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Landscape Architecture course pushes the boundry of classroom and community

Posted Oct 26, 2016


by Miah Gatzke

“This is a real-world project,” said Eric Schuchardt, an Associate Lecturer in UW-Madison’s Landscape Architecture Department.

Schuchardt teaches Landscape Architecture 610, a capstone requirement of the undergraduate professional degree. The real-world project he’s talking about is the culmination of his students’ work throughout the two-semester community-based learning course. And it is, indeed, a real-world experience.

The LA 610 capstone seminar is intended to test the skills, knowledge, and abilities of undergraduates during their final year of the Landscape Architecture Professional Degree program. The class tests students by assigning them to solve real-world design problems.

While all community-based learning courses are built on the foundation of real-world experiences, this capstone seminar pushes the boundaries of traditional service learning. From its community partner selection process to geographic location, the Landscape Architecture Seminar is unique in its scope and application.

Community-based learning courses are like any other class on campus, but they also integrate a volunteer component along with the typical coursework. The unique nature of each service learning course is what makes the practice so effective at addressing different community issues.

The Landscape Architecture Seminar uses its unique approach to reach different communities across the state, ultimately resulting in meaningful student experience and lasting community change.

 

parker jones
LA 601 alum Parker Jones' project featured the Garver Feed Mill site in Madison


Real Community Partners

“Students aren’t designing for the community, they’re designing with the community,” said Schuchardt.

A testament to the value of the course, community partner demand outpaces the number of students every year. Communities are required to apply for the possibility to form a collaborative partnership with one of the undergraduate students. As many as 40 community partners have applied to work with the class in a given semester, but the average enrollment of 16 students makes the process distinctively competitive.

A client can be anyone in need of design help, but often involves a city group or nonprofit organization. The student then addresses a need identified by the community. “Projects can be anything from a pocket park to master plans for communities,” explained Schuchardt.

Because each student takes on their own project, the collective impact of the class is quite impressive. While similar classes exist at other universities, those students often work on one project together. The UW-Madison seminar has that same community impact 16 times over. Not only do the students impact the organizations they work with, but they also impact the greater communities in which these organizations exist.

The number of individual projects is not the only way the course extends its reach. With clients across the state, the scope of impact is no longer confined to Madison and includes communities in Appleton, Milwaukee, La Crosse—to name a few. Some students even choose to work with clients outside of the state.


Real Community Impact

“Our class impacts 16 communities,” said Schuchardt of his current cohort of students. This semester, specifically, involves student projects in every corner of Wisconsin along with two projects in Minnesota and Illinois.

In the process of creating real community change, students work on a wide variety of projects ranging from food systems development, to lakeshore bike paths, to therapeutic landscapes.

 

peter clark
A master plan for Wingra Creek, Peter Clark

 

Upon completing their research and design, the student presents the client with an extensive report and design plan. The process gives the community partner a sense of power over their own space. No longer subject to only the plans of other interests, the community partners gain power with their own plans in hand.

“The clients are excited by the students,” said Schuchardt. “They are not reactive to other plans because they can offer their own,”

And those plans have real value to community partners. Shuchardt says that if a private consultant were to do the same work as the students—putting in the same amount of time—the design would cost the organization tens of thousands of dollars. Former students have reported spending upwards of 700 hours on the project. Their time and dedication does not go unnoticed. Clients recognize the great impact made by these community-based learning students and are quick to share their gratitude.

“[The student’s] Capstone not only serves as a great student project but will help our efforts in turning ideas to reality,” wrote one client from Madison. Client experiences are featured in a publication at the end of each academic year summarizing all of the student projects.


Real Student Experience

“Beyond all other factors, I believe that places are meant to be enjoyed,” wrote Parker Jones, a former Landscape Architecture student, in his capstone report. “Every outdoor space is an opportunity to bring wonder, relaxation, or beauty into the lives of those who experience it.”

When all is said and done, the passion and dedication of each student is what defines the real-world impact of this course.

As it goes with any community-based learning course, the experience involves mutual benefits between the students and the community. The community partner gains a valuable plan, and the students gain an equally valuable experience. Landscape Architecture students leave UW-Madison with the experience of having lead a design project all the way through.

“The class changes the way [students] think,” said Schuchardt.

When you talk with his students, it’s easy to see that Schuchardt isn’t exaggerating when he preaches the real-world benefits of the course. But it’s not just real-world experience. These real-world projects are producing real-world results.

When dedicated students engage in community-based scholarship, they are learning and growing personally. And they are also engaging in a larger movement toward positive community change.