Columbus State Names Former Alabama and Troy Administrator as Interim Athletic Director as Sparks Departs

Johnny Williams

Johnny Williams

COLUMBUS, GA – Johnny Williams, former athletics director at Troy University and former University of Alabama senior associate athletic director for external operations, has signed on to become the interim athletic director at Columbus State University.

Williams will to take over for Jay Sparks, Columbus State’s athletic director for six years. Sparks is moving to Francis Marion University near Florence, S.C. to become its head women’s basketball coach.

“We are very thankful for Jay’s service as a coach, administrator and friend to this university,” said Columbus State University President Tim Mescon. “We wish him the best in the future, as we look forward to working with Johnny Williams and starting a national search to begin the next phase of our athletics program history.”

Williams is chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Creative Marketing Management in Tuscaloosa, a sports business consulting agency that is managing the new Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. Williams started that role in 2007, three years after joining the University of Alabama.

Williams began his athletic career at Troy as a graduate assistant football coach under Rick Rhoades. During his coaching tenure with the Trojans, Williams also held several administrative positions within the department. In 1986 and 1987, he coordinated the football program’s marketing and development efforts as a special assistant to the athletics director, in addition to his coaching duties. In 1988, he coordinated travel and ticket sales. Under Williams’ watch as athletic director at Troy, the athletic department moved to Division I-A, completing a change from Division II in all sports.  In January 2002, Williams was honored for his progressive leadership by the All-American Football Foundation with its prestigious Gen. Robert Neyland Athletics Director Award.


Jay Sparks

Earlier, Williams was the head football coach and athletic director at Pickens County High School in Reform, Ala., in 1984. He also served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of North Alabama, from 1979-1983.  A 1980 graduate of UNA with a degree in health/physical education, Williams was a four-year defensive starter for the Lions, earning Defensive Lineman of the Year honors in 1978. He was selected to the UNA Team of the Decade for the 1970s.

He will take over for Sparks, who leaves after 25 years at Columbus State University.

Sparks was named Columbus State’s athletic director in April of 2008 after spending nine years as the top assistant to former Athletic Director Herbert Greene. During his tenure, Sparks has seen the department grow and add five sports. He also helped bring to Columbus the 2011 NCAA Rifle Championship, which was the first-ever national championship that Columbus State has hosted.

Under Sparks’ tenure as athletic director, CSU won two Peach Belt Conference Commissioner’s Cups while finishing as the runner-up two other years. The award is presented annually to the best overall athletic department in the PBC.

“I am very proud of everything that we accomplished here at Columbus State from the moment I stepped foot on this campus,” Sparks said. “Whether I was the athletic director or the head women’s basketball coach, I think we found success in many different areas, and I want to again thank everyone who contributed to that.”

Over Sparks’ 20-year stint at coach of the Lady Cougars basketball program, Columbus State was 367-231 leading CSU to two NCAA Tournament Final Four appearances. He coached 21 All-PBC players and two All-Americans.

“I would first like to thank everyone at Columbus State for supporting me over my tenure here,” Sparks said. “I will miss Columbus State and the Columbus area, especially all of the great friends in this wonderful community.

“Coaching is my passion and I have missed the highs and lows that it brings and the daily impact that I can make in lives of the student-athletes.”


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Sociology Professor Honored at CSU Diversity Conference

Dr. WakokoCOLUMBUS, Ga. — Florence Wakoko, an associate professor of sociology at Columbus State University, was presented with the inaugural Diversity Award during the recent third annual Conference on Diversity co-sponsored by CSU and the Columbus Mayor’s Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity.

As outgoing chair of CSU’s Faculty Senate Committee on Diversity, Wakoko has watched the diversity conference grow steadily over the past three years, and she’s chiefly responsible for that, other organizers said.

“In the past ten years, CSU has made reasonable progress in recruiting minority students and notably African American students,” Wakoko said after the March 20 conference at CSU’s Cunningham Center. “Diversity initiatives and other scholarly endeavors that the university has taken on are great initiatives contributing to the success of these students.”

The theme of this year’s conference was “The Dream Lives: A Wake-Up Call; Perpetuating the Dream in a Climate of Haves and Have Nots.” Attended by more than 150 students, faculty and community leaders, the conference explored issues and obstacles facing Americans seeking equality in such areas as education and the justice system in pursuit of the American dream.

Among highlights were remarks by David Lewis, the new Muscogee County School District superintendent, who focused on poverty, equal opportunity and schooling, and his plans for revitalizing the Muscogee County school system.

Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, spoke about stemming the increase in gun violence and legal reforms needed to resist the undermining of equal access to voting. He said efforts need to be stepped up to reduce high rates of minority incarceration, beginning with the problems associated with in-school suspension — particularly for African-American males.

Also participating in the event were historian Judy Purnell, a retired CSU professor; Nick Easton, CSU assistant professor of political science; Paula Adams, associate professor and head of user services for CSU Libraries, as well as chairman-elect of CSU’s Senate Committee on Diversity; attorney Barry Debrow; and Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

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Columbus State Hosts Education Faculty from Throughout Georgia


CSU’s Sallie A. Miller, standing, works with Carla Tanguay, left, of Georgia State, and Tracy Elder, of the University of Georgia, on March 7.

