For many faculty, bridging two very different disciplines can present a challenge. After all, we have been trained and are thus very accustomed to working in our separate silos. But “the real world” does not work like that and many brilliant ideas are created through collaboration. That said, we set out to create assignments that challenged students to use different outlets to engage others with a topic that they felt passionate about.
Jessica Walker is a multidisciplinary artist working in video, illustration, and digital design. At Parsons she directs the undergraduate program in Integrated Design which focuses on bridging curriculum across all design majors to create unique hybrid pathways that are student driven. As a hybrid designer herself, Jessica is inspired by the Integrated Design students who do not feel a single major can harness all their interests and must constantly push through boundaries. Jessica’s teaching is focused on integrating a social justice lens into design methodologies primarily through a human-centered design approach. Her recent co-teaching initiative through the Mentoring Through Making project with Bernadette Ludwig, PhD, has been an opportunity to further expand her “learning by doing” pedagogy. For Bernadette this collaboration provided an opportunity to reach another student population while learning new ways to raise awareness of about issues around migration. Bernadette is a full-time faculty in the Sociology Department at Wagner College in Staten Island and a part-time faculty in the Global Studies Department at the New School. Her research focuses on the Liberian refugee community in Staten Island. In her work, Bernadette analyzes the intersection of immigration, gender, and race, specifically how refugees and immigrants assert their agency to respond to imposed racial and gender hierarchies and refugee (resettlement) policies. Prior to her academic career, Bernadette worked for six years with refugees and immigrants in Atlanta, GA, most recently, as the co-
founder and, now board member of Culture Connect, Inc. The Mentoring Through Making class has allowed Jessica and Bernadette to blend their expertise in diverse fields such as design, research, and non-profit work to offer students a unique opportunity to learn while also making a social impact.
Students were told to imagine that an agency or government institution commissions hired them to do a poster series or information graphics that highlighted a particular issue that their refugee and immigrant clients face. In the posters, students explored the power of text/word combinations to raise awareness about said issue. To better prepare themselves for the hypothetical meeting with the agency/government institution, students had to write a 2-page information sheet on the topic. In this document they had to cite scholarly sources and when applicable general data.
One student chose as her topic the ongoing Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. As of December 2017, an estimated 600,000 Rohingyas were forced from their homes in Myanmar over the course of a few months. Before the student began to work on the project, the faculty members helped her identify scholarly articles and books as well as reputable data sources such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The student then wrote the fact sheet using evidence for these sources to support her arguments. After that, the student proceeded to create a poster in Illustrator, a program she had never used prior to this class. In the artwork, the student selected a few main points and complemented them with graphics. Finally, the student posted the poster in a subway station in the Lower East Side where it hung for two weeks.
This interdisciplinary, engaged collaborative approach allowed students not only to engage both sides to the brain (logic and creativity) but also gave them an opportunity to hone skills that are highly desired in today’s job market of which social media is an integral part. For example, posters can be used to share via social media such a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and LinkedIn.