Alumna’s Successful Career in Interior Design Inspired by Benton Spruance
While an undergraduate student, Alma Alabilikian '58 built a foundation for her successful career in interior design. At the time, the Fine Arts Department was run by worldrenowned artist Professor Benton Spruance, who taught at Arcadia from 1926-67. His connections in the art world brought internationally recognized talent to Arcadia. For instance, Anne Tyng, who was a colleague of architect Louis Kahn, started the Interior Architecture program (now known as the Interior Design program). Other faculty included Jane West Clauss, who had worked with acclaimed architect Le Corbusier, and awardwinning designer Jean Francksen. This remarkable set of faculty is what attracted Alabilikian to Arcadia. "This was the type of faculty you'd have at Harvard," she says. "The Department was stellar."
With the skills she learned from prominent professionals, Alabilikian was hired immediately after graduation as the assistant head of the Interior Design Department for the architectural firm Bellante and Clauss. It was there that she learned the importance of working on socially responsible buildings—a concept that would mark her career. She was part of a team that designed award-winning solutions for schools, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries and prisons. She went on to work for the Vitetta Group, a prominent and very successful Philadelphia architectural and engineering firm, where—as Director of Senior Planning—she participated on projects at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Academy of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Disney's corporate headquarters in New York, and Philadelphia City Hall.
Alabilikian's fondest memory of Arcadia came in the midst of establishing her professional career—when Spruance asked her to teach Interior Design courses. She expanded Arcadia's program from one student to 34, teaching for 43 years and earning prestige for the program and its students. In 1988, Arcadia was one of 34 national schools selected from a pool of 300 applicants to be included in an educational publication by Interiors Magazine. Also under her tenure, dozens of Arcadia students won awards. "Against well-rounded, large departments, Arcadia has always had awardwinners," says Alabilikian.
For Alabilikian, the most rewarding part of teaching was preparing and training students to become leaders in their field. "Our aim always was to encourage them to stretch beyond their imagined limits," she says. Many of these students went on to teach in Arcadia's Interior Design program, which included a team of practicing professionals educating students. "We have had a number of successful professionals teaching," she says. "Many of these were graduates who were willing to come back to teach and to strengthen the standards of the department."
Alabilikian received the inaugural Adjunct Faculty Teaching Award in 1990. This year, her commitment to Arcadia was recognized once again when she received the Golden Disc Award for Distinguished Achievement at Alumni Reunion Weekend 2008. The award is presented to an alumna/us for significant accomplishment and outstanding achievement in business, the professions or the community that greatly enhances the prestige of Arcadia University. "It is reassuring to know that part-time faculty are valued and evaluated by their commitment to the University," she says on winning the two awards.