Distinguished Alumni Award

Robert D. Sparks 55BA, 57MD

2009 Achievement Award

Robert D. Sparks has led an exceptional, far-reaching career of service and leadership in academic medicine, education, public health, and philanthropy.

Born in Newton, Sparks received a B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1955 and an M.D. in 1957, and he completed a residency and fellowship at the Tulane University School of Medicine in internal medicine and gastroenterology in 1962.

The UI alumnus noted for his genuine and unpretentious nature began his career in the academic field. From 1958 to 1972, he held faculty and administrative positions at Tulane, and served as dean of the Tulane University School of Medicine from 1969 to 1972. In that year, he became the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Vice President of the University of Nebraska, positions he held until 1976.

In the next phase of Sparks' career, he joined the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in 1976, progressing from program director, to vice president for programming, to president and trustee. In this role, he successfully channeled assets toward worthy causes and helped to guide some great medical centers toward their goals.

From 1985 to 1989, Sparks served on President Reagan's board of advisors on private sector initiatives. In 1986, he was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences. Sparks was chairman of the IOM Committee to Evaluate Treatment of Alcohol Problems when it issued its report to the U.S. Congress in April 1990. In 1995, he became president and CEO of the California Medical Association Foundation, until he retired from active employment in 1998. He now serves as Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the TASER Foundation for Fallen Law Enforcement Officers.

Throughout his thriving career, Sparks has retained a strong commitment to the University of Iowa. In 1998, he was one of the first two recipients of the UI Carver College of Medicine's newly established Distinguished Alumni Awards. He has received numerous other national and international awards and honors for his support of medical education, research, and service and philanthropy.

Sparks continues to have a significant impact at the UI Carver College of Medicine as a philanthropic leader. He and Dr. Bob Whinery led a campaign to establish the Class of 1957 Endowment Fund, an effort that raised more than $100,000, the first such class fund for the College. In 2007, he established the Robert D. Sparks History, Culture, and Ethics of Medicine Endowment Fund, which each year awards the Robert D. Sparks Essay Prize to a medical student who best explores a timely issue in medicine using historical, ethical, and cultural perspectives.

As an active member of UI Foundation campaign steering committees for the Seeking Knowledge for Healing campaign and Good. Better. Best. Iowa campaign, he and other committee members helped raise more than $250 million. His efforts helped the Carver College of Medicine build the state-of-the-art Medical Education and Research Facility and increase scholarship support for deserving students. Not only did Sparks volunteer his time to help lead the campaign, he was also one of the major contributors; a conference room in the Medical Education and Research Facility bears his name.

While Robert Sparks' impressive leadership in all aspects of his profession has earned him international accolades, he has continued to make his alma mater a priority, for which the university—and future generations of UI students—will long be grateful.

Sparks is a member of the UI Alumni Association's Old Capitol Club and the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.

About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.

