Luther College Chips

Sparkes set to retire

Assistant to the Interim Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission Terry Sparkes.

Assistant to the Interim Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission Terry Sparkes.

Photo courtesy of Terry Sparkes

Photo courtesy of Terry Sparkes

Assistant to the Interim Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission Terry Sparkes.

Martel DenHartog, Staff Writer

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Assistant to the Interim Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission Terry Sparkes is set to retire in May 2018. Since her arrival to Luther 1990, Sparkes has been involved on campus in a variety of capacities, including Associate Professor of Religion and Associate Dean and Director of Curriculum Development and College Honors, and, most recently, Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission.

For the past 28 years, Sparkes has continuously been invested in improving the quality of education for Luther students.

“One of the neat things about being in education is that you can just keep learning, making connections, and building networks,” Sparkes said. “The environment of higher education is one where you find new, interesting puzzles to work on and growth is continuous.”

During her early years at Luther, Sparkes encountered several challenges such as heading the religion and philosophy department when it was facing substantial faculty turnover. Within this role, she helped cultivate a diverse and dynamic religion department.

“[Sparkes] played a significant role in reshaping what the religion program would look like going forward,” Professor of Religion Jim Martin Schramm said. “For [Sparkes], diversity has always been really important.[She also cares about] ensuring that whomever we hired was committed to the mission of the college and put priority on student learning and effective teaching.”

Besides her official positions on campus, Sparkes has served as a mentor to her colleagues. 

Photo courtesy of Terry Sparkes
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History Richard Mtisi and Assistant to the Interim Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission Terry Sparkes at the opening convocation.

“She mentored me in my own role as department head and she was one of the first people I talked to about what I needed to know as head of the religion department,” Associate Professor of Religion Sean Burke said. 

Sparkes’ commitment to fostering strong learning environments for students was evident in her position as Associate Dean and Director of Curriculum Development and College Honors as well, where she helped students apply for prestigious fellowships and scholarships.

“Sparkes has worked with programs [that focus on] student learning and experience,” President Paula Carlson said. “Her love for the college and care for students has been so important in her department and her career.”

This position also entailed expanding the student research symposium, which since 2010 has allowed students in every class across departments to present their research to faculty, staff, and fellow students. Sparkes mentioned that this was one of the most rewarding projects she contributed to as Associate Dean. 

“There was an energy around research in the undergrad experience, so it seemed like it was the right time to expand the research symposium and really put an emphasis on student work,” Sparkes said. “The energy around that first research symposium was absolutely incredible. Every year, I love to see the way faculty and staff support their students and just revel in the experience of listening to their students as the experts.”

Sparkes carried her enthusiasm for students, faculty, and staff on campus when she took on the inaugural Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission position, which was created by President Carlson in the summer of 2016. This position came to fruition because of two large projects that needed shepherding: reaccreditation and strategic planning. In addition, Sparkes’ role involved coordinating a variety of campus programming centers more intentionally.

“I thought Sparkes would make a strong candidate for this position,” Carlson said. “And I am confident this was the case.”

Nathan Campbell (‘18) worked closely with Sparkes on the Strategic Planning Committee.

“I think her time as a professor really influences her work [as a Dean] in the way that she cares about the students and her emphasis on their experience and their ability to make the most of their time at Luther,” Campbell said. “Terry was probably one of those professors really dedicated to seeing their students grow, and that trend continued certainly in her Deanship. […] She clearly has a passion for Luther and for the possibilities that it presents for everybody that is involved in the experience here.”

In December 2017, Brad Chamberlain took over as Interim Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission, but the future of the position is still undefined.

“At this point it will be up to President Carlson’s perspective to determine how long the interim aspect remains as part of the position,” Chamberlain said. “There’s a possibility I’ll stay in the position and there’s a possibility that President Carlson could ask someone else to serve in that position.”

Luther’s reaccreditation process will finalize in the spring of 2019, at which time the Dean for Institutional Planning and Mission position will be reevaluated.

“Until then, Dr. Chamberlain will remain in the Interim position,” Carlson said.

Whether she will be found canoeing, delving into a lengthy reading list, or fighting for social justice, Sparkes’ passion for learning and building community will remain a constant long after her retirement.

“I want to continue working on issues related to immigration and justice and diversity and peace and nonviolence,” Sparkes said. “How I’m going to do that, I’m not sure. But I intend to be able to engage more in the broader community than just at Luther.”

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