Developing Curriculum for Seasoned Professionals to Enter Academia

image: Shawn Balon
image: Shawn Balon

Gray Hair Matters: Developing a custom MLA Curriculum for seasoned professionals to enter academia

Design professionals with substantial practice experience have usually amassed a wealth of acquired knowledge and lessons learned over their career. Moreover, they have the gray hair to prove it. There could be a benefit to having those professionals impart that experience onto the next generation of designers as instructors in university landscape architecture programs.

For professionals with a Bachelor’s degree who may be interested in this pursuit, how does one prepare to make the transition from practice to teaching? Most positions for teaching landscape architecture begin with a minimum requirement of an MLA. However, what about having this qualification prepares one to be an effective teacher?

I asked myself this question when I decided to enroll in an MLA degree program at the University of Georgia (UGA), with the express desire of transitioning from practice into a teaching career. The question became the focus of my thesis as I worked toward proposing a custom MLA curriculum designed to prepare seasoned practitioners to enter academia and teach landscape architecture.
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Campus Planning & Design and Education & Practice at the Annual Meeting

Tulane University image: Paula Burch-Celentano / Tulane University
Tulane University
image: Paula Burch-Celentano / Tulane University

Welcome to our meeting preview for the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans from October 21 to 24. This year two of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) are trying something new: Campus Planning & Design and Education & Practice are partnering for a joint PPN meeting featuring several short presentations and discussion on the topic of: How has technology changed the nature of the university campus?

This will take place on PPN Live’s City Park Stage on the EXPO floor, and will be open to all attendees, giving greater exposure to some of the innovative work being done in the campus landscape. It will also provide an opportunity to network with landscape architect educators and practitioners that use our campus landscapes as a living learning classroom. For those of you that are not able to make it to New Orleans, we will be posting these presentations on the PPN webpage after the meeting.

Check out this list of events at the Annual Meeting that may be of interest to you:

PPN Events

Campus Planning & Design PPN / Education & Practice PPN Joint Meeting
Saturday, October 22, 1:30 – 2:15 PM
City Park Stage, PPN Live area of the EXPO floor

PPN Meeting Agenda:

  • Kick off introductions
  • Presentation 1: The High Efficiency Campus
    Lauren Williams, ASLA
  • Presentation 2: Technology and the 21st Century High-Performance Campus Landscape
    Gregory Tuzzolo, ASLA, and Milee Pradhan, ASLA
  • Presentation 3: Visualizing Campus Activities from 5, 10, and 1000 Feet
    Todd Robinson, ASLA
  • Presentation 4: Campus Constants, Digital Flux
    Katharyn Hurd, Associate ASLA, and Andrew Sullivan, ASLA
  • Q+A

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Making a Case for Divergent Thinking

image: Brian LaHaie
image: Brian LaHaie

Creative thinking is the foundation of our profession. Of all the skill sets that a landscape architect must possess, the ability to imagine, create and evaluate unique solutions to complex social and environmental challenges is our most valuable asset.

Creative thinkers possess the ability to identify multiple possibilities when confronted with challenging problems. This type of thinking is found among people with personality traits such as non-conformity, curiosity, risk taking, and persistence. It is also found naturally in children. This ability to generate multiple solutions and to think outside a set of linear constraints is called “divergent thinking” or “lateral thinking.”

The term divergent thinking was first introduced by psychologist J.P. Guilford in 1967 (nearly 50 years ago). Together with convergent thinking, these terms represent opposing thinking styles.

Convergent thinkers quickly seek a solution by reducing options and limiting choices to arrive at an appropriate answer. Convergent thinking is what you use to answer a multiple choice question or calculate a simple mathematical equation. You are seeking “the one right answer.” The process is systematic and linear.

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EPA Green Infrastructure Design Challenge

Philadelphia University image: Jules Bruck
Philadelphia University
image: Jules Bruck

Now that summer has officially ended for most academics (although you wouldn’t be able to tell from the thermometer outside my office here in Delaware), many folks are busy running design studios for various courses. I was all set to run a studio using a community redevelopment project I have been working on when a colleague who works for a state department emailed an interesting design challenge that piqued my interest – and I hope it comes as news to some of you. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its fifth annual Campus RainWorks Challenge offering a green infrastructure challenge for colleges and universities.

According to the EPA Challenge website, “Student teams design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus that effectively manages stormwater runoff while benefiting the campus community and the environment.” There are two design categories – Master Plan and Demonstration Project, and this year teams will be asked to incorporate climate resiliency and consider community engagement in stormwater management designs.

