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ALUMNI PROFILE: Betsy Quinn (MNA ’12)

The Mendoza Graduate Alumni Board member has made drama into a tool for serving diverse youth and communities

by Carol Elliott

October 14, 2013


Betsy Quinn’s personal and professional career path slightly tweaks the old saying about having “theater in her blood.” Quinn has a passion for youth theater in her blood, and especially for using drama as a tool for serving diverse youth and communities.

“Seeing the benefits of the performing arts for my students, especially those most in need, motivates me to do everything possible to bring these experiences to all young people,” says Quinn.

She has worked for more than 20 years in the nonprofit sector as both a professional and volunteer in the field of theater for youth. Currently the drama teacher and Arts Department Chair at Haven Middle School in the Skokie School District in Evanston, Ill., her experience runs the gamut from teaching at the urban public middle school, to teaching at a private university, to serving as a board member for the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America.

In 2011, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE), where she served as past president, honored her with the creation of the Betsy Quinn Scholarship Initiative. Its first scholarship went to a project called “Crawling With Monsters,” and it’s here in reading over a description of the production that you begin to better understand Quinn’s life mission.

What started as a children’s bilingual theater troupe from the Mexico-Texas border became instead a group of 17 actors telling a tragic story about children living in Reynosa, Mexico, a region torn by extreme drug-related violence. Much of the dialogue in the part-documentary, part-multimedia performance piece was taken from first-hand interviews with residents, who go nameless out of fear of reprisal.

“The ‘Crawling with Monsters’ group was chosen to bring their important work to the national stage because these young undergraduates would not be able to travel without support,” says Quinn. “Giving voice to underserved youth both empowers them and enlightens the field of theater for and with young people.  The skills of theater are the skills of business and life – collaboration, empathy, flexibility, communication and imagination.  The benefits of these rich experiences must be available to all.”    

Quinn earned an M.F.A. in Child Drama from Arizona State University, a M.A. in Educational Administration from Northeastern Illinois University. But she decided to return to graduate school, though—specifically, the Master of Nonprofit Administration program at the Mendoza College of Business—for a different reason.

“All of my professional and volunteer experiences share a common thread,” says Quinn. “They are filled with passionate, talented artists and educators committed to the organizations’ missions and yet most struggle with various aspects of business.

“Their servant hearts are in the right places. Unfortunately, many, myself included, lacked the business knowledge and experience to inform decision making.”

Quinn says she’s been frustrated witnessing the collapse of valuable arts and education organizations due to a lack of business expertise. “Countless times I've heard, ‘This is such a wonderful organization … why don’t more people know about it?’ or ‘How can we improve internal communication?’ and ‘How do we hold a volunteer board accountable?’ My MNA education is helping me bring the knowledge and skills from the business world into the fields of arts and education to help answer these questions.”

In 2013, Quinn also joined the Mendoza Graduate Alumni Board.

“Being a third generation Domer, the notion of the Notre Dame family was familiar. Often used to describe the bond developed by ND undergraduates, the MNA program embodied this idea of family at the graduate level. In addition to the outstanding faculty and staff, I was part of a cohort of lifelong colleagues and friends.”

“My goal as a Mendoza Graduate Alumni Board member is to increase alumni engagement,” says Quinn.  “Mendoza should be a home to all its alumni … a place where they can reminisce, find new resources and connections, stay involved and support the future.”