Sessions College Student Creates Winning Design for IRC Phoenix

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Design student Sarah Martinsen wins a competition run by Arizona-based online visual arts school Sessions College to design a brochure for a Phoenix branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). This is a story about an innovative Arizona-based online program bringing design students together to help a leading non-profit organization meet its communications goals.

After two months of intense competition, graphic design student Sarah Martinsen emerged the winner in the Sessions College Spring 2013 Design Competition ( Forty-four students registered in the competition to design a compelling brochure for the IRC in Phoenix, a branch of the International Rescue Committee, the leading non-profit organization ( Founded in 1933, the International Rescue Committee is a global organization dedicated to responding to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helping people to survive and rebuild their lives.

Design competitions are a regular event at Sessions College (, a fully online school of visual arts located in Tempe, Arizona. Sessions College runs seasonal student design competitions sponsored by leading non-profit companies and organizations. The goal is to give students the chance to compete on a pro bono basis to create graphic or Web designs for non-profit clients with real design needs.

The IRC in Phoenix design competition was launched in May 2013 after the online school began to look for Arizona-based non-profit organizations with which to partner. Sessions College President Gordon Drummond says, "As an Arizona-based school, we decided that even though our students were online, we wanted to use our competitions to help some local organizations. We were absolutely thrilled to have IRC in Phoenix as a partner. Our students could help an outstanding humanitarian organization rally the local support and involvement it needs to help refugees from disasters all over the world.”

After a period of consultation, the IRC in Phoenix decided that it needed a new print brochure to promote its many Arizona-area programs. The goal for the project was to design a new print brochure that would use "high quality design, enhanced graphics, fonts and layout" to inspire recipients to donate, volunteer, join, and get involved.

The competition ran from May to the end of June 2013, with Sessions College faculty Kristen Becker and Margaret Penney acting as judges and mentors, selecting seven finalists, and giving the IRC in Phoenix committee members a challenging task in selecting the best work from many compelling designs.

The competition winner, selected by the IRC in Phoenix in mid-July, was Alaska-based Graphic Design student named Sarah Martinsen. Ms. Martinsen is a Marketing Specialist at the tribal community college in Barrow, Alaska, a town of less than 5,000 inhabitants at the northernmost point of Alaska. She was drawn to the design project because it was a good cause: "I knew that if I won, it would be not only a great portfolio piece and something to be proud of, but incredibly rewarding knowing that I lent a hand in something more meaningful than just a brochure design."

The team at the IRC in Phoenix were evidently excited about Martinsen’s accordion-style brochure design. According to IRC Development Manager Nicky Walker, Sarah's work was "the most unique and striking design. Our marketing team felt that the accordion design was unlike most other brochures being used by non-profits, making it very eye-catching."

“With so many worthy causes and organizations worldwide rallying support," Ms. Walker adds, " It’s critical for an organization to have a central piece of marketing material that clearly and passionately describes its services and compels support. Sarah Martinsen’s design did just that – it effectively communicated the work of the IRC, clearly promoted our services, and inspired people to find ways to get involved.”

Comments Gordon Drummond, Sessions College president: “The competition was quite fierce with a range of high quality finalists presenting work in many different forms – poster, brochure, accordion, trifold. In the end, they chose a piece with a nice presentation value and imaginative interplay of text and images. Sarah Martinsen’s piece will tell the story of the IRC in Phoenix effectively and I hope will help promote the organization’s goals.”

Sessions College ( is a fully online accredited school of visual arts located in the Tempe, Arizona. Founded in 1997, Sessions College offers degree and certificate programs in graphic design, Web design, digital media, and more. A pioneer and leader in distance education, Sessions College has graduated students from more than 80 countries around the world.

To find out more about Sessions College Design Competitions, visit, email competition(at)sessions(dot)edu or call 480 212 1704 ext 160.

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