January 7, 2016

I Am Starr King: Interview with Amir Kia

Amir KiaAmir Kia

Graduate of Starr King (2005)

Former Board Member

Founder of Agesong and Spirit Living Group


What was it like to be the first student to earn the Common M.A. in Islamic Studies through the GTU and Starr King?

I applied to various programs and interviewed with different departments and professors and I think what drew me to the M.A. program at Starr King was the faculty and the multi-religious, inclusive, and diverse approach to the programs. It left a lot of room to explore and navigate according to my own interests. It didn’t box you in or make you do something in a specific way. I think I was really drawn to that flexibility and openness.

Is the Common M.A. program something you would recommend to future students?

Absolutely. When you can create your own program and focus on the areas that interest you, and have that be supported by faculty, it’s huge. The other programs that I was looking at, in the back of my mind I was a little afraid of having a more judgmental, top-down approach where it wouldn’t leave that kind of room for me to explore. So I think that is wonderful. On top of that, you’re in an environment with such a diverse, open-minded, and passionate student body that fuels your whole creativity and process. To have that openness and then be surrounded by an environment that encourages and promotes your own creativity I think is really wonderful.

Can you tell us a little about your work outside of Starr King?

I started working in the field of senior housing about 20 years ago, developing and managing senior housing communities that provide all levels of care. The focus was providing an alternative to institutional care environments, so how do you provide beautiful, caring, and holistic spaces for people that need a lot of care? The greater the need for care, typically in senior housing, the more institutionalized the environment becomes. Like a nursing home. Very sterile, linoleum floors, fluorescent lights, all that… The idea was to take that model and just turn it upside down. The more caring is needed, the more beautiful the environment should be because the environment really speaks to who you are and how you see yourself. When you provide a beautiful environment, all of a sudden care givers feel good about working there, residents feel good about living there, and you see transformation happening.  We have been able to create a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to caring for seniors.  We started about 20 years ago with a small 6-bed care home in San Francisco and built our last community in Emeryville which serves 127 residents.

What inspired you to serve as a board member at Starr King?

I think what Starr King did for me as a student was transformative in my own life, and to be a part of that transformation for others was important to me. The work that is done at the board level and at the school reverberates to 78 students who then take that work out to the community. It’s really transformative work that the board supports.

What is your most memorable or meaningful experience at Starr King?

My most memorable or meaningful experience was the first day of orientation where we all went outside to the entrance and sang the song “Come, Come Whoever You Are” together and walked into the school. We began our journey with that night of comradery and conviction and community. The spirit of bringing that joy and welcoming always resonates with me. It’s very powerful.


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