Diversifying the Profession Through K-12 Outreach

by Allison Ong, Student ASLA

Chinook Middle School students used models to communicate their ideas for a new open space on their campus. / image: Allison Ong

In the first year of my MLA, I was assigned a review of Gina Ford, FASLA’s talk, “Into an Era of Landscape Humanism.” Her opening words have stayed with me ever since: “Fifty years ago,” she begins, “the voice of our profession was eerily prescient, undeniably smart, and powerfully inspired. It was also, let’s admit it, almost entirely white and male.” I am often reminded of Ford’s statement, as I continue to observe the lack of diversity she speaks of in firms, classes, conferences, and other spaces. Throughout graduate school, I’ve kept a constant eye open for opportunities to diversify our field. The traditional avenues for engagement presented to me, namely departmental diversity committees, didn’t satisfy my desire to act. I wanted to do something. I just didn’t know what that something was.

About a year ago an opportunity finally presented itself. The Student Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects at the University of Washington (UWASLA)’s mentorship program assigned me Laura Enman, Associate ASLA, of Swift Company, as a mentor. Meeting for the first time at a coffee shop, we bonded over our shared interest in improving diversity in landscape architecture. In that moment, a light bulb went off for both of us. We imagined an outreach program to empower students from diverse K-12 schools through landscape architecture. Laura was already connected to a non-profit after-school program, Techbridge Girls, whose goal is to “excite, educate, and equip girls from low-income communities by delivering high-quality STEM programming to empower them to achieve economic mobility and better life chances.” Within weeks, through Techbridge Girls and support from WASLA and UWASLA, we scheduled our first outreach opportunity.

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