Virginia Tech's College of Engineering presented its 2008 Distinguished Service Award to mechanical engineering alumnus John Sparks, director of engineering and technology programs at Aerojet, a GenCorp Inc. company, recognized as a major space and defense leader specializing in missile and space propulsion as well as defense and armaments.

“The College of Engineering had the foresight to highlight John Sparks in its annual report for 1981-82. At that time, when John was a student in the mechanical engineering department, he literally helped in the building of the college’s turbomachinery research laboratory. As a graduate student he also taught a variety of courses to undergraduates and was rewarded with a Certificate of Teaching Excellence that was decided, in part, by the students. Only four such certificates are given out each year, so for John to receive one as a graduate student is most impressive,” said Richard C. Benson, dean of the college.

As Sparks’ career with Aerojet, formerly Atlantic Research Corporation based in Gainesville, Va., grew, so did his relationship with his alma mater. The college invited him to become a member of its Committee of 100, a group comprised of engineering alumni who are entrepreneurs, presidents, and chief executive officers of companies, and high-ranking government officials.

In 2007, Sparks of Warrenton, Va., joined the college’s advisory board, a select group of 22 individuals who meet formally twice a year to advise the college.

Almost immediately, he assumed the chairmanship of a committee that is interacting with Virginia’s legislators on behalf of engineering education.

“John was a dedicated student when he was at Virginia Tech, and he has continually supported his alma mater since his graduation. His work to foster high technology education and economic development in the commonwealth makes him most worthy of this honor,” Benson added.

Sparks received all three of his degrees, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate from the mechanical engineering department, in 1974, 1976, and 1981, respectively.