Shirley N. Sparks attended the University of Iowa. Initially, she wanted to be a theatre major, but after her first reading, she knew that wasn't the path she wanted to take. After joining a sorority in which several girls were speech pathology majors, she discovered that that profession was a cross between education and medicine and fell in love with it.
She graduated with a bachelor's degree in speech pathology and moved to New Orleans. There, she held various jobs as a speech-language pathologist, raised a family and received a master's degree from Tulane University. When the family moved to Omaha, she taught part time at the University of Nebraska for four years.
In 1976, the family moved again, this time to Battle Creek, Mich. She contacted then Western Michigan University speech pathology and audiology Chair Frank Robinson. He hired her as a supervisor of students, and she ultimately became a tenured speech pathology and audiology associate professor until her early retirement in 1991.
"Frank took a chance on me and I have always been grateful," she says.
During her career, Sparks noted the importance of staying abreast of developments in the field of speech pathology by attending and participating in the American Speech-Language Hearing Association annual convention and other professional meetings.
"When I was on the faculty," Sparks says, "there was very little money for travel to attend meetings or to present papers at meetings."
In appreciation for her colleagues and her 15 years on the WMU faculty, she created the Shirley N. Sparks Faculty Endowment Fund in 1993.
Sparks has a heart for speech pathology. "I've done this for 40 years," she says, "and it has been a wonderful career."
Upon retiring from WMU in 1991, Sparks and her family relocated to California, where she continues to practice her vocation today. She works as an adjunct professor of early childhood special education at Santa Clara University and has been a home visiting speech-language pathologist. She co-authored the recently released book The Art and Practice of Home Visiting: Early Intervention for Special Needs Children and Families.
Sparks says she is delighted that her endowment has helped colleagues attend professional meetings and, over the years, she has received letters and emails from faculty members who appreciate her gift.