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Strategic moves strengthen OR leadership team

hillary_sparks_headshot0.jpgMcCormick's Hillary Sparks to direct URIC administration; OR's Anne Martin promoted to assistant vice president

The Office for Research (OR) today announced two key staffing decisions intended to support OR's service to the Northwestern research community. Executive Director of Financial Administration Anne Martin has been promoted to assistant vice president for finance and business operations, effective immediately. Longtime McCormick School of Engineering business administrator Hillary Sparks (pictured, left) will join OR on Dec. 11 as senior director of the University Research Institutes and Centers Administration (URICA) office. Sparks will report to Associate Vice President for Research Jian Cao, while Martin will continue reporting to Vice President for Research Eric Perreault.

In her new role, Martin will be a key member of the OR management team, overseeing and setting priorities for units within the office that have cross-unit responsibilities, including Financial Administration, Research IT, HR Administration, and Research Analytics. She will keep the vice president informed of developments within these units, providing recommendations and seeking counsel from the vice president to ensure the ongoing delivery of outstanding service to Northwestern's research community.

As senior director, Sparks will oversee the operations of Northwestern's 35 University Research Institutes and Centers (URICs), including all aspects of their research administration and financial operations. The senior director acts as an administrative leader in OR and works closely with the vice president and other members of the leadership team to design and implement solutions to achieve institutional goals. Sparks will work closely with the faculty director and lead administrator of each URIC to ensure that those teams operate efficiently and effectively. She also will ensure that URIC research activities follow all relevant policies and guidelines.

Martin, who joined OR in 2013 after 14 years in senior finance roles at Baxter International, said she is excited about the new position and looks forward to continuing the many collaborations with colleagues in OR and beyond.

screenshot-2023-12-08-at-5.02.48-pm.png"There is a terrific opportunity to work with, and across, administrative units in OR supporting research throughout Northwestern," said Martin (pictured, left). "I am passionate about ensuring operational excellence while also helping build a positive, inclusive culture." 

Martin earned a bachelor's degree in business administration in accounting from the University of Notre Dame and a master's degree in management from the Kellogg School at Northwestern.

Hillary Sparks comes to OR after a decade of outstanding performance as a faculty-facing business administrator at the McCormick School's Department of Mechanical Engineering. There, she managed the department's finances, operations, and space, supervising and training a nine-person team. In this role, she planned and implemented an annual department budget of $10 million, launched a training module for new McCormick staff to acquire tools on effective grant management, and worked closely with the department chair on strategic planning and new initiatives. Prior to McCormick, Sparks supervised a team of administrators in Northwestern's Department of Physiology.

"I am excited to join the URICA team and am honored to receive this opportunity to support the University-wide research institutes and centers, which are at the forefront of Northwestern's cross-disciplinary research," said Sparks. "I am confident that my 15-plus years of experience supporting research, as well as my passion for fostering collaborative community and my desire to facilitate building bridges across teams, will enable me to make a positive contribution within and beyond OR." Sparks earned her bachelor's degree in history from the University of Illinois.

Wei Chen, chair of mechanical engineering, praised Sparks's tenure at McCormick: "Hillary has been an exemplary leader and an invaluable asset to our department, contributing significantly to every aspect of the business functions. She is constantly praised by faculty and staff for her calm, positive approach to problem solving, enabling operations to run smoothly and for ME's research and educational programs to keep growing."

Vice President for Research Perreault noted the importance of administrative excellence, collaboration, and customer service to further Northwestern's research mission and reputation. He expressed his confidence that Martin and Sparks would be catalysts to help create stronger partnerships and operational effectiveness between OR and stakeholders across Northwestern.

"I am extremely pleased to welcome Hillary Sparks to the OR team," said Perreault. "Her track record as a colleague who prioritizes team-building, efficiency, and results aligns well with my vision for our office. Likewise, I am delighted to recognize Anne Martin's many contributions during her OR tenure. I know that in this new, well-deserved AVP position her skills and dedication will be essential to helping serve our research community."