go to the website of whatever topic we’re on. It gets them to whatever we’re talking about and they can dig a little more and get comfortable with the website.
In the fall, we start with Welcome Week, and convocation, giving students time to meet each other, build relationships and find their group.
BD: Your office moved to the main floor of the MUC this year. What has that been like?
Sparks: It’s been great for me with working with so many students because while we had great space up in the suite, now where the Center for Diversity and Community is, it gives room for students to congregate. Now, rather than the students scheduling an appointment with me to come and talk about their groups, they can stop by as they’re walking to class, or when they go to lunch. Down here we’re a lot more accessible to students because they see us more often. Instead of out of sight, out of mind, now we’re in sight, in mind. It’s definitely more of a fishbowl. So that’s a little bit different, but I do like being down here. A lot of the things we’re doing are right here, so we can be at a program and still be in our office, able to get things done.
BD: You can be seen at games, at Student Government Association meetings, where can students find you?
Sparks: Where am I not is probably a better question. I work with the Spirit Team, so I’m at all the athletic events, at all the programming, especially in the fall. But we’re always around, and that’s the point. We never know when a student is going to be in need of something. We just want to make sure we’re accessible. I really enjoy the evening time and weekend time with students. If we catch you in the day, you’re in class mode. I’m around, and I like that about my job. It’s given me the opportunity to know a lot of students.
BD: Anything big planned for next year so far?
Sparks: We’re working on a lot of stuff. We want students to have choices, and to know about their choices. Welcome Week is going to be jam packed of fun, and helping new and returning students get excited about the upcoming year and things to get involved in. We’re looking to take what we’ve been doing the last few years and just blow it up. We want everyone to have something to do that’s fun.
BD: What are the best things incoming students can do to help them transition?
Sparks: I think the student organization fair is very beneficial for new students. We usually get over 100 organizations that sign up. We have inflatables, we have food and all the orgs are out there excited to recruit new members. I love the energy that comes out of the student org fair. There is something for everyone, and if now, we can help you build a group for your interests.