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Artist Profile: Dakota A. Degenhardt ’26 on Modeling as a Harvard Student

Degenhardt's favorite part is the runway, where she “can see everything come together.”
Degenhardt's favorite part is the runway, where she “can see everything come together.” By Courtesy of AFMWPictures
By Claire C. Swadling, Contributing Writer

While most Harvard students were doing their best to stay warm while studying for midterms in February, Dakota A. Degenhardt ’26 was bundling up for a different type of seasonal event. The Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator and Currier House resident was getting ready to model in New York Fashion Week.

Degenhardt’s modeling journey began her senior year of high school when she competed in a state pageant. In fact, it was her history teacher who first recommended that pageantry may be a good fit for her.

“He connected me with his friend who does all the designs for Miss Universe Iceland,” Degenhardt said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson. “So I got connected with her. Then, I did my first pageant at the end of my senior year and ended up winning.”

As Teen Miss Florida Earth, Degenhardt got in touch with industry professionals who facilitated her switch to modeling.

Now, she regularly takes to the catwalk for New York Fashion Week’s September and February fashion shows, as well as Miami Swim Week in the summer. This February, she walked for Madalyn Gaydos’s “The Modern Mobster” collection as the designer’s final look. Recently, she signed with an agency in Boston to amp up the amount of work she does outside of the national fashion week calendar.

Degenhardt explains that her modeling process begins by getting in touch with designers. Sometimes she reaches out to artists she admires, or they find a way to contact her. Then, Degenhardt coordinates her travel with fittings, hair, and makeup, followed by the final show. When asked about her favorite part, she cited the runway because this is where she “can see everything come together.”

To Degenhardt, the feeling she gets by modeling apparel for large audiences is a defining part of her work. She recalled a specific experience with modeling for the production company Runway 7.

“They’ll have you right behind the curtain, then they’ll just say ‘Now ok, go,’” she said. “Then you feel that rush stepping out onto the runway, and there’s just no other feeling like it.”

Modeling in college is especially difficult with Harvard coursework to juggle. Indeed, Degenhardt thinks the greatest challenge of her modeling career is balancing her runway shows with schoolwork. Accordingly, she consistently plans her academics well in advance of modeling opportunities to ensure she has enough time for both. For instance, Degenhardt had a biology midterm right after her return from New York Fashion Week this year.

“I took a few days before to really study, then gave myself that block to just focus on modeling, and then just studied again right before,” Degenhardt said.

In the end, both her runway modeling and midterm resulted in success. Despite the challenges, the efforts are definitely worth it to Degenhardt.

“It’s something that I truly love so much that I think it’s worth the time commitment,” she said.

Beyond the academic hurdles it presents, modeling as a Harvard student has provided Degenhardt with unique perspectives on both the fashion industry and campus. As a Harvard student in the modeling world, she’s been encouraged by her peers to pursue her academic goals.

“They want me to just reach for the stars,” Degenhardt said. On campus, she faces similar enthusiasm when she returns from a show and classmates ask her for pictures.

In the future, Degenhardt hopes to pursue a career in medicine while continuing to model. She has long considered becoming a doctor, and she originally thought anesthesiology was the right path for her. But recently, she decided that orthodontics resonates more with her.

“I like the social aspect and bonds you get to make with your patients that I feel like you don’t really get with other medical specialties,” she said.

However, leaving the world of fashion is not on her agenda. Degenhardt hopes to continue runway modeling, particularly because her recent agency signing will allow her to land more shoots.

“I’d love to walk for as long as I can, but I’m trying to transition more into the commercial aspect of modeling as well,” she said.

Degenhardt also hopes to lean into acting, something she has been pursuing since high school. On campus, she’s involved with Harvardwood and short films.

Although modeling may seem like something only a few people are meant to experience, Degenhardt thinks that it is something everyone should do at least once.

“I feel like the confidence you get from it and just the community is so unmatched,” she said. “That’s why I tell everyone you have to walk a runway at least once.”

Whether at New York Fashion Week or at a local show, she affirms that the confidence-building experience would benefit anyone. Degenhardt’s passion for fashion is a reminder to all college students that excellence in both academics and modeling are within reach.

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