Retiring magazine editor has stories yet to tell
It seems fitting that the retirement story for Conrad J. Storad would appear in the last print edition of ASU Insight.
Because this past June, he published his last print edition of ASU Research Magazine, which in 2008 was named the best university research magazine in the United States by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Saying goodbye was difficult for Storad, who was not only the magazine's editor for the past 24 yearrs, but also its creator.
“I’ve been a print kind of guy my whole life,” he said in his book-filled, award-lined office in Interdisciplinary B. “But print is not dead.”
Print, indeed, is still alive, and Storad is retiring to devote his time to writing children’s books – about science, of course.
He already has had a dual career as a magazine editor and author of children’s books, and now, he said, it’s time to focus on making science exciting for the younger generation.
His newest book, “Rattlesnake Rules,” was released in October, and he has plans for many more books for kids.
Being a children’s author was not something that Storad set out to do, much as he did not set his sites on creating the best university research publication in the nation.
The first link in the chain of events was forged when Storad came to ASU for graduate school in 1982 after working several years as a newspaper reporter and editor in his native Ohio. He fell in love with Arizona, and never put the thought of returning out of his mind.
As the finale for his graduate study, he had a science writing internship at the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., for eight months. “But I didn’t get Potomac fever,” he said.
Instead, he found a job at Kent State University, where he worked in media relations as a science editor – and kept up with his contacts at ASU and in Arizona.
Then came the phone call that was the next link in the chain of events leading west: Ira Fine, former assistant business editor at the Arizona Republic who was in the master’s program with Storad at ASU, told him that ASU wanted to start a science magazine. “He said he thought it would be the perfect job for me, and it was!” he said.
Storad was hired in January 1986, given a copy of the existing “research newsletter” published by the Graduate College, and told to gear up to print the first issue of a magazine by May.
Fortunately for Storad, an artist and designer named Michael Hagelberg, who worked for the ASU Publication Design Center, was assigned to design the first issue of the magazine. He soon became part of the permanent team.
And when the first need for photos popped up, a photographer named John Philips had just put in an appearance looking for work. He, too, joined the team as a freelancer.
“It was meant to be. Both of them worked here the entire time,” Storad said.
Storad gives credit to his team for creating, over the years, the Research Magazine that has won more than 350 awards from regional, national and international professional communication organizations, and envy from its peers.
He also gives credit to the administrators in the Office of the Vice President for Research, who gave him and his team free rein to try new ideas and subjects as the magazine developed into a four-color, glossy publication rivaling those on the supermarket newsstands.
For the first few issues, Storad wrote all of the stories himself, but he gradually began developing a stable of talented, creative writers and nurturing new ones as they came along. “I wanted the magazine to have multiple voices,” he said.
“What set Research Magazine apart was its wonderful writing and feature stories. We were not a public relations publication. We were storytellers. We made it out task to put the human face on the researchers at ASU. We were telling the story of people, with Michael adding the designs and illustrations.”
Storad oversaw the publication of more than 1,000 stories during the magazine’s print tenure, and he still marvels at some of the “crazy ideas” he wrote about in those earliest days, such as Milton Sommerfeld’s outrageous proposal to someday grow algae as a viable fuel.
And he treasures a photo of Phil Christensen sitting in a small office in the Bateman Physical Sciences Building with a model of a piece of equipment called a Thermal Emission Spectrometer that, Christiansen assured him, would someday be sent to Mars.
Storad’s overarching goal at Research Magazine was “to get people to turn the cover” and discover that research was not boring. “In fact, research is just the opposite – it’s discovery,” he said.
Storad’s career as a children’s author started with a simple request from Paula Jansen, a photographer in Flagstaff, whom he knew through Hagelberg.
Jansen was looking for someone to write stories for children’s life-cycle books about plants and animals, and asked Storad if he’d like to participate. Not knowing where this path would take him, Storad said yes.
“Our first book was about the saguaro cactus,” Storad said, and then we did Scorpions and Tarantulas as part of Lerner Publishing Group’s Early Bird Nature Book series.
Next he was contacted by a toy distributor who needed someone to write 50-word descriptions of animals for a series of stuffed toy “critters,” such as javelinas, roadrunners, Gila monsters, desert tortoise, coyotes, bobcats, big horn sheep, bison, Texas Longhorns, armadillos and black bears.
The toy distributor, coincidentally, wanted to add books to his lineup, and asked Storad if he’d like to write one for him.
That book turned out to be “Don’t Call Me Pig! (A Javelina Story),” which former Gov. Janet Napolitano selected to kick off her 2005 program to promote reading by schoolchildren. As part of that project, more than 93,000 Arizona first graders each received a special-edition copy of ”Don’t Call Me Pig!”
While writing about the misunderstood, and oft-maligned javelina, Storad began experimenting with rhymes, and now some of his books are written in a simple poetic form, such as this text about pack rats:
Oh, desert days are bright and hot
Swift, hungry creatures rule,
But every little pack rat learns
That night shift work is cool!
Storad has now read his books and talked about the creatures and plants they feature to more than 800,000 children in their classrooms, and his goal is to make it to one million.
His mission of helping young children become excited about science and discovery he hopes will be carried on by Chain Reaction, a print magazine for middle school students that he pioneered in 1998. The magazine tells stories about the science, learning and the creative activity taking place at ASU in ways that young readers can understand.
As he looks back over the last 24 years at ASU, Storad has much to be proud of. During his tenure as editor, millions of copies of Research Magazine were printed and distributed to readers across the USA and in as many as 49 countries. The magazine was respected across the country as the premier university research publication.
But it isn’t the accolades Storad will think about as he turns his thinking full time to children’s books.
“It’s all the amazing people I got to meet – all the scientists, artists, writers, scholars and researchers," he said.
“Our magazine was the printed face of ASU to the public. We took it seriously. We wanted to tell the interesting stories that people didn’t know.”