GEAR UP Ky college grad speaks at NCCEP workshop in NYC
As a freshman at Elliott County High School in eastern Kentucky, Joshua (Josh) Sparks never envisioned that he would someday emerge as a national speaker. Sparks, a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with four college majors in mathematics, sociology, statistics and cultural studies, was the featured speaker at a national conference that attracted more than 1,100 educators and college access professionals to New York City on February 14.
The 2012 GEAR UP/NCCEP Capacity-Building Workshop is designed and coordinated by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) and planned in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education for the GEAR UP program.
“Through GEAR UP, I had a chance to understand what college is all about, what it takes to get there, and why it is important,” said Sparks, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in statistics at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
After relocating from Michigan to Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Sparks participated in GEAR UP Kentucky (GUK). He was selected for the GUK summer academy in his freshman, sophomore and junior years. The academy is a three-week program conducted in partnership with Eastern Kentucky University. This early college experience introduced Sparks to career options, study skills, campus life and college coursework.
Upon high school graduation in 2006, Sparks enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University as a first-generation college student. While at EKU, he studied in London for a semester, interned at the Department of Treasury in Washington, D.C., and became deeply involved in numerous student organizations. Determined to give back to the program that helped him, Sparks worked as a counselor for the GUK Summer Academy held on the campus of EKU.
“I want to help other students the way my GEAR UP mentors helped me,” Sparks said. “I can relate to the obstacles they face, so they listen to me when I say ‘you can do it.’ As their mentor, I let them know I expect them to go to college and graduate, and that I’m here to support them every step of the way.”
Sparks graduated from EKU in May 2010 and was the recipient of the award for the top undergraduate for the academic year. He then spent a year doing graduate work in sociology at the University of Toronto and served as an instructor and mentor for the Upward Bound program at Morehead State University in summer 2011. After he completes his master’s degree, he plans to pursue a doctorate in mathematics.