When financial struggles, bad grades and tough circumstances tempt a Corban student to drop out, Don Sparks is there to help. Not only is he one of the friendliest faces on campus, but he also works hard to help students succeed in college and beyond. His cheerful fifth-floor office exudes a friendly atmosphere, and Sparks is always available to give advice and encouragement whenever students need it.
This semester Sparks’s title changed from “director of retention” to “director of student success.” Sparks said he initiated the change when he noticed a negative connotation accompanied the word “retention” because it sounds similar to “detention.”
“The term ‘retention’ created an emotional response in people that was negative; I saw students and parents flinch when they heard it,” Sparks commented.
He, along with other Corban administrators, decided to change his title to something more positive. They implemented the change just in time for the new Corban University business cards.
Although Sparks’ job title changed, his role as “director of student success” is no different from last year’s. He still assists students in finding ways to stay at Corban when difficult circumstances cause them to think about leaving. When comparing this year to last year, he finds that his efforts are making a bigger difference so far, although he can’t attribute this to his name change.
“Things are better in general because I know more about Corban and students know more about me,” he said. “I can’t say that the name change has meant better retention directly, but the response has sure been a lot more positive.”
Now more students and faculty recognize his position and direct others to him, and most students leave his office pleased with what he has done for them.
This is especially true for sophomore Hillary Roeder, who met with Sparks this semester. When she struggled with finding enough finances, Sparks found scholarships that enabled her to remain at Corban.
“Corban is a place that has changed my life, and, when I thought that leaving was the best thing for me, Don helped make it possible for me to stay,” she said. “He cares about us as students, believers, and people. He wants what’s best for us and does all that he can to help.”
Besides assisting students with finances, including keeping scholarships and grants, Sparks also posts job openings on Converge and in Schimmel Hall to keep students informed of opportunities beyond Corban. He encourages students to work hard in their classes and on homework so their scholarships will be renewed.
“I get to meet a lot of students and sometimes I can help and get to be in a position to help them,” he says.
When numerous unexpected factors landed him his job at Corban, Sparks realized that God wanted him here. Fresno Pacific University laid him off due to a decreasing student population, and although he was the 4th applicant to receive the Corban job, he still received it. “I like Corban because it is a Christian school and everybody seems on board with its mission. It’s a very team-oriented environment,” he said.