Benjamin Hackenberger '15

Major: Environmental Analysis

Profession: Landscape Architecture

Hometown: Ellensburg, WA

What are you doing now? 

I work in a landscape architecture and planning firm in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, where I am in a dual role of designer and training manager. Because there are no professional training programs in landscape architecture in Georgia, we are developing an apprenticeship program to bring Georgian architecture students into the field of landscape.

How did you get there? 

Through a Claremont connection! One of my undergraduate thesis advisors, Lance Neckar, was teaching landscape architecture before moving to environmental analysis at Pitzer. When I was in my second year of my master of landscape architecture (MLA) at Harvard University Graduate School of Design I knew I wanted an international internship and that I was interested in Central Asia and the Caucasus. I reached out to Lance, and when I mentioned my interest in Georgia and the Caucasus, he connected me with one of his colleagues, Sarah Cowles, whose research is on Georgia. Sarah was just about to return to Tbilisi to start her firm, but we were able to meet in L.A. the day before her flight. We made a plan for a hybrid role where I would serve as a designer and trainer while also doing preliminary research for my MLA thesis project, and I spent the summer of 2019 working in Tbilisi. I returned to Tbilisi in the winter to do more targeted research, and after I received my MLA last spring, I moved to Tbilisi to fill a permanent position in the company.

How did Pomona prepare you? 

The best thing about Pomona is that many of us become educators in one capacity or another. I think rather than just teaching the intellectual skills that underpin my professional degree in landscape, Pomona showed me how to approach the act of teaching by learning at the same time. Working in the Writing Center was a huge part of this, because as peer tutors we were constantly in a position of partial authority. You can't just tell someone how to write an essay for a class you have never taken—you have to actually collaborate to figure out their next steps. This is a really important skill for landscape architects because while we act as technical experts, we get better results when we help our clients see the potential impacts of their projects. Our biggest challenge is developing a technically good design while simultaneously guiding the project toward broader goals like ecological sensitivity and the cultural integrity of public space. Working in landscape is always about this balance of gathering information and proposing new approaches to design, because as designers of "landscape" we are never fully in control of the ecological or cultural implications of our projects, but we can guide them toward better outcomes.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

As always, it's hard to say, but I'll continue working in landscape architecture and possibly work toward my professional certification in the U.S. or Europe to become a licensed landscape architect, also called a registered landscape architect.

Any advice for current or prospective students?  

Pursuing a degree in the liberal arts sometimes felt strange once I decided I was ultimately trying to pursue a professional degree. However, there was a lot of time to explore before I was actually able to complete my professional degree. In looking for courses, internships and research experience I often found that I was not technically qualified for the specific thing that I wanted to be doing (architecture or landscape), so I ended up looking for opportunities in adjacent fields. Ultimately this was helpful because it meant I developed other skills like archival research, writing, and teaching. I also could spend a lot of time thinking about why I was doing those things and how they might eventually relate to a professional design degree. In that sense, I can see a lot of continuity between the questions I was interested in at Pomona and the professional work I'm doing today. So I would say it's best to trust your gut in terms of your course of study, and to lean into the questions that deeply interest you even if they don't lead directly into your next steps.