Congratulations to University of Utah material sciences and engineering associate professor Taylor D. Sparks, who is the first recipient of the 2022 Professor John G. Francis Prize for Undergraduate Student Mentoring. The prize, given out by the U’s Office of Undergraduate Studies, is a $1000 award for the University of Utah faculty member who has shown extraordinary efforts in mentoring students outside the classroom.

The award is named for Dr. John G. Francis, a research professor of Political Science at the University of Utah and a specialist in European politics, comparative politics, and comparative regulatory policy. During his time at the U, he has served as chair of the Department of Political Science, president of the Academic Senate, and senior associate vice-president for Academic Affairs. The award was developed to honor his commitment to mentoring undergraduate students throughout the University of Utah.

Sparks is also director of the Materials Characterization Laboratory and director of National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience in Utah for Sustainable Materials Engineering (ReUSE). He is noted for the breadth of his undergraduate mentorship activities including: ReUse which brings 30 undergraduates to his department for a 10-week long summer research program; the Materialism Podcast, the number one materials science podcast; a YouTube channel with educational and professional development content that has over 13 thousand subscribers; 51% of his publications include at least one undergraduate co-author; all of his six patents have an undergraduate co-author; 11 of his conference proceedings have at least one undergraduate co-author; and forming and leading the bilingual Spanish/English outreach club that serves 300 Latino students. The award committee noted that Sparks is a dedicated scholar who goes above and beyond to mentor undergraduate students in diverse ways. He has had a tremendous impact on the lives and academic pursuits of his students.

“We are very pleased to see Dr. Sparks as the inaugural recipient of the John G. Francis prize,” said T. Chase Hagood, senior associate vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the Office of Undergraduate Studies. “His work with students in the College of Engineering has provided them with opportunities for deep and meaningful learning experiences at the U. He is an outstanding exemplar of the renowned legacy of Dr. John G. Francis, who is dedicated to advancing and promoting transformative experiences for all students at the U.”