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Building a Vibrant Practice Part II

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Research Support Facility Golden, CO image: LLG
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Research Support Facility
Golden, CO
image: LLG

At the ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO in Denver last year, I attended several “Inside the LA Studio” education sessions where I was at once intrigued and captivated by the unique journey each leader took to establishing a successful landscape architecture firm. How does an emerging professional make the transition from education to practice? In particular, what are the critical elements that intersect in the formation of a successful landscape architecture firm?

To learn more, the same four questions about organization, culture, vision, roots, and process were put to the leaders of successful landscape architecture firms that differed in size, structure, and culture. The responses showed a pattern of critical elements essential to building and maintaining a vibrant practice.

We chose to profile two firms and the unique journeys each firm’s leader took to their present success. In Part I, we asked Keith Bowers, FASLA, Principal of Biohabitats those four questions. In Part II, we will profile the journey of LLG.

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Building a Vibrant Practice Part I

image: Biohabitats
image: Biohabitats

At the ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO in Denver last year, I attended several “Inside the LA Studio” education sessions were I was at once intrigued and captivated by the unique journey each leader took to establishing a successful landscape architecture firm. How does an emerging professional make the transition from education to practice? In particular, what are the critical elements intersecting the formation of a successful landscape architecture firm?

To learn more, the same four questions about organization, culture, vision, roots, and process was put to the leaders of successful landscape architecture firms that differed in size, structure, and culture. The responses showed a pattern of critical elements essential to building and maintaining a vibrant practice.

In general, the best firms we interviewed had a vision, refined within an area of expertise that resonated with their core values. Most developed the type of projects they wanted to work on, based on their central philosophy and didn’t stray from it, while each leader knew the limits of their expertise and actively sought to fill any void in knowledge to create a diverse team of professionals. Using a vision and passion expressed as the core theology of a firm to drive all business decisions, from client selection and project management to employee structure and affiliated professionals, was the most important element to developing a successful firm.

The three critical elements you must have to build a vibrant practice which emerged from our interviews with successful firms:

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Education and Practice at the Annual Meeting

image: Jules Bruck
image: Jules Bruck

Education and Practice Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting
Sunday, November 8, 4:15-5:45pm in PPN Room 1 on the EXPO floor
All members and non-PPN members are welcome to attend

This year, the Education and Practice PPN has planned a World Café style PPN meeting, and we hope you will join the conversation. The major theme of our session is the education of a young professional; an eight to ten year process in which academia takes the first 4-5 years and practice takes the second 4-5 years. How do we create conditions between both players that allows us to fully share our collective resources and strengths? At the meeting we will also share the results of our recent Education and Practice PPN Survey. In addition to the PPN meeting, the following includes a brief list of educational sessions that may be of interest to you:
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Portfolio Workshops for Landscape Architecture Students

Portfolio Workshop:  Kathleen King (Design Workshop) and Adam Carreau (CU-Boulder ENVD, Senior) image: joni m. palmer
Portfolio Workshop: Kathleen King (Design Workshop) and Adam Carreau (CU-Boulder ENVD, Senior)
image: joni m. palmer

Who
In my experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students, students do not find much help in their programs/departments creating a portfolio for job applications, whether it’s for a summer job, internship, or for “the job” upon graduation. The portfolio is, of course, just one part of the application process. The cover letter, resume, and list of references are also items that many students do not understand how to organize, outline, and write in a professional manner.

Most universities have a career services office but I have found that they cannot attend to the unique aspects that design job applications demand. Some design schools offer portfolio courses (1-3 credit), workshops run by renowned portfolio gurus, and portfolio review sessions. All of these are terrific opportunities for students, yet many of them are typically “one offs.” Over the years I have been involved in these offerings in various ways but am always looking for ways to improve the means by which we educate our students about creating successful and meaningful portfolios, as well as the other components of the job application.
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21st Century Teaching for GenZ

image: Jules Bruck
image: Jules Bruck

For the past year, I have been working with a committee and group of advisors to bring the first Landscape Architecture (LA) baccalaureate degree program to the University of Delaware (UD). I spend my free time looking at focus-group data, the LA Body of Knowledge Study Report, accreditation standards, university requirements, and curriculum maps. As I study this information, I realize how well landscape architecture programs support 21st century university goals, such as community engagement through the use of active studio projects. During this review, I have also began to ponder how educators keep GenerationZ students interested and engaged in the classroom – especially in the support courses that are still offered as traditional lecture classes.

