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University of Delaware Environmental Soil Chemistry Members In The News

Cooperative Extension

University of Delaware

College of Agricultural Sciences


Spring 2001

Volume 9 Issue 2

Graduate Fellowship Is Gift from UD Husband and Wife


Don and Joy Sparks love UD and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and it shows. Joy is a proud UD alumna who talks enthusiastically about her connection with Cooperative Extension, which began soon after her graduation in 1973. Today, she is the state coordinator for 4-H and youth development for UD Extension.

Don’s UD ties were forged as he helped build, “from scratch,” a soil science program now considered one of the best in the world. He has risen to the positions of chair of the department of plant and soil sciences and was named a Distinguished Professor of Soil Chemistry in 1994.

With this kind of longevity, they have seen many quality students come through the graduate soil science program under Don’s mentorship. These men and women from the best institutions in the United States and abroad have received many prestigious fellowships, awards and dissertation prizes for their work. Many now enjoy outstanding careers in academe, government and industry worldwide.

“A defining mark of any first-rate institution is the quality of its graduate programs,” says Don. “However, it’s very competitive to recruit good grad students. Because the best students receive many offers that include attractive financial support for their studies, it’s the institutions with impressive fellowship programs that attract the top students.”

Don and Joy knew that many scholarship programs are available to UD undergrads. Believing there was a critical need to improve funding for graduate students, they approached Joe Bradley, the college’s development director, with an idea: They would make a leadership gift of $25,000 to launch The Donald L. and Joy G. Sparks Graduate Fellowship in Soil Science. Their proposal included a challenge to their colleagues, former students and corporations that have supported soil science research in the past to help fulfill the $50,000 minimum requirement necessary to endow the fellowship.

“Interest in the Sparks Fellowship fund is growing, not only on campus but in other areas as well,” says Bradley. “Two of Don’s former students, Ted Carski at DuPont and Jack Rechcigl at the University of Florida, are spearheading a fundraising effort among other alumni. It’s quite a tribute to the Don and Joy and their significant commitment to graduate students in the soil science program.”

Says Carski, “I’m happy to give something back to the university, to show my respect for Dr. Sparks as an outstanding mentor and also to support the cause: providing education. I received fellowship support at UD and this was my chance to help other students to study with Don.”

The Don and Joy see the fund as a way to give back to UD and the college, too.

“UD has been good to us,” Don asserts. “We are pleased to show our loyalty and add our support to the Campaign.”

“I especially encourage our colleagues to step forward and be counted with us,” says Joy Sparks. “It doesn’t have to be a big pledge—even $50 a year is a boost to the fund. When faculty and staff support their own institution’s efforts, alumni, friends and corporations are encouraged to add their financial investment as well.”

“Since recruiting talented graduate students is so important to the quality of any academic department,” Don says, “we hope this fellowship will be a definite inducement for future outstanding undergraduate and graduate candidates.

“The best fellowships carry great prestige, individual recognition and competitive financial support and that’s what we hope for ultimately—to provide an attractive offer that includes a stipend,” he continues.

Don and Joy are confident that their personal pledge, backed by colleagues, joined with personal gifts from former students and supported by corporations who know the value of soil science research and graduate education, will create a fellowship that makes UD a top choice for future soil scientists.

To make a gift to The Donald L. and Joy G. Sparks Graduate Fellowship in Soil Science fund, contact

Rob M. Rudd
Senior Director of Development for Colleges and Programs

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