Lehigh students present TED-style talks at ILO conference


Among the United Nations representatives and visiting scholars who spoke at the International Labor Organization conference (ILO) held at Iacocca Hall on April 11, were a select group of Lehigh students.

Five students across different disciplines gave TED-style talks about what the “Future of Work” means to them.

Maryam Athar Khan, ’19, spoke about the interdisciplinary skills, which she argued will be key in the future of work. As a bioengineering major, she gave the example that an engineer will no longer simply need engineering skills and emphasized the importance of soft skills, such as communicating well and thinking like an entrepreneur.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re working on one project in the lab, but if that product is never going to make it to market, you’re never going to have an impact on the world,” Khan said.

With minors in computer science and economics to compliment her major, Khan embodies the mentality that success in the workplace will stem from having a variety of skills.

Sayed Kalimullah Abed, ’19G, was also selected as one of the featured student speakers. Abed is a Fulbright Scholar from Afghanistan who is pursuing his master’s degree in special education.

Abed talked about the lack of a special education system in Afghanistan and the urgent need for improvement.

“The goal is to raise awareness about special education in my country,” Abed said.

Once his degree is completed, he will be the first person in Afghanistan to have received a master’s degree in special education from the United States. Additionally, he will be returning to Lehigh in the fall as a Ph.D. candidate in special education, eventually making him the first in his country to earn a doctorate in special education.

Bill Hunter, the director of fellowship advising and the United Nations programs at Lehigh, found Abed’s pursuit “extraordinary.” Particularly, Hunter is interested in how Abed will help shape the special education curriculum when he returns to Afghanistan.

As the chair of the planning committee for the conference, Hunter was in charge of choosing the student speakers. He said it was difficult to select the students, but he wanted to ensure that there were students with a diverse mix of backgrounds, who could speak about their perspectives.

Hunter has known Khan since her first week at Lehigh and through her work as a U.N. youth representative. Hunter said one of the reasons Khan was selected was because she thinks of herself as stateless, a mentality which arose from having lived in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and now the United States.

“She’s the true evolving global citizen,” he said. “Someone whose allegiance is to the cause and not necessarily to the company or to the country even.”

Khan had the chance to speak at the U.N. her sophomore year, in celebration of the international day of women and girls in science. In front of the general assembly, she spoke about her personal experience as a woman in STEM. Khan described the event as a “spectacular opportunity” she never thought she would have as a college student.

“It’s so humbling to know these people and to know who they will be in a very short amount of time,” Hunter said. “My job is to open the door for students, empower them and get out of the way. And I mean that, I really do.”

Khan focused on her personal experiences during her speech at the conference.

“I have found the things at Lehigh that have hopefully equipped me enough to handle any challenges that I might face in the future,” she said.

English being his fifth language, Abed was somewhat nervous to give his speech. However, he described the responsibility he felt as Fulbright Scholar to share his culture, especially in front of the influential leaders who were attending the conference.

“My experience has been wonderful at Lehigh that’s why I chose to stay and continue my Ph.D. here,” he said.

Abed is the president of Lehigh’s Fulbright Association. He said he feels grateful for the opportunities he’s had at the university.

“We Fulbrighters consider Lehigh as our home,” he said.

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