Can you explain the type of work you do with Cooper Hewitt?
As the youth programs manager, I arrange all of the workshops, college tours, and studio visits for DesignPrep, Cooper Hewitt’s free teen programs. Our programs connect high school students to professional designers in different disciplines who lead hands-on workshops. Students tackle design challenges and take on the role of designer in these workshops, so they get a taste of what it’s like to work as a professional designer.

What was your background before coming to Cooper Hewitt?
I have a BFA in industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design, and spent a little time working as a designer before starting my current position at Cooper Hewitt, but in many ways Cooper Hewitt is my background. The story is equal parts amusing and embarrassing, but I grew up in New York City and throughout high school I attended the very same teen programs I now run. Back then it was called Design Directions, but the essence of the program remains the same and played a large part in my high school education and college decision.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
It’s great to see students evolve as designers and creative thinkers. I’ve had students who were indifferent to school and college completely change course because they discovered career opportunities that excited them and inspired them to continue their education.

What has been your most memorable moment at the Cooper Hewitt?
A group of our students were invited to join the National Design Award winners for a luncheon at the White House this year that First Lady Michelle Obama hosted in conjunction with Cooper Hewitt. These students represent the next generation of designers. At one point, Mrs. Obama asked them to stand and the whole room applauded. The experience was just, “wow.”

How has the renovation either opened new doors or posed new challenges for you?
It’s always funny trying to explain how you work at a museum that’s closed, because people want to know what you do. I have to explain that the building may be closed but we are still really busy! The education department runs programs all over the city and even the country, and we haven’t slowed down at all.

What are you most excited about once the museum reopens?
I cannot wait to bring students back into the museum and have them connect with our collection. We have such an amazing resource of design objects to educate them on the history of design, but also to inspire them when working on their own projects.

How would you describe good design? Bad design?
Good design is something that makes you happy when you use it. Bad design leaves you confused, frustrated, or annoyed.

Finally, if you could redesign anything, what would it be?
Public education. I think our system for educating K-12 students needs an infusion of design thinking to help maximize student potential and make learning fun and interesting.

2 thoughts on “Meet the Staff: Halima Johnson

Hi Halima, I love the great work you do at Cooper Hewitt. I hope you received the package I sent you featuring the new “Squanglecirtrapagon” art form. It would be a dream come true if you think it can be worked into an educational program at the Cooper Hewitt. Thanks and Happy New Year. Sincerely, Christopher Reid

Hi Halima!This is Clara from International Youth Fellowship. I am a volunteer for the IYF World Camp – Innovation Academy. The Innovation Academy is a workshop opportunity during the IYF World Camp where students meet, connect with, and learn from professionals like yourself. We would like to ask whether you would be interested in volunteering and teaching a four-day Design Academy during our seventh IYF World Camp this August.

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