Laura Sparks


Laura Sparks became the 13th president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art January 4, 2017. Previously she served as executive director of the William Penn Foundation, a $2 billion private foundation dedicated to improving the quality of Philadelphia, our nation’s fifth largest city, and the region that surrounds it. Under her guidance, the foundation launched and refined its new strategic priorities, focusing its $115 million grant budget on improvements in urban education for economically disadvantaged children, including advocacy for fair and equitable funding in public education; protection of the water resources serving 15 million people across four states, including half of New York City; development of world-class urban parks and trails in underserved communities; and cultivation of a vibrant cultural sector.

Laura joined the William Penn Foundation after several years’ work in community development finance. As senior vice president for financial services at Opportunity Finance Network—a national nonprofit serving local Community Development Financial Institutions across the country—she helped create responsible financial solutions for individuals vulnerable to predatory lenders and oversaw a $45 million loan portfolio to increase investment in underserved urban and rural markets. She later served as the director of development finance initiatives for Citi Community Development and Citi Foundation. In this role, Laura supported nonprofits working to revitalize neighborhoods and create access to affordable housing and greater economic opportunity. In all of these roles, Laura has worked collaboratively with government, nonprofit, and business sectors.

Laura has served on a variety of boards and advisory committees, including the Credit Committee and the Capital Formation Committee for Living Cities, a philanthropic collaborative of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions, focused on improving the lives of low-income people and the urban areas where they live. As a member of the Governor’s Advisory Board for Community Development, she has advised Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on issues pertaining to public safety, crime, urban development, revitalization and disaster preparedness. She currently sits on the board of Aeris, a nonprofit information service for community investors who champion economic justice in underserved markets.

Laura earned her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, her M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and her B.A. in philosophy from Wellesley College. Laura is an avid runner, loves to cook and enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.

Related News Items

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.