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Top Columbus State University education faculty hosted 15 of their colleagues from seven Georgia universities recently to discuss upcoming changes in teacher education requirements.

The March 7 event that brought together the education faculty responsible at their schools for assessment — making sure students meet those requirements — was organized and led by Barbara C. Buckner, dean of CSU’s College of Education and Health Professions, and Sallie A. Miller, associate dean for assessment and accreditation.

Participants are part of a task force currently working to align Georgia-mandated teacher assessments to national standards. The assessment directors also discussed and documented issues related to the three-year induction process that graduates must successfully complete to receive their professional teaching certificates.

The task force is expected to issue a full report of its findings.

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CSU to Serve Leesburg-Based Cohort Pursuing Education Doctorates

leesburgCOLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus State University and the Lee County (Ga.) school system have entered into an agreement for CSU education professors to teach in Leesburg a group of system educators pursuing CSU’s education doctorate.

A memorandum of understanding for CSU to serve this Leesburg-based cohort of students pursuing the Ed.D. in curriculum and leadership will be signed during a ceremony and reception from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Monday, April 7 in the Lee County Board of Education board room at 126 Starkville Ave. North in Leesburg.

“The Leesburg cohort represents a significant step in the growth in our Ed.D program,” said Tom Hackett, CSU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We’re delighted to develop this partnership with the Lee County school system. Leadership in curriculum development and program assessment has never been more critical for education in Georgia than today. This partnership is a significant step forward in the development of leaders for schools in Georgia.”

CSU’s Leesburg-based education doctorate classes, which will begin this summer, offers an opportunity for principals and other educational leaders to acquire the skills, knowledge and dispositions necessary to provide exemplary leadership and effective management for educational organizations.

Lee County’s school system is providing the classroom space at West Middle School, 190 Smithville Road, for the inaugural 20-student class.

“This is just a wonderful opportunity for educators in southwest Georgia,” said Lawrence Walters, Lee County schools superintendent. “Not only for employees in Lee County, but (also) surrounding areas. People are so thankful for this because people need a degree like this to advance in their careers.”

Family concerns and other obligations make it impossible for many prospective students to drive the 85-90 miles to Columbus or Valdosta State to pursue such a graduate degree, he said.

“(I) had a woman come up to me after a meeting and tell me what a true blessing this is for her,” Walters said. “ Without a terminal degree, a lot of educators in their area, their careers would be dead in the water.”

The program will provide its students with three years plus one semester of a custom-designed core curriculum taught by CSU’s education faculty.

The Ed.D. program director, Michael D. Richardson, CSU’s Fuller E. Callaway Chair in Education Leadership, will teach its first two classes. Two eight-week classes will be taught consecutively each semester. They are hybrid classes with the professor teaching onsite in Leesburg for one week, and students taking course classes online the next week.

“The length of the program is unusual and is set up in such a way that the doctoral dissertation classes and the chapters of the dissertation are taught at the same time as the coursework,” said Michael Johnson, assistant coordinator of the Educational Leadership Program. “By doing it this way, we are ensuring that more people will actually complete the degree.”

Some studies have shown that, nationally in education, 70 percent of students fall short of a doctorate because they complete coursework but never get the dissertation done.

For more information on the program, visit

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Columbus State University Provides More Details Related to Sunday’s Shooting

In response to public records requests and other requests for more information surrounding Sunday’s shooting on campus, Columbus State University is able to release the following information:

  • Several witnesses have come forward to say they saw a man running with a gun Sunday afternoon, being chased by police.
  • A Glock model 22 40-caliber pistol, holding eight rounds of ammunition, was recovered where the victim fell, adjacent to a Courtyard 1 apartment building. The weapon was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as evidence.
  • Sgt. Ben Scott, 43, a supervisory officer at CSU since 2012 and a Columbus Police officer for 17 years before then, fired two shots at the end of Sunday’ s chase.
  • Sgt. Scott was one of three officers who responded to the initial call. CSU Cpl. Ben Pack and Lt. Jason Youngblood also were on the scene.
  • Without violating the GBI’s investigation, CSU Police were able to release a few more details about the chase that ensued after a CSU student called police to report a man was loading a gun at Courtyard 1, a student apartment complex housing more than 400 students:
    • CSU Police were called at 2:35 p.m. Sunday after a student reported seeing someone loading a handgun while sitting in a gazebo adjacent to the apartment buildings.
    • Three minutes later, CSU Police arrived on the scene, identified themselves and told the gunman to drop his weapon.
    • The man fled, running through Courtyard 1, across University Avenue and then back across University Avenue and eventually re-entering the student apartment complex. Officers were in pursuit the whole time, repeatedly ordering the man to drop his weapon.
    • When the man turned and raised his arm, Sgt. Scott fired twice.
    • Following standard procedure, Scott was placed on administrative leave with pay. Within five minutes after the shooting, GBI was alerted and took over the investigation into the shooting.
    • Five days before this incident, on March 25, Scott passed three Judgmental Pistol Shooting scenarios in a simulator.
    • In his most recent personnel evaluation, dated March 8, Scott either met or exceeded expectations on 17 performance criteria evaluated by his supervisor, Lt. Walter L. Brown.
    • Scott rose to the rank of corporal with the Columbus Police, earning the department’s highest honor, Officer of the Year, in 2004.
    • Before joining the university on Aug. 6, 2012, Scott told CSU Police interviewers that he was interested in the Tuition Assistance Program that the university offers, allowing employees to earn up to six credit hours a semester without charge.
    • Scott is currently pursuing a master’s degree in CSU’s Command College, which mostly serves mid-career police professionals. Scott, who earned an advanced high school diploma in Prattville, Ala., received his bachelor’s degree in history from Auburn University-Montgomery.
    • CSU’s policy for use of deadly force is taken from a model offered by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

