Feature Stories 2024: Monika Kristjánsdóttir '25: Making an impact

Monika Janina Kristjánsdóttir
Feature Stories 2024: Monika Kristjánsdóttir '25: Making an impact
Monika Kristjánsdóttir '25: Making an impact

First-generation international honors student-athlete uses talents and passions to make a difference

Entering college as a first-generation student can already be intimidating. Now imagine doing so in a foreign country. Þingeyri, Iceland native and first-generation college student Monika Janina Kristjánsdóttir advises first-gen and international students to trust yourself and remember your goals, and why you wanted to pursue them in the first place.

"Going to college in another country is challenging at times. It can feel like you're living in two worlds," said Kristjánsdóttir. "Studying in another country gives you so much more than an education. The lessons in class don't teach you everything in life. Living abroad has taught me more about different cultures and I've learned a lot about myself exploring a new land."

Why UMassD?

Coming from a country with immense and diverse natural beauty, Kristjánsdóttir wanted to study on a U.S. campus where she could connect to nature. With 710 acres of land making up UMass Dartmouth's campus, more than half of which is undeveloped forestry, she felt at home off the beaten path of city life.

"I'm still close enough to spend a day in Boston whenever I want, but personally, I find it easier to focus on a suburban campus secluded in the forest. I'm also a huge fan of our architecture. It reminds me of Sci-Fi movies and starships from Star Wars. Which is actually a good analogy since we all come to this place and then take starships on separate paths."

Studying graphic design

Entering her final year of high school during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kristjánsdóttir spent that pivotal year ramping up her drawing and painting while social distancing, even entering her work into an art exhibition in Iceland. The combination of her passion for design and the acknowledgment she received solidified her decision to pursue a major and career in the arts.

"I chose graphic design because you can do so many things with a graphic design degree. From posters to motion graphics to package design, there will always be a job market for graphic designers, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of designing. I still love to paint, but I want to keep that as a hobby for myself or a side-hustle, instead of dedicating my career to it."

Also a fashion design minor and sustainability advocate, Kristjánsdóttir is looking into ways to combine these three passions in an emerging field called "fashion coding", a practice that involves coding garments into your computer, then 3D printing them where needed. The hope would be to eliminate carbon emission of cargo ships and planes carrying heavy mass-produced articles of clothing across the world from manufacturer to retailer.

"I think it's really important for everyone, especially designers, to consider how they can make an impact in their field. Combining studies in graphic design and fashion is an opportunity I wouldn't have had back home in Iceland, since Icelandic universities don't really have minors."

When asked whether she had a professor or class that motivated her to embark on this path, Kristjánsdóttir found it challenging to narrow it down to just one.

"I feel like all the faculty in the College of Visual and Performing Arts are so supportive and want nothing but the best for all their students. They don't look at you as a number. They're just so human. I don't think I can choose one favorite professor or class. I've appreciated all of them!"


On top of managing her major and minor, being a member of the Honors College, and being an international student, Kristjánsdóttir also makes time to play on the women's volleyball team, who won their first Little East Conference (LEC) league championship this year.

How difficult is it to find time between athletics, classes, and extracurriculars?

"As a student-athlete, you're forced to learn how to manage your time well. You sacrifice a little bit of time socially but you get so much out of being an athlete and part of a team. If something is really important to you, you'll make time for it. My professors and my coaches have been very supportive and accommodating of my involvements in both academics and athletics."

How rewarding was it to win the volleyball team's first league championship?

"It felt like a dream. That evening was electrifying. I'm so honored to have been part of this team. We put in the work and completed all our small goals in order to reach our ultimate goal. I'll always remember this experience and it's very cool to forever leave a mark behind at UMass Dartmouth."

What's your favorite thing about the volleyball team?

"The culture of our team. I have teammates from 12 different U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Greece. We're all very dedicated to the team's goals and everyone is so supportive of one another. This is the greatest reason for our success."

Kristjánsdóttir (second from right) celebrates a point with her team.
Kristjánsdóttir (second from the right) celebrates a point with her teammates.

LEC Undivided logo

Shortly after winning an LEC championship for her performance on the court, Kristjánsdóttir won another award from the athletic conference, as they chose her proposed logo for a new initiative, LEC Undivided.

The mission of LEC Undivided is to provide an inclusive space where student-athletes are empowered and unified in promoting awareness and understanding of relevant issues impacting student-athletes of color and bridging the gap between those groups that are underrepresented and those that are in the majority.

LEC Undivided Logo, by Monika Kristjánsdóttir
LEC Undivided Logo, by Monika Kristjánsdóttir.

"This was a challenging task. The conference reached out to all 9 schools in the league requesting proposals from their student-athletes in just two weeks. To make a logo that is relevant, bold, and unique, but also fits exisiting brand standards, and encompasses the values of a new initiative is a heavy task, especially as I was in the midst of the NCAA National Tournament.

"I found inspiration in the Olympics' logo, which is one of the best logos in the world due to its ability to convey unity in a universal language. Taking that concept, I made a design that looks like a bunch of athletes in a huddle sharing the same head.

"It made me really happy to hear my design was chosen because I put a lot of work into this in a short period of time. I wanted it to be thoughtful – I think it's really important to broaden culture and amplify voices in minority groups in athletics, so I'm happy to play a role in doing so."

This wasn't the first logo Kristjánsdóttir designed for an organization with a cause. Rescue snowmobiles and cars in her hometown don a logo she created below:

DYRI Logo, by Monika Kristjánsdóttir

Looking back

Do you have any advice for international students considering study in the U.S.?

"Be open-minded. It can get challenging at times, but things will get better if you commit yourself to them. Push yourself to go out and make new connections. There are a lot more opportunities here than back at home in Iceland, as there are so many huge international brands to connect with here. Working for one of them looks great on any résumé, and provides you with a lot of long-lasting connections and friends who can help point you in the right direction."

Connect with Monika

Monika welcomes connections and followers on her Design InstagramLinkedIn, and portfolio.