MSU hosts 350 rising high school seniors for S.P.A.R.K. leadership conference

Samuel Jones, a motivational speaker and author, speaks to S.P.A.R.K. leadership conference attendees on Friday [July 12] at Mississippi State’s Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall. (Photo by Logan Kirkland)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University is hosting 350 rising high school seniors this week [July 11-14] for a conference that will help prepare them for life’s next steps.

Now in its second year, S.P.A.R.K. (Students Paving a Road to Knowledge) helps underrepresented students create their individual plans and set goals for the future. The event is free to attend and, this year, has drawn interest from high school students around the Southeast. The conference is led by Tabora Cook, coordinator of recruitment activities in MSU’s Office of Admissions and Scholarships.

“We want to bring underrepresented students on campus and make them feel like they have a home and make sure they know that they’re welcome on our campus,” Cook said. “Our goal is for these students to leave this conference with a plan for the future. It can be whatever they want, whatever their heart desires.”

The conference agenda includes information sessions, inspirational keynote speakers and fun, challenging activities. A panel and mixer will allow students to speak to representatives from community colleges, four-year colleges, the military and workforce training programs about possible paths to take after high school.

Speakers include MSU President Mark E. Keenum, ShirDonna Lawrence, MSU assistant director of fraternity and sorority life, motivational speaker and author Samuel Jones, and Brandi Kirkland, leasing and marketing manager for the Social Block.

Other than Cook, S.P.A.R.K.’s leadership team consists entirely of MSU students. Sydney Wicks of Clinton, a junior studying French and psychology, is serving as the conference’s director of programming and logistics.

“I observed last year’s conference and wanted to be a part of it,” Wicks said. “I saw the opportunity for students to learn information that helps them make the best choice for them. Just knowing that we can give somebody information that could change the path they take is amazing. It’s really awesome to see all the students here and their excitement.”

Cook said that he has seen several attendees of the 2018 inaugural S.P.A.R.K. conference at MSU’s Orientation sessions this spring and summer.

“They’re already asking when they can apply to be a crew leader for S.P.A.R.K.,” Cook said. “That excitement is what this program is all about.”

For more on S.P.A.R.K., visit

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Friday, July 12, 2019 - 4:09 pm