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Updated: Columbus State Professor Shares Views on PBS’ `Secrets of the Dead’

church_warren1[Note update at end]

COLUMBUS, Ga. — A Columbus State University professor of anthropology and archaeology will offer his expertise in the form of commentary for an episode of the PBS series “Secrets of the Dead” airing at 10 p.m. Wednesday, April 2.

Warren Church, whose anthropology program is part of CSU’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences, said his contribution to the PBS series episode titled “Carthage’s Lost Warriors” was filmed last June in a New York City hotel room.

Wednesday’s episode explores the theory of German professor Hans Giffhorn that Carthaginians crossed the Atlantic 1,500 years before Christopher Columbus, landing first in South America. Giffhorn told Church that the CSU professor’s comments were included in the episode, which has already aired in Germany.

“It may be a brief appearance as I was clearly not on board with the show’s premise,” Church said.

Since joining Columbus State’s faculty in 1999, Church has conducted extensive research into the ancient Chachapoya people of the northern Andes in Peru. His research was featured in a June 2004 issue of National Geographic magazine. Since 2002, he’s also offered similar commentary for two History Channel specials and one for the National Geographic Channel, serving as an archaeological consultant for a BBC special.

Church holds anthropology degrees from Yale University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Church said he didn’t have much information about the PBS episode, “but the trailer cover looks like something from Season 2 of Game of Thrones.”

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Update (Wednesday, April 2, 11:05 a.m.): Dr. Church was later made aware of a new trailer for tonight’s episode that happens to reference his nearly 25 years of research in the Andes and offers a snippet of his interview for the “Secrets of the Dead” episode. He said there’s growing consensus among archaeologists that the Kuelap people referenced in the trailer and the Chachapoya, who he has studied more extensively, “represent a culmination of 10,000 years of local indigenous cultural development in the Andes prior to back-to-back conquests by the Inca, followed by Spain.” Ninety percent of the population was apparently wiped out by conflict and disease, he said.

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Columbus State to Open Newly Renovated Seaboard Depot as Art Studios


The Seaboard Depot Art Studios is the latest addition to Columbus State’s RiverPark campus in Uptown Columbus.

COLUMBUS — Columbus State University will hold a ribbon-cutting Thursday and officially open its newest addition to downtown Columbus: the Seaboard Depot Art Studios.

At the corner of Front Avenue and Tenth Street, this newly renovated historic building will house 18 individual art studios for CSU Department of Art undergraduate students, six faculty studios, a visiting artist studio and a gallery for new media projects, common area, instructional studio, seminar room and display areas.

A ribbon cutting for the studios will be held Thursday, April 3 at 6 p.m. A reception and building tours will follow until 7:30 p.m. The public is invited.

With brightly painted colored walls, lots of window for natural light, historic wood and brick construction, the Seaboard Depot Art Studios are a magnificent addition to the university’s RiverPark campus, said College of Arts Dean Richard Baxter, noting that the studios are another example of the university repurposing facilities downtown to be both functional and beautiful.

“These new studios will allow our art students to have their own dedicated spaces to spur their creativity and help with their assignments,” Baxter said. “I think the Seaboard Depot Art Studios are a much-needed complement to the learning spaces and Illges Gallery in CSU’s Corn Center for the Visual Arts.”

The Seaboard Depot building has been owned by CSU Foundation Properties Inc., for several years. When several tenants moved out, the Department of Art proposed repurposing the building to help serve the needs of a growing art student population. Private funding was secured — the Mildred Miller Fort Foundation was a major contributor — and work was able to begin last year to renovate the building.

“The Seaboard Depot has always been a beautiful building,” said Columbus State President Tim Mescon. “The renovations inside are just stunning, and continue our tradition downtown of partnering with our supporters to create facilities that really are among the finest you will find in this country.”

Joe Sanders, chair of the university’s Department of Art, said “These unique spaces, now called the Seaboard Depot Art Studios, create immediate synergy between our most advanced students, faculty, resident artists, and the public, while providing enhanced opportunities for program growth, productivity, and community interaction. Nationally competitive art programs have great faculty, great facilities, great programs and studios that students can call their own and this facility will become a major recruiting tool to attract the best and brightest students.”


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