As The Associated Students of Woodbury University (ASWU) president, Bennet Cariaga, a senior majoring in Interior Architecture, represents the student body to the school’s administration and faculty. But his decision to choose Woodbury makes him representative in other ways as well.
Woodbury is home to a sizable number of students who are the first in their family to attend an institution of higher education. Although not the first in his family to go to college, Bennet is the first to leave the island of Oahu, where he attended Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, for university studies on the mainland.
And like many other Woodbury students, Bennet says the intimacy of the school proved to be a major draw. “It’s a friendly place, where you really get to know the faculty and administration,” he says. “The interaction with people from different backgrounds is important to me because I like thinking about other people’s perspectives.”
His embrace of Woodbury’s size and scope motivated him to get involved in ASWU and, ultimately, to lead the organization. Not surprisingly, he’s an enthusiastic champion of student government. As ASWU president, Bennet meets frequently with the administration and department heads, serving as an advocate for the student body. The organization also holds weekly meetings during which students pose questions, raise concerns and stay current on the progress of other student government initiatives.
“My job is to make sure ASWU is working toward our goals, raising awareness of our campus resources,” he says. “My goal is to build recognition of ASWU, and I’m committed to improving and expanding existing campus projects.”
The infrastructure Woodbury has put into place to help students through a myriad of challenges — ranging from concern by faculty members to resources available to students on multiple levels — is key for Bennet, who also serves as a Resident Advisor.
“Students may not know that there’s a strong support system here on campus when things get tough personally, financially or academically,” he says. “I often recommend that students start by going to the Whitten Center, where the person at the front desk will direct you to whoever can best assist you. I say, help them help you by reaching out.”
In that assessment, Bennet speaks from experience, recalling the example of one professor who consistently emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself, particularly given the nature of studio culture. “She would speak about how to manage your time wisely and relate to the struggles that we were facing as students,” he recalls. “I’ve taken those lessons with me throughout the past few years and they’ve really helped me personally.”
Bennet chose interior architecture as a major because of his long-standing curiosity about indoor space. “I would always wonder about how a particular interior was designed,” he says. “We spend nearly 90 percent of our time indoors and we deserve to have a better interior experience.”
Out of doors, he’s yet to decide whether to stay in the Los Angeles area after he graduates or return to Hawaii to begin his career. One advantage of being on the West Coast: he has extended family in Northern California, Nevada and Arizona.
For now, he finds that his internship with a small architecture firm provides the perfect complement to his work on campus. “I’m glad to have the opportunity to do a lot of hands-on work and interact with people in the field,” he says. “It goes to show that experience outside the classroom can be just as valuable as the classroom environment itself.”
“Capped by service with ASWU, my time at Woodbury has helped me become more informed and educated about my next big step in life,” Bennet says.