John F. Sparks, director of programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, is the Virginia Tech College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus for 2014. 

Sparks received his bachelor's degree in 1974, a master's degree in 1976, and a doctoral degree in 1981, all in mechanical engineering. 

"Since 2007, Dr. Sparks has provided continual leadership among our engineering alumni in making sure that the needs of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering are understood by our state government," said Richard C. Benson, dean of the College of Engineering and the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering. "For eight years he has developed and maintained a list of influential engineering alumni in our state who are willing to speak as captains of technology to state legislators regarding the economic and technological importance of engineering education to the commonwealth."

"I was quite surprised by my selection. Perhaps stunned is a better word. To even be considered as a candidate for the award is an honor; to be selected is overwhelming," Sparks said.

Sparks' leadership skills were critical to the college in its early attempts to secure funding from the Virginia General Assembly for its Signature Engineering Building, now scheduled to open for classes in fall of 2014. When it debuts, this engineering facility will be the building most instrumented for vibrations in the world.

"Before John and his committee took shape, the Virginia General Assembly had little idea what the Signature Engineering Building was. Within his first year of orchestrating meetings with legislators on our behalf, Virginia Tech secured pre-planning money for architectural designs for the building that can today be described as a state-of-the-art learning laboratory.  Without John Sparks' leadership, we wouldn't be in this position today," Benson said.

Sparks has served as a member of both the College of Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering advisory boards. He chaired the college board in the 2011-12 academic year. He has volunteered his time as a guest speaker on numerous occasions, speaking at the Student Engineers' Council's annual Student Leadership conferences.

Sparks joined Atlantic Research Corporation in 1981 in its design engineering department, rising to the position of director of that department from 1993 to 2000. In 2000, he assumed a program management role. In 2004, Aerojet purchased ARC.

Aerojet named Sparks a program director and he has program management responsibility for advanced technology programs and early development programs. Sparks also has responsibility for Aerojet/university relationships promoting research partnerships with key universities with propulsion credentials.  

He serves as Aeroject Rocketdyne's champion for Virginia Tech.

Sparks has held his registered professional engineer status in Virginia since 1978. He is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Sparks and his wife Maryanne live in Warrenton, Va. They have two sons.