Dr. Phyllis Sparks: the woman, the professor, the UMUC legend.
In 1949, Phyllis Sparks was the first female faculty member to hop a plane to Germany in order to take up a teaching position for the College of Special and Continuation Studies, which later came to be known as University of Maryland University College.
Phyllis earned her PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 1948 and subsequently taught history at a university in Kansas for a year.
In the summer of 1949, Phyllis married David Sparks and in the fall of that same year, they were asked, along with five others, to move to Germany in order to teach with the overseas program. Viewing this as a sort of extended honeymoon, Phyllis and David accepted.
Overseas, Phyllis taught economics as a part time assistant professor, rotating amongst the six teaching locations until the end of her year long contract.
After returning to the States, she taught American history and social studies at DuVal High School in the mid-1960s, co-edited the book United States History in Stamps (1974) with David, wrote the book A Brief History of the Town of University Park 1936-1976 (1976), and was on the University Park Town Council. In 1982, she won The St. George’s Day Award “for her history of the growth and development of University Park.”
It is unfortunate that not much is known of Phyllis Sparks’ year in Europe with the University. From what we know of her early life, she was clearly an ambitious, intelligent (how many people get a PhD in history?) and adventurous woman! It would be quite interesting to know what Phyllis’s experiences were like in Europe, following so closely on the heels of World War I.
Thankfully, the memory of Phyllis’s invaluable contributions to the beginning of what would one day become UMUC lives on and in November of 2018, UMUC introduced the Sparks Internship Program, named after Phyllis in order to honor her pioneering spirit.
Today we, too, honor Dr. Phyllis Sparks.