Project takes Interactive Media students to Iceland to discover connection between art, innovation

As part of their Winter Term “fly-in” experience, six graduate students in the Interactive Media master’s program traveled to Iceland to collect content for a monthlong project for the public good.

Every January, students in Elon University’s Interactive Media program divide into teams and travel abroad as part of the service-learning class “Interactive Project for the Public Good.” This year Team Inspire and Ice, consisting of six Elon graduate students and two School of Communications faculty members, spent a week working with its client, Brandur Karlsson, who founded the social innovation center Frumbjörg in Iceland.

Students and faculty members in the Interactive Media master’s program meet with Icelandic President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson during their weeklong visit to Iceland in January. Pictured (front, from left) are Associate Professor Derek Lackaff, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, Bria Bass, Drew Dimos, (back) Amanda Jones, Kelly Dunville, Virginia Merrill and Kara Wagner.
​While in Iceland collecting audio and video content for their monthlong project, the students helped Frumbjörg host a 24-hour “Innovation Day” focused on developing solutions for individuals with physical disabilities, while also improving the organization’s social media presence and community awareness. The one-day event featured several prominent guests, including Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the president of Iceland. Collectively, the students said they were inspired by both the strides being made at Frumbjörg as well as the personal story of their client.

Karlsson competed in judo, a martial art that emphasizes the use of quick movement, until the age of 23 and over time began experiencing cramping and loss of feeling in his limbs. He knew he was not just falling out of form, but rather that he was suffering a severe health issue. After being misdiagnosed with a brain tumor and then with multiple sclerosis, Karlsson accepted his fate: he would not live past the age of 30.

Karlsson described his reaction to the diagnosis as a liberation; there was a certain element of freedom in accepting death. However, he consulted a third opinion and was informed that he would live, but would remain paralyzed. In jest, Karlsson admitted, “once I realized I wasn’t going to die, I had to decide what to do with my life.” An artist, Karlsson began selling his mouth paintings, raising enough money to rent an office that eventually became Frumbjörg. His diagnosis provided him with a blank canvas and, with that blank canvas, he began to work toward transforming the lives of people with disabilities in Iceland.

​Because of their unique methods for problem solving, individuals with disabilities can often be viewed as some of the most resourceful and most valuable members of society. Frumbjörg is harnessing this power, creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and showing the country that individual outlooks can impact innovation.

“Iceland is a relatively small society, where innovative initiatives like Frumbjörg can quickly make important contributions,” said Associate Professor Derek Lackaff, the course’s instructor. “The team had the opportunity to see how the culture of innovation is developing there, and to develop their interactive media skillsets in the service of a very worthy goal.”

In addition to meeting and interviewing the president of Iceland, the team interviewed dozens of other people, including business leaders, entrepreneurs, social welfare advocates, and a member of parliament.

“When Brandur described his mental and physical journey to us, I realized that making an impact takes no more than a voice, and that was such powerful lesson to learn,” said graduate student Virginia Merrill, the project’s content strategist. “It has inspired me to use my voice to make an impact in the future.”

​In addition to Merrill, Team Inspire and Ice included students Amanda Jones (project manager), Bria Bass (videographer), Kara Wagner (social media strategy), Kelly Dunville (graphic designer) and Drew Dimos (web development). Assistant Professor Doug Kass accompanied Lackaff’s class to Iceland as a co-adviser.

Team Inspire and Ice’s final project will include a website, extensive video content and photography, a new brand identity and social media strategy. A website chronicling the project is accessible at, and the team also has social media feeds on Twitter and Instagram.

The four final projects of this year’s “Interactive Projects for the Public Good” course will be unveiled during a Wednesday, Jan. 25, presentation in Turner Theatre. The event begins at noon. The presentation includes project overviews from the other iMedia teams that traveled to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Co-written by Virginia Merrill and Kara Wagner