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Sep 21, 2021 By IIDA HQ
2021 IIDA Student of the Year Jen Khor
Jen Khor, Student IIDA, shares with us her journey as an interior design student—why she chose design, what it means to be involved in IIDA and other professional organizations as a student, and the importance of being intentional.
By IIDA HQ Sep 21, 2021
Published in

The 2021 recipient of The IIDA Student of the Year Award is Jen Khor, Student IIDA, a student at California State University, Long Beach. Over the course of her membership and time as a student, Jen has held numerous leadership roles in her student community including vice president of the Design Student Association, student senator, and environmental aff­airs officer at SD Mesa College, CA, and treasurer of her ASID Student Chapter. She has also held internships at Nevermore Group in Penang, Malaysia, Retail Design Collaborative in Long Beach, and most recently at Revel Architecture & Design in San Francisco.

Jen is passionate about being an advocate and evangelist for sustainability and green design who believes that design should foster a deeper connection between people and space while minimizing environmental impact. She is a LEED accredited Green associate. As IIDA’s Student of the Year, Jen hopes to encourage more student-level engagement providing other students with the benefits of membership that she has enjoyed like the IIDA Student Mentoring Program, professional development, and exposure to other designers in a professional capacity.

We sat down with Jen to allow her the opportunity to speak about her design journey, what she’s passionate about, and being a part of IIDA

What inspired you to pursue interior design? Do you have a focus or particular area of interest?

I have always been intrigued by art and science, and my ideal career path has been to pursue a career in which art and science intersect. I found my calling while visiting an architecture firm in San Diego where I was fascinated to learn how a well-designed interior space can positively and directly impact human lives. It led me to opt for interior design as my college major, allowing me to acquire both creative and technical skill sets while being able to better the lives of individuals.

As I progress in my studies, I find myself drawn to sustainable designs which I attribute to my love of nature. I believe a good interior designer will exceed the operational and aesthetic expectations of the clients, while taking it further through incorporating sustainability—by conscious material use and optimizing the efficiency performance of the built environment. On top of that, sustainability should also foster a deeper connection between people and spaces, minimizing the environmental impact on a larger scale. For instance, creating designs that people feel emotionally connected to, while simultaneously reducing building mass and footprint, in conjunction with optimizing functionality and experiences that are meant to last.

How has being involved in your campus or city center shaped your design education and how you interact with your community?

2021 marks my fourth year as an IIDA Student Member. Throughout this fruitful journey, IIDA opened doors for me to infinite opportunities to build a diverse skill set, and to meet important mentors who have encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. These invaluable experiences have given me fresh perspectives and helped improve the maturity of my design approach. With the help of IIDA, I am more confident in my transition from a student to a professional.

What sorts of programs would you recommend other students take advantage of during their time at school?

Definitely the Student Mentoring Program! While I'm in school, I am one of those students who asks thousands of questions, which I can attribute to my passion for design. I am eager to understand every aspect of design including design development, construction process, industry insights, business connection, client communication, and more. In fact, some of these questions are too broad to be understood through academic lectures and practices and require physical involvement and practical experiences to fully understand.

Throughout the years, the IIDA Student Mentoring Program has provided me with amazing opportunities to connect with multiple well-established firms and highly experienced professionals, to understand the day-to-day task of a designer, and ask questions on an open platform. As a result of this program, I have broadened my horizons and my design ideas are no longer limited only to what I’ve learned in class. It’s served as a stepping stone in my career that has led to three internships and multiple awards.

What would you say to young interior design students looking to develop their leadership skills?

Leadership can be practiced anywhere. It can range from taking on a role in a group project, or initiating a study group to help other students, to being involved in student organizations and bringing a larger influence in the student body through event planning, communication, and more. When you feel confident in leading within your university, take a leap to contribute on a professional or industry level. I personally think that leadership is a life-long learning process.

What would you say to young designers or students about persistence and perseverance?

In the past few years, I have been actively applying for scholarships and competitions through IIDA but was not once selected until the 2021 Student of The Year award. My previous attempts did not discourage me from continuing to apply because my focus was not solely on public recognition or monetary reward. Instead, I view each attempt as a challenge to break limits and achieve growth. Looking back, my first scholarship essay was about diversity, but I gradually realized I did not fully grasp what diversity meant when I was younger. Every attempt to apply is an exercise for me to learn and grow. The process of learning is the reason that keeps me going in this process until I receive this award and honor.

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