By Hajra Farooqui
College students around the world constantly face an enormous dilemma: How does one choose a field of study that guarantees sustained intellectual stimulation, is applicable to the daily functioning of the real world, can offer financial support and can keep our indecisive moving selves rationally happy in the long term? The truth is, this is not an easy question, and is one with many answers. To help students think through these questions the Humanities Research Center joined with Duke Kunshan Careers Services to invite Imran Khan to present at the Humanities Career Forum.
Khan, Chief Creative Executive at IMMY Media UG Germany is an accomplished professional in the line of new media having worked with big names in the industry like Google, Warner Brothers, Netflix and Hulu. Starting off with a double major in Biochemical Engineering and Musical Theatre from Northwestern University in the United States, Khan worked in the television industry for over ten years before pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia Business School. Charismatic and cheerful, Khan shared and provided key insight as to how a humanities degree has the potential to prepare students for the real world.
Khan emphasized the importance of building and identifying a toolkit—a set of unique skills that each student has the chance to grow and polish during their time at college. He believes that with the right framework and effort, one is able to apply a lot of what one learns at a liberal arts program.
The first invaluable skill that Khan shared with our audience is the ability to work well within a team. He believes that team building is a cardinal aspect of the corporate world and the success of an institution is based on its ability to delegate and perform tasks efficiently. In order to illustrate what is required in effective team-building, he asked our students to take part in a theatre exercise that allowed them to brainstorm ideas about a new soft drink in the market. The guidelines outlined that no idea was bad and that one could only expand on your teammate’s idea about the drink’s characteristics. It was an interactive way of demonstrating how successful teamwork relies greatly on collaboration, brainstorming, creativity, and understanding your teammates well by listening to their input. This was followed by another interactive session that divided the seminar into pairs, allowing people to take part in a theatre exercise that highlighted the importance of listening and paying attention to the contributions of one’s teammates. For Khan, these are all important aspects that he was able to learn and utilize in his career due to his background and understanding of musical theatre theory.
Throughout his presentation, Khan was quick to highlight that the diversity in the student body of our first undergraduate cohort coupled with the interdisciplinary approach to academics that is quintessential to the spirit of Duke Kunshan University are aspects that will provide the students with great opportunities for individual and professional growth. Through anecdotes of his experience working with diverse professionals, Khan focused on the importance of diversity of thought and perspective in teamwork and mutual learning. He encouraged students to stay informed about the world and the importance of not only knowing facts and statistical evidence but understanding how to use them effectively in order to make your argument stronger. Khan, teaching by example urged the audience to be aware of the importance of a good story: personal stories can help illustrate abstract phenomena in simpler terms so it is successful in making an impact.
Khan identified brainstorming systemically as a major reason for the success of mammoths like Google and Netflix in an ever-changing world of technology and innovation. By letting students propose ideas for a dating app he was able to show how students can find great ideas using the resources around them. He believes that one can always put on a black hat afterwards to sift through these initial thoughts by using the lens of practicality and feasibility.
In the end, Imran Khan reminded everyone of the importance of remaining excited and motivated as we go through the process of handcrafting a path that aligns with our interests and the real world.