GSU’s First President
Long before becoming Georgia State’s first president, George M. Sparks was a war correspondent who covered the Mexican Revolution, a city editor at The Macon Telegraph and a journalism professor at Mercer University and Georgia Tech.
Sparks, who took over as director of the Evening School of Commerce (as Georgia State was then known) in1928, sustained the institution through the Great Depression and oversaw the school’s expansion in the years that followed.
He is credited with expanding the curriculum and increasing student enrollment, and in 1932, he transformed the Evening School into a four-year college with graduate programs.
Sparks is also recognized for founding the school’s library, doing so with a donation of his own books. �
During the nation’s severe economic crisis, Sparks worked hard to ensure that the school stayed afloat. For instance, according to the book “Educating the New Urban South,” by Merl E. Reed, Georgia State professor emeritus in history, Sparks is believed to have borrowed on his life insurance to cover “out-of-pocket expenses like heat and light.”
He also used his own money to pay tuition costs for a struggling undergraduate, William M. Suttles. That student – who went on to become a Georgia State administrator, faculty member and, ultimately, president – repaid Sparks’ favor by helping numerous students pay for school out of his own pocket.
Despite money shortages, Sparks continued his expansion plans and pushed for separating the Evening School from Georgia Tech. He expanded the school’s curriculum by promoting the arts and sciences. Although historians say his major contributions grew out of his financial management and statewide contacts, these developments attracted more interest in the institution, which resulted in increased student enrollment. To accommodate the growth, Sparks sought, acquired, renovated and occupied three different buildings between 1931 and 1946.
Although he served as the school’s director for 25 years, Sparks’ presidency was brief. He was appointed the first president in 1955 but retired two years later. He died Oct. 29, 1958.�
Today, Sparks is remembered fondly at Georgia State for his contribution to the school. Sparks Hall, a major building on campus, houses administrative offices and classrooms, and Georgia State’s Alumni Association also gives out annual Sparks Awards to the university’s unsung heroes – faculty, staff and students who exemplify Sparks’ perseverance and good nature in their own service to the school.