Ann McDonald, asso­ciate pro­fessor of art and design at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, always encour­ages her stu­dents to create pieces that have the power to ignite global con­ver­sa­tions about reli­gion, eth­nicity and sexual orientation.

Two of her star pupils—Kate Ter­rando  and Christie O’Laughlin, both AMD’10—acted on these words of wisdom.

During a two-​​week sym­po­sium in Berlin last summer, the pair col­lab­o­rated with stu­dents from China, Ger­many, Israel, Russia, Poland and Eng­land to design a mul­ti­media exhi­bi­tion called “Cul­ture, Migra­tion and Representation.”

In July, the exhi­bi­tion won the 2011 Design Edu­ca­tion Ini­tia­tives Award from the design mag­a­zine Core77.

As one member of the inter­na­tional jury put it, the exhibition’s “phi­los­ophy of social democ­racy has the poten­tial to foster trans­for­ma­tion through the pro­mo­tion of empathy, mutual under­standing and social justice.”

The project was part of an ongoing ini­tia­tive called Sticks + Stones, cre­ated in 2006 by McDonald and col­leagues at Weber State Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park.

Graphic designers, McDonald noted, should assume proac­tive roles in sup­port of com­mu­nity and society. “Our job is to find a way to visu­ally com­mu­ni­cate dif­fi­cult issues to the broader public so that we may open up a dia­logue,” she explained.

Stu­dents must think of them­selves as insti­ga­tors and find ways for design to make a dif­fer­ence in the world,” McDonald said. “Visual com­mu­ni­ca­tion can reach across cul­tures and disarm people in ways that can be very powerful.”

Ter­rando and O’Laughlin enjoyed the chance to col­lab­o­rate with stu­dents from around the world.

The best part of col­lab­o­rating with others is the mutual learning that goes on,” said Ter­rando, who acted as curator of the inter­na­tional exhi­bi­tion and now designs graphics for Small Design Firm, in Cam­bridge, Mass. “The project chal­lenged me to ask myself and those around me better questions.”

O’Laughlin, who cur­rently teaches Eng­lish to stu­dents in Thai­land, attended the Berlin sym­po­sium through an Office of the Provost under­grad­uate research grant. For the exhi­bi­tion, she designed infor­ma­tion graphics that explored the rela­tion­ship between the birth­place of immi­grants in the United States and the kind of job they held.

For her, the project gen­er­ated as many ques­tions as answers. “We had a great dis­cus­sion about how stereo­types impact us,” she said. “But the dif­fi­cult ques­tion to answer is why people con­tinue to stereo­type. Is everyone guilty of judging one another?”