Mentoring the Future of Landscape Architecture

by Elizabeth Auvil, Associate ASLA

University of Oregon landscape architecture students gather at a festive happy hour to celebrate the 25th annual Shadow Mentor Day. / Image: ASLA Oregon

The softly lit room bubbles with energy as individuals fill the space. Another annual reunion of landscape architecture students and professionals in Oregon has commenced. The atmosphere swirls with inspiration and reflection from the day as both students and professionals share how valuable it is to have an opportunity for mentorship. How amazing it is to witness a room of a hundred people share how much they love and appreciate an experience, and to consider it once never existed.

In 1994, a small group of students at the University of Oregon had an idea to connect students like themselves with landscape architects. At the time, there was no avenue between professionals in the Pacific Northwest and students of landscape architecture. With the support of the faculty and collaboration with the Oregon Chapter of ASLA, students visited landscape architecture offices to “shadow” a mentor for a day. They also managed to successfully start a tradition that has continued for 25 years.

Two UO students listen to their mentor and learn about work “on the boards” during their day in an office. / Image: ASLA Oregon

Students do all the work to recruit firms to participate and match students with their interests. The department covers some transportation costs and the faculty cancel classes so the students are able to fully participate. The ASLA Oregon Chapter provides additional support to host breakfast at morning pick up and happy hour at the end of the day.

Shadow Mentor Day has become a grounding experience in the landscape architecture program at the University of Oregon (UO).  By the time a student graduates, they may have participated in two or three Shadow Mentor Days. Hundreds of students have participated and valued their glimpse into professional practice before graduating.

The University of Oregon Student Chapter of ASLA planned the most recent Shadow Mentor Day in February. It was the largest event for Shadow Mentor Day so far, with over 40 firms and agencies, and 60 students participating.

Professionals, students and UO faculty mingle at the 25th annual Shadow Mentor Day celebration in Portland. / Image: ASLA Oregon

Over the last 25 years, UO students have shadowed professionals in cities across the west coast. Most often, students visit offices in Eugene, Portland, Bend and Seattle. Each participating firm or agency hosts one or more students and, due to our diverse field, inevitably every Shadow Mentor Day is unique. Students spend the day in various ways, but many students will attend team meetings, visit a project under construction, see built work, or participate in design discussions and pin ups.

“I look forward to Shadow Mentor Day every year, it’s a great way to learn about a wide range of office styles and processes,” said UO Student ASLA Chapter President Megan Little, Student ASLA. “Through Shadow Mentor Day, I’ve been able to experience a day at a 1-2 person office that focused on hand drafting as well as a day at a 50 person multi-disciplinary firm. It’s not very often that students are able to get such an intimate window into the variety of work opportunities that exist post graduation.”

For many students, Shadow Mentor Day builds a relationship with professionals that extends beyond a single day. Many students and professionals stay in contact after Shadow Mentor Day, and it is not uncommon for students to later find internships and jobs through the connections they made during Shadow Mentor Day.

UO Shadow Mentor Day has become a pivotal experience in our landscape architecture community in Oregon. It offers students first hand experiences that you simply cannot have in a classroom. Students can seek insight from experienced landscape architects and designers, and ask dozens of questions about software, portfolios, project constraints, budgets and clients. It is also an experience valued by the mentors themselves.

UO students are provided an opportunity to experience field visits as part of Shadow Mentor Day. / Image: ASLA Oregon

“It is vital for practicing professionals to mentor students and Shadow Mentor Day provides a unique peek into what life is like in our firms and practices,” said Kate Forester, ASLA, landscape architect at the Portland office of Herrera Environmental Consultants. “I wish that I had been able to shadow a professional during my graduate school education in landscape architecture and I am grateful that my company helps me support the next generation of professionals in our field.”

Shadow Mentor Day uplifts our landscape architecture community each winter by providing an opportunity for professionals to mentor current students in the field. Over the years I’ve realized just how much I appreciate our tradition of mentorship, and its perfect timing. When the landscape appears frozen or grey, we pause to reflect and nurture the future of landscape architecture.

Interested in starting a mentorship day within your chapter or university program and want to learn more? Contact Elizabeth Auvil, Associate ASLA, Student Liaison for the Oregon Chapter of ASLA at studentliaison@aslaoregon.org

More photos from our 25th annual Shadow Mentor Day on Facebook and Instagram #uoshadowmentorday

Elizabeth Auvil, Associate ASLA, is an Associate at Cameron McCarthy

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