Estello Raganit ’14 says getting shut out of a microbiology class in his sophomore year may have been one of the best things that ever happened to him. Raganit took a botany course instead, and it kindled an interest in ecology. And that passion has prompted him to pursue a career in landscape architecture.
“I was planning to major in biology as a pre-med student,” Raganit says, “but after I took that course in plant structure, my whole trajectory changed. In my senior year, I got to do a small-scale landscaping project on campus. Serendipitously, I discovered what I really wanted to do.”
After he graduated from Vassar, Raganit enrolled in a six-week course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he met Michael Van Valkenburgh, owner of an architectural firm based in Brooklyn and Cambridge, MA. Raganit joined the firm as a studio assistant in the Brooklyn office last August and is planning to pursue a graduate degree in architecture.
As a studio assistant, one of Raganit’s principal tasks is creating models of the architects’ designs, either on a computer or as a small-scale rendering out of foam core. He also assists in analyzing construction documents and reviews projects that are under construction. “I came into the job thinking it was mostly about design in the office, but I’ve found that a lot of it is about interaction with the construction team, consultants, and community members,” he says.
One of the most gratifying parts of his job is watching a project that began on a drawing board take shape in the real world, Raganit says. He’s involved in one such project that’s walking distance from his office, the renovation of some piers in Brooklyn Bridge Park. “I helped with the models for one of the piers, and now it’s becoming a reality,” he says.
Raganit is also working on the re-design of a plaza in downtown San Antonio and hopes to see the finished product someday. “It’s always great to see something that started as a design become something that’s actually built,” he says.
A native of Las Vegas, NV, Raganit enrolled at Vassar through the QuestBridge Scholar program, which matches high-achieving, low-income high school students with appropriate colleges. He planned to become a physician or a dentist until he was shut out of that microbiology class and took the botany course, taught by biology prof. Mark Schlessman.
“Mark really inspired me to take more classes on ecology and environmental issues, and in my senior year I was able to do that landscape project in (biology prof.) Meg Ronsheim’s conservation biology class,” Raganit says. “By then, it clicked: I wanted to use my design skills to connect people to nature. I found what I wanted to do, and it was a field I didn’t even know existed when I was in high school.”
Raganit says his Vassar education prepared him well for his new career. “As a studio assistant, I have to juggle a lot of tasks and figure out the best ways to use my time to perform my best, and that was something I learned at Vassar,” he says. “I was taught how to absorb and synthesize a lot of information quickly, and that’s something I’ll have to be able to do in this field.”
Raganit says his hours are often long and the work is sometimes tedious, but all it takes to help him cope with those challenges is a short walk to Brooklyn Bridge Park. “All of the designers work really hard and often very late,” he says, “but when I see the work that’s been produced and see all the people enjoying the space we’ve created, it’s all worth it.”
Photo: Samuel Stuart