Step into Margaret Sorrows’ classroom and within 30 seconds, it is clear the profound impact the journalism adviser of 33 years — 21 of which have been at Bryant — has had on her students. Framed award certificates and plaques border the walls. Autographed photos and notes of students long-graduated, vie for prominent placement on the esteemed adviser's desk, shelves, tables and bookcases.
Since 1991, Sorrows' journalism students and publications have won more than 2,000 individual awards in state, regional and national contests — a tangible testament to Sorrows' ability to challenge and motivate her students to produce superior work.
Recognized for her contributions to scholastic journalism, Sorrows has earned numerous awards during her three-plus decades of teaching and advising. March 16 marked the peak of her career, when she was
one of six journalism professionals in the nation to receive a prestigious Gold Key Award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. The Gold Key is the highest honor the CSPA presents to educators for their support of excellence in teaching journalism and in advising student publications.
"I attended a luncheon and received the award at Columbia University, where they present the Pulitzer Prize," Sorrows said. "To be recognized by the highest award you can achieve by the CSPA is quite an honor."
Gold Key contenders are nominated by professional journalists. "I was nominated by Bruce Waterson, an icon in scholastic journalism," Sorrows said. "I had to submit a statement and two letters of recommendation." A committee, chaired by the Columbia Scholastic Press Advisers Association's immediate past president, accepts nominees and makes the selections.
The CSPA's Gold Key certificate states, "In recognition of outstanding devotion to the cause of the school press, encouragement to the student editors in their several endeavors, service above and beyond the call of delegated duty, leadership in the field of education, and support of the high ideals from which the Association has drawn its strength and inspiration."
Co-editors Grace Oxley and Jasmine Av believe Sorrows exemplifies a Gold Key recipient.
"Of all the teachers I've had, she is the one that never lets us settle. I think it is time she won the Gold Key," Oxley said. "Everything I've learned up to this point - I think I owe a lot of it to her guidance."
"She's passionate about what she does; she's been doing it for so long. She's never given up on us, even when there's been bumps along the road," Av said.
In her statement, "My Love for Advising," Sorrows writes, "When I first started teaching, I was not going to be a teacher for long, but it's lasted 33 years. I fell in love with teenagers and advising. The rewards are often few and far between, but my satisfaction is seeing the accomplishment on staff members' faces on publishing day."
Accomplished, they are.
The staff earned 21 individual national awards at the NSPA/JEA convention in Minneapolis last November. The Hornet yearbook placed fourth in best of show, and The Prospective newspaper placed sixth in best of show.
"I'm pleased with all of the awards; it shows my kids created a top-quality publication," Sorrows said.
Additionally, the staff won a Gold Crown, the highest recognition given to a student print or online medium for overall excellence, from the CSPA.
"We have been winners of Silver Crowns since 2001," Sorrows said. "The last two years have been Gold Crowns for our 2010 and 2011 yearbooks. We were the only staff in Arkansas to win one, and the first to win Gold Crowns back-to-back."
The esteemed adviser's philosophy is surprisingly simple.
"I am in the adviser role. My students make real-world decisions everyday. They learn to be professional and work together," Sorrows said. "I want my students to learn ownership for their work, to know the accomplishment of working on a publication that produces excellent student content."
Senior Charlie Hunnicutt, yearbook staffer of four years, likens her role as a photographer to a job.
"It is a bunch of responsibility; you can't wait for others. It is also very competitive to be on yearbook and newspaper," Hunnicutt said. "You have to apply, have recommendations and be interviewed."
Av believes Sorrows' organization, structure and precision are the keys to her success.
"She carefully maps out every deadline and takes into consideration any variables that could affect or delay our production. She pays close attention to both major and minor details. Nothing gets past without her permission," Av said.
Allen Loibner, former student and ASPA director, credits Sorrows' achievements to "her vast knowledge and her ability to motivate. "She's not just my mentor; she's my hot-line. If I have any question about journalism, I can call her. Whether the question is about writing, AP style, design, coverage, photography or trends, I know she will know, and like all master teachers, she is able to convey that knowledge to her students," Loibner said.
It is Sorrows' ability to motivate that most impresses Loibner.
"She doesn't mother her students. She isn't a tyrant. She doesn't really use any of the techniques I have seen other advisers use. As one of her former students, I cannot even explain it. She is a force of journalist nature who makes you want to do the best work you are capable of. She's an enigma," he said.
Sorrows earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from the University of Central Arkansas in 1977 and a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1984.
She is a member of the Arkansas Scholastic Press Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, National Scholastic Press Association, Southern Interscholastic Press Association and the Journalism Education Association. Additionally, Sorrows serves as a presenter at the professional organizations of which she is affiliated.
Sorrow's previous accolades include: JEA Distinguished Yearbook Adviser, 2007; KTHV Golden Apple Award, 2006; ACLU Champion Liberty Award, 2003; SIPA Joseph Shoquist Freedom of Press Award, 2002 and multiple CSPA Crown and NSPA Pacemaker Awards.
"Being an adviser offers me supreme fulfillment as former students flock back to the yearbook room to check up on the current staff and progress of the yearbook and newspaper. Advising a publication requires a great deal of sacrifice, but the rewards are spellbinding. It is a magical job."