Kent Hikida ’85 knows the value of the Bennington network extends long after graduation. Along with his wife, Amy Schweitzer Hikida ’85, he co-chairs the New York City Steering Committee for the Bennington Alumni Cooperative.
Over this winter’s Field Work Term, Hikida hosted Bennington students and alumni interested in architecture and design at The Switzer Group, where he is a principal architect, for an Architect’s Winter Warm Up meet-and-greet.
Events that connect students and alumni foster a larger sense of community, explains Hikida.
“Whenever alumni see students, we’re inspired,” said Hikida. “It brings us back to when we were students, and we have a lot in common, despite however many years go by.”
Though four years may seem daunting to students just beginning their collegiate journeys, Hikida is quick to welcome even newly admitted students to the Bennington alumni community.
“They’ll be alumni a lot longer than they’ll be current students,” said Hikida, and those bonds only grow stronger over time. “There’s a real affinity between alumni and current students, which doesn’t change over the years. Someone can be a first-year student or an alum from 40 years ago, and they’ll still feel that connection.”
Rohail Altaf ’17, Faruk Calkic ’18, Frances Erlandson ’20, River Valadez ’20, and Akanchya Maskay ’21 joined the Hikidas for the Winter Warm Up event. The group discussed Bennington’s campus renewal endeavors, and Maskay shared her recent Field Work Term experience interning at Christoff: Finio Architecture, the firm behind Bennington College’s Commons renovation.
“It was exciting for Akanchya,” said Hikida. “She’s seen progress photos of the renovation, and then she got a new perspective from the architect’s side working from their New York-based office.”
The group also shared stories of Field Work Term experiences past and present.
“We had a helpful discussion about where a six- to eight-week-long Field Work Term experience may fit within the scope of a normal architecture project, which last months or even years,” said Hikida. “For me, that sparked thoughts to help alumni re-envision how we offer Field Work Terms to students, ways to introduce our work by giving students specific assignments that are important to our clients within that broader project.”
The gatherings Hikida now hosts mirror those offered to him during own admissions process. Hikida, who came to Bennington from California, never visited campus prior to enrolling, but he felt welcomed even before he arrived.
“After I applied, there was a meeting of prospective students hosted at an alum’s home in Berkeley,” said Hikida. “The director of admissions met my father and me, and afterwards, he sent a nice personalized note with an article he had clipped out because he knew I was interested in writing and music. The article was about Bill Dixon, who ended up being my first advisor.”
As a high school student, Hikida was disillusioned by traditional education that “felt like learning to check off boxes in order to go to the next step, rather than learning for learning’s sake.” For college, he decided he wanted a low student-to-teacher ratio and to create his own curriculum without being confined to a major.
“As a sophomore, I spent my free time at the library looking through college guides, and Bennington came out on top of the list,” said Hikida. When it came time to start, “I got a map, got into the car with a friend, and together we drove 3,000 miles to Bennington. It worked out well; it was everything and more than I wanted.”
While at Bennington, Hikida’s studies were focused on Architecture and Literature, but he never felt limited to just these fields.
“Even as a senior, as I worked on my thesis, I was still able to take music and photography courses,” said Hikida. “The opportunity, time, and space that allowed me to to have a broad liberal arts education shaped me as an architect and a person.”
Similarly, his Field Work Term experiences ranged across disciplines. He found inspiration and help along the way from both the Bennington community and his own family.
“During my first Field Work Term, I wanted to travel, so I found a position as an artist assistant with Susan Unger ’71, who was living in Northern Spain while running a silkscreening studio,” said Hikida.
For his second Field Work Term, Hikida—whose sister is a clinical psychologist and whose mother was a marriage and family counselor—decided to pursue an internship in psychology. He took a position in Berkeley working with schizophrenic kids and teens.
“One of the values of Field Work Term is it not only leads you in directions you might want to go, but it also lets you know there are certain paths you might not want,” said Hikida. “From both of those experiences, I felt like I wasn’t going to be an artist living in Spain or a psychotherapist.”
Hikida’s third Field Work Term, however, was right up his alley. He worked for the father of his classmate, Nathan Thompson ’86, who was a carpenter and ran a small building firm in Berkeley.
“During that Field Work Term, I realized how much I liked building, construction, and 3-D problem solving, which reinforced my love of architecture,” said Hikida. “But all of my Field Work Terms were valuable chances to explore, whether or not they were in fields I thought I’d go into.”
The process of seeking out Field Work Term experiences was also its own lesson, one which continued to serve Hikida after graduation.
“Architecture wasn’t booming in Boston in the late 1980s, so I had to be scrappy,” said Hikida. “But I had the experience of sending out letters, being persistent, and following up. Field Work Term gives you the grit and determination you need to make it a job to find a job.”
Eventually, Hikida says, this resilience pays off.
“Architecture is a cyclical business,” said Hikida. “When there’s a recession, many people lose their jobs and decide to pursue another field. But if you keep at it when others don’t, there is a gradual pay off. When the economy picks up, and there are fewer people with years of experience in the game, you can be highly sought after. It becomes simple supply and demand.”
Hikida loves Randy Pausch’s quote from The Last Lecture about the reason for brick walls: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
“Life does not just open doors for people; it takes persistence and nerves before you get to the yes,” said Hikida. “But plugging along, not taking no for an answer, is really useful.”
Bennington students and alumni interested in connecting with Kent Hikida are welcome to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo, from left: Kent Hikida ('85), Amy Schweitzer Hikida ('85), Rohail Altaf ('17), Faruk Calkic ('18), River Valadez ('20), and Akanchya Maskay ('21). Not pictured: Frances Erlandson ('20).
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer