By Greta Chiocchetti
There’s an exciting new opportunity for students at Academy of Art University’s School of Landscape Architecture (LAN). The department was recently approved by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)—the premier industry professional association—to found the university’s student affiliate chapter.
In addition to connecting and networking with student chapters from schools around the country, members of the Academy’s student chapter will have the opportunity to learn and network alongside industry professionals, in line with LAN and the Academy’s ethos.
“ASLA commented that they were especially impressed with the fact that the program is taught exclusively by practicing professionals,” said LAN Director Heather Clendenin. “I graduated from programs where the instructors—professors, tenured professors—had never worked in the real world. I mean, it was all theoretical and hypothetical, which was great to a certain degree. But this is what makes the Academy unique—the traditional, well-documented system of the master teaching the student.”
“Having an organization of professionals like ASLA establish an Affiliate Student Chapter at Academy of Art University shows our commitment to both students and industry alike,” said Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens. “Partnerships with organizations like this makes everything we do worth while. We strive every day to bring real opportunity to our students and this is an exemplary way to show that commitment.”
For a department primarily comprised of online students from across the globe, the ASLA Affiliate Student Chapter offers a new way to get involved in the professional community without being hindered by geography.
“Our program is an anomaly within an anomaly—landscape architecture isn’t a common program at many schools. As a primarily online student organization, we’re stepping out into uncharted territories, and our students are unfazed,” said Clendenin. “This is how they learn; this is how they become professionals. It’s all very exciting.”
Christine Gonzales, an M.A. LAN student who is spearheading the chapter, has already seen the benefits of getting involved in a student organization.
“I was lucky enough to help found a club in an architecture program before this, and I’ve seen classmates go on to do great things with their careers already,” said Gonzales. “I’m really excited to see what kinds of professional opportunities will come out of this.”
The designation comes at a perfect time, as this year’s annual ASLA conference will be held in San Francisco, providing LAN students with unique opportunities to get involved.
“By being an official student chapter, our students have an excellent opportunity of volunteering at the conference in a variety of potential positions,” said Clendenin. “ASLA is really the preeminent professional organization for landscape architects. So, you talk about a networking opportunity; this is it.”
As the chapter is being built from the ground up, Clendenin shared that it’s an ideal time for motivated LAN students to connect with their peers. It will also give them a chance to learn how to create and run an organization that will leave a lasting impact on the school for years to come.
“If you’re a student who wants to be active, who wants to be really involved, who wants to be a part of something that will last and be an asset to this program for years to come, you should join the ASLA chapter,” said Clendenin. “Plus, it looks great on the résumé!”
Richard Whitehurst, an M.F.A. LAN student involved in the founding of the chapter, likened its creation to the founding of a design firm.
“We have the same principles—we’ll have regular meetings, we’ll create templates, we’ll see projects from beginning to end,” explained Whitehurst. “We’re taking our time with it, because we’re really trying to think, ‘Alright, the department has to live with our decision into the future. So, how do we make it the most flexible, so that in four years, when there’s a whole new group of people, it can change nests, as it should?’ It’ll have a different personality, but we have to give it a decent structure—a bulwark to work from for the years to come.”