Lehman College’s Turnbull Speaker Series Resonates in Women’s History Month

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Lehman College’s Turnbull Speaker Series Resonates in Women’s History Month
Feryal Khawar, a senior user experience designer for Amazon, is one of six 2021 Turnbull Series speakers.

Some Americans may not know it, but they have a woman to thank for the N95 medical masks that have become indispensable during the pandemic. Sara Little Turnbull, one of the nation’s first female industrial designers, inspired an early prototype after noticing how frequently medical facility staff needed to adjust flimsier face masks. She reimagined her previous design for molded bra cups to conceptualize a mask that fit better—one of many inventions she’d be linked to throughout her career.

Sixty years later, a new generation of women designers is driving the innovations consumers have come to rely on. That includes Feryal Khawar, a senior user experience designer for Amazon who has helped enhance its Kindle platform. Fittingly, Khawar now has a connection to Turnbull: She’s serving as a guest speaker this Thursday in the second annual Sara Little Turnbull Visiting Designer Speaker Series, a six-part lecture program that resumed this semester.

Organized by Lehman’s Art Gallery and Art Department, the series is part of an effort to create a pipeline into design fields for the College’s most talented students. It’s supported by a $200,000 grant from the Sara Little Turnbull Foundation, which continues Turnbull’s legacy by championing historically underrepresented youth and women in design education, design practice, and leadership.

This year, the series pays special attention to examining the immigration system through the lens of user experience and service design. Like last year, however, speakers will still share important career lessons that can help design students.

Indeed, Khawar will share her career journey and design approach in a lecture titled “Design Thinking: Solutions Based on Empathy and Customer Obsession.” She hopes the talk will inspire others to dream big about their careers. “My success has been the confluence of luck, opportunity, and hard work,” she said.

A Pakistani native who studied math, physics, and artificial intelligence learning, Khawar first worked at a Vancouver information security company after earning a degree in computer systems engineering. However, she said she “soon lost interest in the work.”

Instead, she discovered a passion for digital design and went on to study it at Vancouver Film School, where she also learned about film design. A recruiter would then invite her to join a new web design platform, Amazon Fresh, in Seattle.

“When I joined [the company], I didn’t know how massive Amazon was,” Khawar said.

And there’s a lesson in that for students: “You don’t pursue companies, you pursue interesting work and that will lead you to interesting organizations,” Khawar said.

To learn more about Khawar’s journey and exciting careers in design register for her talk here. The Sara Little Turnbull Visiting Designer Speaker Series runs through March 25.