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Margarita Barrios Ponce, Art + Design

The College of Arts, Media and Design is pleased to announce Margarita Barrios Ponce, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Art + Design, as the recipient of this year’s CAMD Excellence in Teaching Award. She is a strategic and visual communications professional who combines extensive experience in strategy, branding, and design through private practice and academia. Barrios Ponce, who teaches courses in graphic design and typography and serves as Faculty Advisor for Scout, is dedicated to her students’ success both in- and outside the classroom and challenges them to approach design with independence, thoughtfulness, and innovation.

Barrios Ponce has been the Faculty Advisor for Scout, Northeastern’s student-led design studio, for four years, a role that includes both mentoring and administrative support. She meets regularly with Scout’s Executive Directors and other student leaders to provide strategic vision, and works with all the team members to provide guidance and support on their Scout labs and studio client projects. She also helps connect Scout with resources and networks within the University while guiding their participation and leadership within Mosaic, an alliance of student-led organizations that support venture incubation and entrepreneurship here at Northeastern.

“It has been a rewarding experience working with Scout, which has really become the group to watch on campus. Their work is professional, they have built an internal culture that embraces supporting each other, and their close-knit network is impressive. Alumni are eager to come back to help, and that is unique and special,” explained Barrios Ponce. “I love working with student led organizations, because here at Northeastern, they provide such a learning and growth opportunity for their members. A student that has gone through Scout, or any student led organization in Mosaic, for example, has built something, managed people, marketed, communicated, demonstrated leadership, provided a service, and so much more.”

In addition to her work with Scout, Barrios Ponce currently teaches Graphic Design I and II, has taught typography and color in the past, and is leading two independent studies (check out student work designed for Cause Inform from Graphic Design II here). She describes her approach to teaching as helping students take the knowledge they already have and turn it into something bigger, allowing them to find their voice and make their own mark on society.

“My approach to teaching focuses on demonstrating that design can facilitate impact through solutions, ideas, and information, that it can cut across disciplines, and that it can be used to better understand oneself and the world around us. When students enter my class, they tend to have the foundational understanding of design concepts. I help them continue to grow their expertise and pursue independent thinking and interdisciplinary exploration,” she said. “By the time they get to me, I encourage them to make a big, loud noise in the world. Watching a student find his or her voice is one of the most gratifying parts of teaching.”

Throughout her teaching, as well as her design practice, Professor Barrios Ponce is committed to advancing the communication field and nurturing socially minded individuals. Her interest in communication started when she was a child, when she moved from her home country of Venezuela to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she attended a German / English school. As a native Spanish speaker, starting at this school made her aware of an interesting situation many people face, herself included at that time: having a need for information, but not being able to communicate due to language barriers. For Barrios Ponce, this became an exercise in finding the minimum amount of communication necessary to still fully relay an idea – and that sparked a lifelong interest in exploring the overlap and combinations of psychology and graphic design, and how much of communication needs to be language. To this question, visual communication became an answer, and Barrios Ponce dedicated her time exploring design as a way to clarify information and speak one’s mind.

“I am constantly exploring and understanding how design can provide access and solutions to real problems, as well as raise awareness,” said Barrios Ponce. “It is important to take responsibility for the communication you are transmitting into the world, and think about (and have empathy for) the recipient of information. It is important to always consider cultural contexts and how your message is being distributed. For instance, communication mediums can have a large impact on how the recipient understands knowledge. I have learned this working in the field as a designer, and I am committed to sharing this knowledge with my students.”

And her students are equally excited to hear about her experiences in the field. In fact, Barrios Ponce’s professional experience is one of the things her students love most, as they tend to be drawn to learning about client relations.

“I have found that students are often fascinated with different ways of handling client relationships,” Barrios Ponce said. “Effective design means being able to interpret your audience needs, and learning how to explain to a client the authentic reasons behind your design decisions.”

Barrios Ponce values applying her real-world experience to the classroom teachings, and initiates a speaker series with her students, bringing in designers and practitioners from a range of fields. Sometimes, students do not push the boundaries of their ideas for a class project they are working on until they hear stories, examples, and tips from real-world professionals.

“I try to ensure my class helps instill confidence in my students,” said Barrios Ponce. “Witnessing the transformation of a student into a leader and an entrepreneur is so rewarding as an educator. To get there, we work hard. We set standards. We set goals. We work together.”

Congratulations, Margarita Barrios Ponce!

About the CAMD Excellence in Teaching Award

The CAMD Excellence in Teaching Award is an annual award that recognizes curricular innovativeness, including classroom teaching innovations and the development of new programs; evidence of excellent teaching and a positive impact on student learning, including the ability to create an engaging classroom experience for students; support of student initiatives; evidence of research-led teaching; and evidence of professional development relating to teaching. Any member of the Northeastern community, including students, faculty, or administrators may nominate a CAMD faculty member. The nominees for this award were evaluated based on the strength of their teaching narratives and related course materials, the testimonials provided by way of their nominations, and their TRACE reports. Thank you to the Executive Committee for their recommendations on the CAMD Excellence in Teaching Award: Matthew C. Nisbet, Chair (Communication Studies), Xavier Costa (Architecture), Nathan Felde (Art + Design), Laurel Leff (Journalism), Antonio Ocampo-Guzman (Theatre), and Ronald Smith (Music).

Past Recipients:


Carlene Hempel, School of Journalism*

Susan Picillo, Communication Studies


Pedro Cruz, Art + Design

Brooke Foucault Welles, Communication Studies*

*Winner of the University-wide competition for Excellence in Teaching.