Michele Gaither Sparks, vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, is leaving Miami after almost two years with the university.
Sparks will become the senior director of communications and talent acquisition for Valvoline, the automotive service and lubricant company, whose headquarters are located in Lexington, Kentucky. In this role, she will oversee corporate communications, talent acquisitions, diversity and inclusion, community engagement and sustainability initiatives.
The announcement comes after the elimination of five positions within the department Sparks has headed — University Communications and Marketing (UCM). Sparks said her resignation is in no way related to the layoffs. The new position will bring her close to her family and home state of Kentucky.
“The timing is completely unfortunate, for sure,” Sparks said. “I had never planned on leaving, but giving me an opportunity with a job that is going to give me ... considerably more than what I'm making here, and [the opportunity] to be back with my family. I can't pass that by.”
With the recent layoffs, Sparks said she has no control over how her leaving Miami will be perceived.
“I can't speak for how other people would react,” Sparks said. “I have to do what's right for me, what's right for my family, what's right for my career.”
Her replacement will be chosen by University President Greg Crawford in the next few months, but an interim officer will be put in her place and named in the next few days.
“She has always encouraged the UCM staff to come talk with her if they have questions or concerns,” said Claire Wagner, director of university news and communications.
“Michele makes a point of recognizing extra efforts by individuals during staff meetings and personally telling us that she appreciates our work,” Wagner added. “Though I will miss her, the many pieces she has put in place will help us continue on a positive path in supporting Miami via communications and marketing.”
During her time at Miami, Sparks is proud of the impact she’s made in organizing the UCM department and the restructuring of Miami’s website that will be revealed later this year.
In addition to these projects, Sparks has also led the charge in creating the “From Now On” commercial campaign, which involved rebranding Miami for prospective students and alumni.
Josh Cheney, senior director of marketing and communications, also spoke about Spark’s impact during her time at Miami.
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“Michele has been a tremendous champion of the Miami brand and a wonderful mentor and encourager,” Cheney said. “The impact of her energy, creativity, and vision at Miami will be felt for many years to come.”