By Angela McManaman
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is proud to be one of the Midwest’s most diverse universities. It has a long tradition of welcoming students from many backgrounds and dozens of countries around the world, as well as every neighborhood in and around Milwaukee.
In the 1970s and early ’80s, Richard Cox and Anita Sparks were two such students who had unique experiences at their hometown university. Cox, a retired criminal justice leader, attended UWM from 1970-74. Sparks, a retired educator who consults for Milwaukee Public Schools, attended UWM from 1978-1984 and earned a master’s degree from the university in 1993.
Cox and Sparks share highlights of their UWM journeys through the university’s new yearlong sponsorship of WNOV-AM 860’s “There is Always Something Good to Talk About,” hosted by Faithe Colas. You’ll hear from them and learn about other UWM alumni, students and professors 10:30 a.m. Saturdays.
Lifelong Milwaukeean Joan Prince, UWM’s vice chancellor for global inclusion and engagement, initiated the sponsorship.
“Shining a positive light on the personalities and programs that make UWM a destination university for research and community engagement is part of our mission,” Prince says. “Bringing these stories to WNOV listeners is an effective, important way to ensure that Milwaukeeans from every ZIP code know what UWM has to offer.”
Like study-abroad programs. Every year, more than 600 UWM students study outside of the United States. The Office of Global Inclusion & Engagement wants to see more students from underrepresented backgrounds – African-American, Latino, Native American – use their passport and UWM Panther ID to study internationally.
“I always tell people, find the college that will help you craft a better you,” Prince explained on a recent episode of Colas’ program. “But not such a serious place that you think life is all about you. Have fun, learn, make new friends, and increase your boundaries for a moment.”
That’s the path Sparks took. Since the fifth grade, Sparks dreamed of being the first in her family to attend college, but she wasn’t sure how to make that happen. Encouraged by her family and motivated by ambitious, college-bound friends, she applied to UWM’s School of Education. “UWM was my first choice,” she remembers. “It felt like the right fit.”
Sparks moved into Sandburg Hall as a freshman in the fall of 1978. Caring professors and challenging coursework helped her become a teacher and administrator who shared a love of poetry, literature and travel with students across three decades.
“In addition to receiving a great education from instructors pushing me to give my best,” Sparks says, “I received a great education at UWM from being around people from different cultures. These friendships have made me a more well-rounded person and have inspired me to travel.” Among her favorite memories: meeting the first woman elected to public office in Gambia and touring Dubai.
Graduation weekend 1974 is Richard Cox’s favorite UWM memory. He had a freshly minted UWM degree in criminal justice, and he and his wife became new parents to a beautiful baby girl.
Today, he’s a grandfather of six and retired from a career that included directorships at the Milwaukee County House of Corrections and Neighborhood House.
He’s also a proud member of the UWM Athletics Hall of Fame. He played center for UWM’s men’s basketball team and twice was named its MVP for the season. UWM still had a football team then, and Cox remembers it as a time of athletic camaraderie: “We went to the football games, and the football team came to our basketball games.”
It was also a transitional moment for UWM and its students.
“When I first came to UWM, there were a lot of Vietnam veterans attending and many older students who worked and had families,” he says. “It’s been exciting to see UWM’s profile rising to become a destination school for traditional students based on its growing academic and research reputation.”