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ASU remembers legacy of journalism professor Edward J. Sylvester

Edward J. Sylvester
November 12, 2014

Edward J. Sylvester, an award-winning journalist who taught at Arizona State University for more than 30 years, died Nov. 8 from complications due to cancer. He was 72.

Sylvester joined ASU in 1980 in what was then the Department of Mass Communication and later became the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He played an integral role in the school’s development, leading the charge in science journalism education and teaching a wide variety of news reporting and editing courses.

“Ed was a cornerstone of our school for more than three decades,” said Christopher Callahan, Cronkite School dean. “He was instrumental in Cronkite’s rise as one of the nation’s premier professional journalism programs. Ed will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in the hearts of the countless students, alumni, faculty and friends he touched.”

With former Cronkite School director Douglas A. Anderson, Sylvester helped craft a successful proposal for one of the first Knight Chairs in Journalism, an endowed professorship currently held by Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Doig who teaches data journalism.

“I owe my career at the Cronkite School to Ed’s visionary understanding that data journalism would be a necessary part of a modern journalism curriculum,” Doig said. “He was among the first journalism educators to teach such a course, starting even before the World Wide Web was invented.”

Sylvester’s achievements included leading the school’s partnership with the Mayo Clinic, mentoring medical school students pursuing master’s degrees at Cronkite. Senior associate dean of the Cronkite School and Solheim Professor Marianne Barrett said Sylvester remained active after retiring in 2013, teaching courses online and in the classroom. Barrett said, “He was really dedicated to his students, going above and beyond to mentor them.”

Conrad J. Storad, a 1983 ASU master’s graduate, said Sylvester was incredibly important in launching his career as an author and executive editor of the nationally acclaimed ASU Research Magazine.

“He was a master of the classroom,” said Storad, who was Sylvester’s teaching assistant. “He could get people moving in the right direction, and get people to turn around and see the light. He really was a master teacher and loved being in the classroom with the kids.”

Prior to joining ASU, Sylvester was a reporter and editor for more than a decade at newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Arizona Daily Star. He secured numerous journalism honors, including a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing in 1977 for an Arizona Daily Star story on the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Sylvester was the author of five books on medical research and biosecurity, as well as numerous academic journal articles. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction in 1983 for “The Gene Age” and in 1986 for “Target: Cancer.”

Sylvester served in the U.S. Army as an information specialist for the 24th Infantry Division in Augsburg, Germany from 1965-1967. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1965 from Princeton University and a master’s degree in 1974 from the City College of New York, where he was a member of Joseph Heller’s famed fiction workshop.

He is survived by his wife Ginny, his son Daniel, his daughter Katie and her husband Anthony, and three grandchildren: Nicola, Molly and Natalie. A celebration will be held at the University Club on the ASU Tempe campus from 3-5 p.m., Nov. 15. All are welcome.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in the name of Edward J. Sylvester to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in support of science journalism scholarships: