Sara (Dickenson) Quinn ’86, shown here as editor of Wichita State’s yearbook, the Parnassus, is the 2009 Elliott School of Communication outstanding graduate. She teaches journalism, leadership and multimedia at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
The Parnassus, Wichita State’s yearbook, had been printed every year since 1904 when Sara Dickenson ’86 became editor in the fall of 1985. Dickenson assembled a talented group of photographers and writers, but soon learned that the Student Government Association was considering cutting funding for the yearbook. A deficit from the previous school year prompted the SGA threat not to continue funding the Parnassus.
Not to be deterred, Dickenson and her staff opted for a Parnassus magazine over the more expensive, traditional yearbook that year. They convinced SGA to provide funding for the magazine and published three issues the following spring semester to rave reviews. And, she says, they broke even financially.
That ability to adapt and innovate helped propel Dickenson, now Quinn, to a noted career in communication. Last fall during the Elliott School of Communication’s annual Communication Week, Quinn was honored as the school’s 2009 outstanding alum.
Jim Hellman, associate professor in WSU’s School of Art and Design who advised the Parnassus staff for several years, remembers Dickenson’s dedication. “Sara was one of the best editors we had,” says Hellman, who started teaching at WSU as an adjunct in 1975. “Everything was important to her. She took care of all the details, which is important in whatever you do.”
Even in magazine form, despite the valiant efforts of Dickenson and her staff, that was the last publication in the university’s Parnassus series.
Quinn, whose studies at WSU emphasized journalism and graphic design, teaches visual journalism, leadership and multimedia at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. Before joining the faculty in 2003, she spent nearly 20 years working in newspaper newsrooms, including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and 11 years at her hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagle. She also has a master’s degree in illustration from Syracuse University.
At Poynter, Quinn directs initiatives for teaching at universities. She led Poynter’s most recent EyeTrack study of newspaper and online reading habits in six U.S. cities. Results of the study help journalists engage readers and viewers with the best possible forms for storytelling.
Quinn also writes the weekly Visual Voice column for Poynter Online, teaches interactively through webinars and NewsU.org, and speaks at design and journalism workshops. She provides in-house workshops for newsrooms and universities, most recently at the Toronto Star, La Presse in Montreal, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Orlando Sentinel, the Oregonian and at the universities of Wisconsin and Missouri.
Quinn says her experience at Wichita State — both in the classroom and at part-time campus jobs — was invaluable. “I got the opportunity to try a lot of different things,” she says. “The people at WSU were great about giving me the freedom to put together what I wanted to do, even if I fell on my face.”
“And I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she adds with a laugh.
Quinn cites her opportunities at the student newspaper, the Sunflower, and the Graphics Grotto — where she created graphics, posters and banners — in the Campus Activities Center, in addition to the Parnassus. She also worked part time off campus for Edwards Typographic and Kathy Lambert & Associates. “I was working and learning at the same time,” she says. “If I had just gone to classes, I wouldn’t have grown as much.”
Quinn continues to use her knack for adapting to change and being innovative at her work at Poynter. “The newspaper industry is changing more and more,” she says. “And there are so many different venues for writing with multimedia.”
One of Quinn’s favorite projects at Poynter is a two-week program for recent college graduates from all over the world. As the students fine-tune their skills in reporting, writing, design, photography and graphics, she says, they are asked to think about new ideas for collaboration and ethical decision-making. “I get the biggest kick out of the chance to meet so many different people,” says Quinn, who has directed the summer program for seven years. “They’re like my own kids. It’s always fascinating to see where they end up.”
Rod Pocowatchit, a senior designer at the Wichita Eagle, says teaching is a natural fit for Quinn, whom he calls “remarkably talented” and “good at getting others to dig a little deeper, to go beyond the easy solution.”
Regina McCombs, a member of Poynter’s multimedia faculty, describes Quinn as “collaborative and creative. And she’s so easy to talk to and approachable. She may seem low key, but she’s got a lot of intensity and energy for any project she gets involved in. She’s not really a halfway kind of person.”
In addition to her work at Poynter and on newspapers, Quinn has edited and designed magazines, websites and books, and has served as a juror for competitions sponsored by the Society for News Design, Alternative News Weekly, Scripps and others.
Quinn lives in St. Petersburg with Pete and Boomer, the latest in a long succession of schnauzers. Her hobbies are as eclectic as her career, but most reflect her artistic bent — museums, galleries, junk stores, classes in silversmithing and printmaking, jogging, kayaking and hunting for tiny, fossilized shark’s teeth when hanging out at one of her favorite Florida beaches.
She also loves to travel. Recent favorite places are Greece, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Montreal, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Alaska and to see family in Hawaii and Seattle.
“And,” she adds, “I play a terrible, awkward game of tennis.”
The Last Parnassas
As Wichita State approached its 100th anniversary in 1995, a movement to revive the university’s yearbook, the Parnassus, gained traction. The last hardback Parnassus was produced for the 1984-85 school year, and it was then printed as a quarterly magazine for the 1985-86 school year before publication ceased.
The yearbook made a return appearance as a 272-page hardbound volume for the 1993-94 school year. But a lack of advertising sales, among other factors, spelled the end of the Parnassus revival.
Vicki Churchman, a retired high school journalism teacher who served as the adviser for that last Parnassus, says the young staff, mostly freshmen, tried hard, but faced daunting challenges that year, including the fact they were participating in an extra-curricular activity rather than a formal yearbook-production course. That, along with a noted lack of participation from Shocker students (only 10 percent of them had their photos taken for the project), doomed the return of the university’s yearbook.
Churchman, who worked at Wichita East High as the school’s yearbook adviser from 1979-1998, says a properly done yearbook is a great, lasting benefit to students, school and community. She’s still a bit sad that the Parnassus revival didn’t work out.
As she says, “It’s really too bad.”