Silver Circles: John Sparks

John Sparks (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

John Sparks
Clinical assistant professor of information and decision sciences
Silver Circles: 1
Years at UIC: 10

What does it mean to win this award from the graduating seniors?
A ton, actually. Not many high school seniors are interested in going off to college and taking course work so that they can become a statistician. So, my courses can be a tough sell. That the graduating seniors see the value in what and how I teach is pretty extraordinary.

What do you teach?
Business Statistics 1, Business Statistics 2, Statistical Software for Business Applications

How do you engage students in your courses? 
Statistics is pretty dry, so I try to crack jokes, make fun of myself and do impressions of “Loony Tunes” cartoon characters. Anything to help make the material more interesting.

What is your advice to graduating students? 
Don’t get too set on a path. I thought I was going to be an attorney. My life is certainly very different than if I had gone to law school, but probably no better or worse. Also, I remember not long after I had started my career in Detroit, I met a guy who worked at a firm doing dealer kits. I had never heard of dealer kits. They are the sales material that a car company sends out to the dealers from time to time to tell them what to emphasize or otherwise how to sell the car. This little firm was feeding families and putting kids through college doing nothing other than producing dealer kits. My point is, you may easily end up working in a part of the American economy that you had never even heard of on the day you graduate. So, if you don’t get that dream job that you were hoping for, try not to be too down. The American economy is so vast and nuanced that odds are, you will land somewhere.

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