Story by Jenene Grover | Contributing Writer
State Rep. Mike Sparks, 55, represents Tennessee’s District 49 as a Republican, serving his district since 2010 and is up for reelection this November. However, he is also a part-time student at Middle Tennessee State University.
While representing Smyrna, LaVergne and parts of Murfreesboro in the state legislature, Sparks studies journalism as a graduate student in the College of Media and Entertainment.
“Journalism would’ve been the last thing I think I would’ve ever chosen as a young man,” Sparks said. “I mean, I probably would’ve chosen rocket science or something before journalism.”
This semester, Sparks’ schedule only allows for three credit hours due to the busyness of an election year, but he has previously taken six credit hours in a semester while in office.
Sparks, the author of three books and the host of the Rutherford Magazine Show on WGNS, originally took some classes at Motlow State Community College around the time he was elected as county commissioner for Rutherford County in 2002.
Thankfully, the financial burden of college classes is lessened when the student is a state representative, Sparks said. State representatives can take one college class per semester for free.
“As you get older, you tend to get enlightened,” Sparks said. “You tend to gain some wisdom and life experience. It was hard for me to go back to school because I had two kids. I was 24 with two kids, and (my wife) was 20. I was trying to take classes, but it was difficult working at the factory.”
While Sparks can only allot so much time to school, he makes the most of every second he spends in class.
“He always engages me when he comes in,” said Ben Nichols, an MTSU senior and a classmate with Mike Sparks. “He opens the conversation, so that’s a good way to expand on the class.”
Even with his difficult schedule, Sparks was still incredibly passionate about returning to school and becoming a lifelong learner.
“I’ll tell you what motivated me to go back to school,” Sparks said. “I was getting really upset with the media. Because it’s like, ‘Why don’t they cover mental health? Why don’t they cover drug addiction? Why don’t they cover the breakdown of the family? Why don’t they cover the fatherless? Why don’t they cover areas like that?’”
Sparks said he focuses on areas such as mental health, drug addiction and familial criminal justice reform in his politics.
“As a conservative republican, not a lot of people are going to champion those issues,” Sparks said. “But I’ll argue that those are conservative issues. If you can teach a man to fish, you’re better off than giving them a fish. You can reach people who have had their battles and their demons and try to help them with counseling and therapy, even music therapy.”
Sparks believes his journalism and communication classes are beneficial to his political career, giving him “leverage to get my message out.”
With his experience in many different areas, Sparks offers many points of interest when talking in class discussions. He likes to engage in questions in class with his own experience in life and politics, Nichols said.
Sparks looks up to his fellow students, especially for helping him in his classes.
“It’s hard. I don’t know how y’all do it,” Sparks said. “My heart goes out to young people today. But as an adult learner, it’s a challenge for me with the technology. . .My wife, fortunately, is very supportive of me going back to school, trying to be a lifelong learner. . .It is a challenge, but I like challenges.”
While other students help him, he helps younger students in his own way.
Sparks brings his worldview and his politics to classroom discussions, Nichols said. He connects them with classroom topics and makes them more understandable.
Even though his time is split between politics, family, and school, Sparks enjoys attending MTSU.
“I think it helps,” Sparks said. “It probably helps me stay a little young at heart.”
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