In 2015, UD was one of 240 U.S. colleges and universities to attain first time, or reclassified status as a Carnegie Foundation Engaged University. During the process, I was frequently tapped to share stories of the community-based projects I run each semester. When speaking to professional educators and interested community members from diverse fields, they often point to my subject matter – landscape architecture and design – as an easy topic to embed community engagement projects and support active learning. I will admit, at first glance, it may seem easier than many subjects, like history, philosophy, or knowledge-based subjects like plant materials, but community-based active learning can become the focus of any classroom.

According to the Carnegie Foundation, “community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.” Landscape architecture programs easily lead the way in community engagement with a long-standing tradition of community outreach and projects that lend themselves to real world problems. But, as I rewrite curriculum for the new LA program I can’t help but think – what more can we do to engage the community and benefit our students?

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Connecting the Dots

image: Bergen Community College
image: Bergen Community College

I was excited when I opened the February issue of LAM and saw an article on soil biology from James Sotillo (Sotillo, James. 2015, “Life in the Dirt”, Landscape Architecture, February, p. 58) where he describes what is needed in terms of healthy soil biology for projects to be ultimately healthy and successful. As a designer I have been guiding my clients on the importance of good soil biology. As a contractor, I have been custom blending and using Liquid Biological Amendments (LBAs) for the last year; I’ve been amazed by their efficacy. I have talked to a lot of people about what I’m doing, but there it was in LAM from a qualified person with serious experience and credentials to speak on the topic.

One of my essential network contacts, Leighton Morrison of Kingdom Aquaponics, had pointed me toward the article. Morrison had told me about the work Sotillo was doing on a field test for biomass. He also told me about a class on using the new field test equipment at Bergen County Community College (BCCC) in New Jersey; I wanted to know what the connection was between Sotillo and the school where the class would be held. After all, one of the important issues for us in the Education and Practice PPN is facilitating the connections between schools and practitioners and I wanted to discover how this connection happened.

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Creative Commons

Field sketch image: Jules Bruck
Field sketch
image: Jules Bruck

Fostering Collaboration & Innovation

Have you ever read a book so compelling and inspirational it becomes your go-to holiday gift? This past year I shared with many colleagues and loved ones a book I found both captivating and insightful, with the hope that they would not only enjoy the eloquent prose and educational essays, but it would also cause them to reconsider the way they perceive the world outside.

For me, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell, has actually achieved a status well beyond that of a holiday gift by becoming the basis for my spring Field Sketching course at the University of Delaware. The course focuses on the power of observation to develop design-thinking habits of mind, and on freehand sketching techniques used to portray objects and landscape subjects. In addition to fine arts-based studio techniques, students have an opportunity to demonstrate their sketching and observational skills each week as they hike to the woods to sit quietly and reflect on the forest details. Insights from The Forest Unseen and instructor prompts will lead the student explorations of their own personal one square meter of space in the nearby White Clay Creek nature preserve.

In Haskell’s book, the area of observation is referred to as a mandala. In their personal mandala, students will sit quietly for 2 hours/week observing and documenting the space. In doing so, they will help me answer the questions: How might extended observation of one place change a student’s awareness, perception, or appreciation of the place? How might doing so change their perception of living and non-living things that periodically occupy the space? How might this translate to more environmentally thoughtful behavior and designs?

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Introducing the Education & Practice PPN

At the Denver Botanic Gardens image: Jules Bruck
At the Denver Botanic Gardens
image: Jules Bruck

A new Professional Practice Network has been established: Education & Practice, ASLA’s nineteenth PPN. Co-Chairs Jules Bruck, Affiliate ASLA, and Hilary Noonan, Associate ASLA, will lead the new group. The inaugural meeting of the PPN will take place during the Annual Meeting in Denver on Sunday, November 23 from 12:45-1:20 PM.

The Education & Practice PPN promotes collaboration and the sharing of ideas, issues, and trends that advance the profession, while informing undergraduate and graduate education. Building upon the significant research, innovations, and challenges happening in academic, public, and private practice, it seeks to promote a two-way dialogue that identifies needs and opportunities within education and practice. To read the PPN’s full mission statement, visit www.asla.org/education.

All ASLA members may join one PPN for free, and each additional PPN for only $15 per year. To join the Education & Practice PPN, email membership@asla.org, or call 888-999-ASLA.

In addition, there is an Education & Practice LinkedIn group that is open to all interested individuals.

A Message from the Education & Practice PPN Co-Chairs:

For this year’s Annual Meeting, we have highlighted a few sessions and events that we believe are right on target to connect academic, public, and private practitioners to better prepare students to succeed in the profession.

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