Joan Pinnell | Assistant Director, Communications & Outreach, Northwestern University Transportation Center (Evanston, IL)

Published April 2nd, 2018

Careers in the Arts : Education & Graphic Design

It's been a potpourri of artist interviews on the Acceptd blog, and it smells like Spring! Fresh perspectives are blooming, and we're living for it. Today we talk to Joan Pinnell, freelance graphic designer and Assistant Director, Communications and Outreach (assistant-imagination-person) at Northwestern University's Transportation Center in Evanston, IL (just north of Chicago).

Joan has catalyzed her creative, ambitious spirit into an innovative career in the education sphere, at one of the most renowned schools in the country. Read on to learn her story, and what advice she has for young artists interested in a similar future. If you're eager for education and your creativity is matched by a thirst for knowledge and lifelong learning, this interview is for you!

Q & A with Joan Pinnell

Joan Pinnell

Acceptd: Your title is impressive! Can you explain what it is that you do as Assistant Director, Communications and Outreach?
Joan Pinnell: Absolutely. I work with professors, students, visiting research teams & faculty to illustrate/communicate/market/advertise transportation-themed projects, initiatives, programs & publications at/by/for Northwestern University.

In other words, I bring dead, dull, mundane &/or boring bits of info back to life.

Acceptd: Sounds fun! What was your path to get here, and was it the “traditional path” for this field?

Joan: Actually, I would say it's not traditional at all. My resume was plucked off a stack of applications for a job in an entirely different department. I never applied for this role. My boss, struggling to attract the more creative candidates he’d been hoping to find, saw my experience, said “she’s what we need,” and took a chance on what the Engineering Department would later refer to as an “unconventional choice”... Compliment accepted.

Acceptd: That's amazing. What exactly is your background? Did you study art in school?
Yes, but I do have a wide array of education. Here are my degrees:

University of Kansas (Undergraduate Degrees): Visual Communication (Graphic Design), English Lit, Art History, Women’s & Gender Studies

New York University (Certificate): Global Social Leadership

DePaul University (Master’s Degree): Leadership & Policy Studies

Acceptd: That is quite an impressive list. You obviously love education! Did you ever expect this would be your job?
Joan: Nope. Never. Most of all, I still can’t believe I have full benefits! Pinch me.

Acceptd: With your freelance background, that can be tough to come by unless you buy your own insurance. We understand what you mean! Very exciting, and shows that it can be done. Why is your story unique?
Joan: Because I work hard every single day to make my story my own.

I've never stressed "keeping up with the Joneses" because, whoever they are, they’ll always be light years behind the expectations built by my own imagination.

Acceptd: Well said. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Joan: In 5th grade, I wrote that I would one day be President of the United States. I’m 34 now, so I figure I’ve got another year to get it together...

Acceptd: I would vote for you! Just sayin'. Who has been the most influential person on your career?
Joan: My former boss & forever mentor, Dian Sourelis. Dian built a highly-successful boutique brand agency from scratch called Brainforest, took a chance on a nobody (that’s me), and made me the innovative leader I am today.

When I first met Dian, I was willing to sweep floors, clean toilets & fetch her coffee just to be immersed in that scene. I paid my dues without complaint or question. Then, after some time, I gained Dian’s faith and trust enough to give me real design work, as well as the opportunity to lead her newly-formed nonprofit Creative Pitch. She took a gamble on me, so I gave Creative Pitch my all, and proved she’d invested in more than one worthy cause.

Joan Pinnell Joan Pinnell before the Women's March 2017

Acceptd: Congratulations on a job well done! You've had many successes. What is your proudest achievement?
Joan: Truly, the awe-inspiring, invaluable, and steadfast friendships I’ve built with folks, and my family, throughout the years. No two relationships are the same, but every single one makes for a better me.

I'm also pretty pumped to be paying all my own bills…

Acceptd: Do you have a favorite quote?
Yes. "Let me live, love & say it well in good sentences." - Sylvia Plath

Acceptd: Humble as the day is long. Joan, why would you say education is important? Not just for those interested in a career in education, but in general for success?

Joan: Education is the great equalizer. It empowers us to question our current state, and instills us with a sense of purpose, self-worth, and independence. It opens new doors, and increases the potential for making this world a better, safer, and more peaceful place to not just exist, but live.

Acceptd: So well said. What's the point of existing, when we can truly live? On the same page, why is it important to study what inspires you?
Joan: Because inspiration fuels possibility. When a student pursues an area of study that makes them feel inspired, they are actively choosing exploration over apathy in terms of discovering their own power and potential through their education.

Acceptd: What advice do you have for young artists?
Joan: Remember you are more than your productivity. As a self-proclaimed workaholic, I have to remind myself to step away from my screen regularly.

When you hit a creative wall, remember even superheroes are worthy of a recess. Take time away from tech to reconnect with whatever your preferred source of inspiration may be. Giving yourself pause on a stressful project, stunted brainstorm or distracting work day—meaning stepping away to do something/anything else—is like giving yourself the permission you never knew you needed to power through.

Joan works hard, dreams big, and never settles. Her arts background taught her to stretch the limits and see things differently than your average applicant for the job she has now, and it worked in her favor.

As Dr. Suess said, "Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?"

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