As most creative types will attest, art-making is an iterative process requiring close study and a willingness to adjust and blend ideas. Likewise, Claire Shigekawa Rennhack ‘08 has sculpted her academic and professional journey over time, ultimately discovering her niche at the intersection of engineering and architecture.
Like many Park Scholars, Rennhack began her NC State career with numerous interests and a healthy dose of uncertainty regarding which field to pursue.
“I struggled a lot my first year in terms of knowing whether engineering was right for me or not,” said Rennhack. “The concept of choosing a path for the rest of your life at 18 was pretty overwhelming at the time and I questioned my decision, especially during my first year.”
With guidance from her Park Faculty Mentor, Dr. Abhinay Gupta, Rennhack gained clarity in her focus as a civil engineering major with a minor in art + design. She researched various areas of concentration within the building design industry, specifically exploring the significant overlaps in the education of structural engineers and architects. Rennhack received Park Enrichment Grant funding to present her research at the American Society for Engineering Education’s Annual Conference and Exposition in Chicago in 2006.
Rennhack noted, “The research into the building industry and education of its professionals that I conducted with my Park mentor definitely shaped my professional trajectory and informed my career choices.”
Following graduation from NC State, Rennhack relocated to Seattle to work as a structural engineer with HDR, Inc. She obtained her certification as a professional engineer and then went back to school—this time for a Master of Architecture from the University of Washington. Rennhack covered a lot of ground as a graduate student, taking advantage of opportunities to study and travel in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, and Sweden.
“I suppose Japan would be my favorite place,” said Rennhack, who will return there for the fourth time this year. “What I find most interesting about Japan, and specifically Tokyo, is the density and the urbanity of the city and how Tokyo is at once historic and jarringly contemporary. From my architectural lens, Tokyo has some of the most interesting aesthetics, approaches, and designers. From a personal lens, the food is crazy phenomenal and I’m in awe of their public transit system.”
After completing her degree in December 2015, Rennhack joined the Miller Hull Partnership, a firm known for its environmentally responsible buildings and contributions to Pacific Northwest regionalist design. She also works as a part-time lecturer at the University of Washington. While both jobs are fulfilling, Rennhack finds special meaning in being able to connect with her students and helping them succeed.
“Currently, I teach Design Drawing to first year graduate students,” said Rennhack. “I’m not that far removed from being in graduate school, so I can identify with their frustrations with assignments and tasks while still keeping in mind the bigger picture of what they need to learn to progress and succeed in the field.”
When she’s not at the drafting table or in the classroom, Rennhack appreciates spending time outdoors in Seattle and the nearby Cascades. She and her husband, Andrew, enjoy hiking, biking, traveling and camping. When the city’s famous rains put a damper on her outdoor activities, Rennhack likes to get her hands dirty in the wood shop, ceramic studio, or dark room.
“After a lot of soul searching, research, and support from the Park Scholarship, I set a course for my own professional career,” said Rennhack. “In the decade plus that has followed my early years at NC State, all of the uncertainty, academic changes, and career risks have definitely been worth it. It’s very gratifying to look back on the decisions and moves that have led me to my place in this city and to my niche in architecture.”
Story by Claire Slepecki