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It is a ritual every college student knows well: staying up late and handing in a research paper the next day to the professor standing at the front of the room. But in Martha Vaughan’s illustration class, that ritual is turned completely upside down. Professor Vaughan stands at the front of the room and gives out research papers, then asks her students to illustrate what they read.

Jamie Shuey
Jamie Shuey

This year, 18 illustration students created original artwork based on their reading of social science papers. The poster project is part of an innovative interdisciplinary program that brings together students in the Media Arts and Technology Department with students in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice.

“The art gets people interested in the topics and brings the papers to life,” says Dr. Charlotte Twombly, professor of sociology, who helped to create the poster program 12 years ago.

Jamie Shuey wrote a paper on the Kashmir Battle for her anthropology class. “The battle has been ongoing—it has not ended for decades, and the artwork really portrays it. It matched the paper so well,” she says.

Shuey added that she feels more confident in her writing after seeing the art. “He got what I was saying very well,” she says of illustration student Benjamin Mendoza.

Art pieces with author and artists names

Another student, illustrator Francis Barbera, says creating images for Maryamawit Abate’s paper on ethnic conflict in Ethiopia taught him about a subject he never heard of before. Abate, who is from Ethiopia, says she became emotional when she saw Abate’s work. “It is just really breathtaking. It was just perfect, beyond words,” she says.

In addition to the cross-discipline learning experience, the student writers and illustrators in the poster program get a real-world experience. Writers submit papers to a faculty jury, and then make revisions based on comments from the review team. “This is a learning process for students because someone other than their own professor is reviewing their work,” says Cynthia Pfanstiehl, professor of anthropology. The writing students also learn to trust that the artist will interpret the written work in a way that reflects the original intent.

Francis Barbera and Maryamawit Abate
Francis Barbera and Maryamawit Abate

Art students interpret the paper before meeting the writer, which is common in the real world says Martha Vaughan. As an illustrator herself, she rarely gets to meet the author during the process of working on a book or a newspaper project.

Student illustrator Nirut Sreearayanpong says he felt the pressure. “I had to read the paper and, in order to make the best art, I had to read it really well and make sure they were matched,” he says. Sreearayanpong illustrated Katherine Perez’s paper on women in the military.

After the illustrations are completed, artists and writers attend a big “reveal” reception.

 Nairoot Sreearayanpong
Nirut Sreearayanpong

Vaughan says the whole class, including herself, learns a lot from the entire process. “Working this way is much more meaningful than hearing a lecture; the students can tell me about the subject, and they are much more likely to retain it.”

According to Vaughan, the illustrators and writers learn that they share many of the same challenges. Just as the writers have to edit their papers, illustrators have to “edit” their art.

“It is hard to condense a whole paper into one picture,” says Vaughan, “but our students rise to challenge.”


Authors and Artists From Center Images:
Social Media and Depression by Erick Alvarez; illustrated by Yvonne Monterrosa
Women in the U.S. Military by Katherine Perez; illustrated by Madeleine Spears
Gender Courses in a College Curriculum by Xavier Fernandez; illustrated by Cynthia Bautista
Population Aging and Long-term Care in China by Chyrell King; illustrated by Michael Eckard
Dia de Los Muertos by Elina Karimova; illustrated by Emily Hoover

For a complete list of participants click here.

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