As Kent Hester Retires, He Leaves a Legacy of Service
It’s not surprising that anyone who’s been associated with NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles over the last three decades knows Kent Hester, director of Student and Career Services. He is ubiquitous. From organizing career fairs (nearly 30 during his tenure) and service projects to managing scholarship weekends. He’s led countless interview workshops, welcomed thousands of prospective students and their families to campus, visited hundreds of high schools in North Carolina and beyond, and taken students on trips to visit companies and cheer on the Pack at Clemson. More importantly, for nearly 30 years he’s been available to Wilson College of Textiles students, student groups and alumni providing guidance, leadership and career support.
But what might be surprising – given the sheer number of people he’s interacted with during that time – is the fact that he remembers most of those students, alums and industry partners. He knows what high school they went to, what scholarships they received, what internships they completed, which clubs they were members of and what companies they are working at today. He attends their weddings (eight to 10 a year) and connects with them at alumni events like the Textile Alumni Tailgate, which he founded in 1991.
As Hester readies to retire at the end of September, his legacy surely will be those connections and his commitment to making the Wilson College of Textiles a home for so many.
“It’s not an event I’ve organized that I’m most proud of. It’s the relationships that I have built with companies, but, more importantly, with students. That was the most important take away,” he said. “I was able to build those because I was accessible and I was here. It was those conversations and shared experiences outside of the classroom that built friendships. I hope that I have been a reliable go-to for students, for alumni and that’s what most people remember.”
While the relationships matter more to him than the events he’s executed, many of those events remain points of pride for Hester. Joyful memories include the 2015 career fair when company participation topped 74 after years of hovering between 30 to 40. He also looks back fondly on being a part of the group that helped launch the Centennial Scholarship program, which has brought so many to the College who would go on to become industry leaders.
Kent’s commitment to the Wilson College of Textiles and NC State started when he was a student in what was then the Textile Management program. While a student, he was a member of both the Kappa Tau Beta leadership fraternity and Phi Psi professional textile fraternity as well as the Tompkins Textile Student Council and the American Association of Textile Technology. As a college senior, Kent served as president of the NC State senior class, and then later as a high school recruiter for the Wilson College of Textiles, a role he had a unique appreciation for given that it was a Textiles’ recruiter’s third trip to his Gaston County high school that convinced him to change his intended major from civil engineering to Textile Management.
He briefly worked as a human resources management trainee for Burlington Industries following graduation. But it wasn’t long before he returned to the College as the assistant director of Student Services and director of the newly formed Textile Alumni Society. Not long after, he was named associate director of Student Services, and in 2002 he was promoted to his current position.
While working at a university was never on his radar, a career built around helping people was.
“Was I made for this job? Maybe. Or maybe the job helped make me into who I am. I was going into human resources. So that desire to work with people was already there,” he said. “I truly care about students’ well being as much as their academic and professional success. I believe every person has value whether they’re carrying a 2.0 or a 4.0.”
So what’s next for this soon-to-be retiree who has rarely left work before 8 p.m. when classes are in session and who has only taken a day and half of sick time in almost 30 years? To begin, he’s headed home to Gaston County to become “one of the oldest boomerang kids” and spend time with his close-knit family.
“To start with I am going to do absolutely nothing. Having nights and weekends will be a change,” he said. “It’s not too late for a fall garden. There are several state and national parks I have always wanted to go to. There are some fish I haven’t caught yet.”
And folks may just spot him at NC State home football games since he’ll remain a season ticket holder. His pride in being a member of the Pack is something that will never waver. Nor will his hope for the community he leaves behind.
“My wish for the students of the college is to have the same good experience that I had with success beyond college, whatever that means for them,” he said. “And I thank everyone for being a part of my career. Everyone I interacted with, everyone who helped me along the way, they all helped to shape this time.”