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L.A.-based artist Charles Ray to receive CLAS Alumni Fellow award, give talks this month. Unpainted sculpture by Charles Ray, 1997, fiberglass and paint, 60x78x171 inches. Photograph by Josh White and courtesy of the Matthew Marks Gallery. Charles Ray (75BFA) was walking through the UI physics and astronomy department one day when he came across an inspiring scene. Ray, an art student whose curiosity extended far beyond the studio, hoped to hitch a ride out to the observatory for some evening stargazing. Instead, he found a group of students constructing a satellite bound for a space mission. "It just blew my mind," recalls Ray. Just as mind-blowing were the sculptures Ray was creating across the river, years before he would establish himself as one of the world's most important artists. For one physics-defying piece, he fashioned a 2,000-pound slab of concrete atop a slender tree trunk. For another, he dropped a massive wrecking ball onto a crumpled steel plate, as if Sputnik had just crashed outside the old Art Building. Charles Ray "It was such a formative experience for me," the Los Angeles-based sculptor says of his time in Iowa City. "It did something to my soul and my brain. Even though I was young, the university and my mentors gave me a great deal of independence. My curiosity was endless." A professor emeritus at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, Ray returns to campus this month to speak and receive the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Alumni Fellow award. Rather than just waxing nostalgic about his time at Iowa, Ray has organized a three-day lecture series April 16-18 with two fellow art scholars. Iowa native Graham Harman, a philosophy professor at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, will open the series by discussing his theory of aesthetics known as object-oriented ontology. On the second day, Ray will speak about the nature of sculptural objects. And Richard Neer, an art historian at the University of Chicago, will bookend the series by lecturing on the question of provenance, or art's origin. Ray will also give a separate public lecture April 17 in Art Building West titled "My Soul is an Object." Recognized as one of the leading artists of his generation, Ray is known for his strange and enigmatic sculptures so loaded with nods to the past that they've been called "catnip for art historians." His 2014 Horse and Rider, for example, is a 10-ton solid stainless steel work in the tradition of a war memorial, but depicts the artist slouch-shouldered atop a weary nag. Ray is also famous for his wry re-imaginings of familiar objects, like the 47-foot-long replica of a red toy fire truck that he parked in front of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art for a 1993 biennial exhibition. Ray and his studio team often spend years working on a given piece, which can fetch as much as seven figures at auction. His sculptures can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other major U.S. museums. Ray is currently preparing for a retrospective show in Paris next year?one of several upcoming international exhibitions. Isabel Barbuzza, UI associate professor of sculpture, describes Ray's work as beautiful and witty, while using scale in unexpected ways. Ray's 8-foot-tall Boy with Frog?commissioned for a prominent spot in Venice, Italy, then removed after some controversy (a version now stands outside the Getty Museum in Los Angeles)?is among Barbuzza's favorites. "His sculptures have a presence you can only see when you're in front of the work," she says. "They're very moving, and to me it's interesting what happens with scale?the viewer relates to the piece in a very profound way." Steve McGuire (83MA, 90PhD), director of the School of Art and Art History, says few others have contributed more to contemporary art than Ray. "This is a big deal for us to be able to celebrate his career," McGuire says of presenting Ray with the alumni fellow award. "I think it's pretty meaningful to him, and of course it's really meaningful for our school." A Chicago native, Ray arrived at Iowa as a gifted artist but hardly a model student. Ray's dyslexia made schoolwork a chore, and his parents had sent him to military school with the hopes of straightening out his academics. It was at the UI, however, where he finally found his language in the studio and, in turn, his footing in the classroom. "Through the syntax of sculpture, I could express myself intellectually for the first time," Ray says. "That gave me a kind of confidence." Ray studied under UI art school pillars like Wallace Tomasini, Julius Schmidt, and Hans Breder. But it was his bond with Roland Brenner?a South African professor and former pupil of sculptor Anthony Caro?that proved to be the most influential. Ray still remembers his first sculpture in Brenner's class, a steel configuration with long stems and discs at the end. Its bouquet-like resemblance didn't sit well with Brenner. "That showed me you made something, but didn't want to discover something," Ray recalls Brenner telling him. "Don't ever do that in my class again." The two would become lifelong friends. Iowa City is a different place today than the 1970s, particularly the transformation of the arts campus after the flood of 2008, Ray says. Still, his visits back to campus over the years always remind him of those crisp and clear Iowa nights at the observatory and gazing out the studio window while exploring the frontiers of sculpture. "It feels like you can see right through the galaxy when you look up," Ray says. Handheld bird by Charles Ray, 2006, painted steel, 2x4x3 inches The UI is home to six pieces by Ray, all found in the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building and displayed through the university's Art on Campus program. Among them is Handheld bird, a tiny but ornate piece depicting a creature in an embryonic state. Lunchtime Lecture Series What: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fellow Charles Ray and two guest art scholars?Graham Harman and Richard Neer?will deliver a series of public lectures this month at the UI. When, where: 12:20 p.m. April 16?18 at Art Building West, room 240, 141 N. Riverside Drive, Iowa City More information: events.uiowa.edu/26915 My Soul is an Object: Artist Talk with Charles Ray What: A public lecture by renowned sculptor and UI alumnus Charles Ray When, where: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 17, at Art Building West, room 240, 141 N. Riverside Drive, Iowa City More about Ray: charlesraysculpture.com/ Support the UI School of Art and Art History

The Graduates of the Last Decade ("GOLD") Leadership Group advocates for the interests of recent graduates of the University of Iowa (alumni who earned a UI degree within the past 10 years).

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