Philosophy of Engagement
I intend to work in academia or in state/federal planning agencies. I realized long ago that I did not make it this far without the help and support of my family and key community members. My personal philosophy of engagement springs from these experiences and from insight gained through active discourse with mentors and contemporaries seeking to enhance their own conception of and participation in community engagement. My personal philosophy is built on principles of inclusivity, social justice, and accessibility. These key components should be considered through the lens of landscape architecture and ecology. For me, the greatest emphasis for the philosophy of community engagement includes education, social responsibility, conservation, and service to the soul.
The importance of education cannot be overstated. Considering the state of higher education today, we are challenged to think of new ways of engaging with our changing local and global communities to share our unique intellectual resources. As we reach further with technology, research, and applications of knowledge, it is increasingly important to engage with younger students and offer ourselves as academics and mentors for the world’s future scholars and advocates. Along my educational journey, a handful of passionate and caring educators provided me with special learning opportunities and encouragement which helped me recognize my potential. As a future educator, I believe it is important to work with K-12 students to increase their access to resources and opportunities. I intend to familiarize young students with the merits of landscape architecture and allied disciplines. I want to show people another way of seeing their world through built environments and natural landscapes and teach them to understand their power and influence on living and constructed systems.
Social responsibility is the next pillar of my philosophy. Landscape architects are interested in the health and well-being of people and are concerned with providing great spaces and democratic design to all citizens, regardless of socio-economic status, background, or belief. Because of this, it is important to advocate for social justice. Great places are not just for the affluent. All people, regardless of income, benefit from well-designed places. Great places are the result of thoughtful consideration and planning. As a practice, one must consider the public good in design. As a future educator and past student of experiential service-learning, I plan to engage my students in studios where they will work with clients in the community on real projects in need. Design school should include opportunities to gain experience working on real projects for local people and organizations. The service-learning model can be deployed for the mutual benefit of both the students and the community. Students will then have practical on-the-ground mentored internship experience where they learn to listen, work, and be sensitive to a client’s needs and in return, the client gets a project that makes a meaningful difference in their lives.
Conservation is also learned through classroom experience and engagement with the community. Design students must be conscious of planetary limits and mindful of conservative planning and resource use. Projects must carefully consider materials, context, and potential impacts to the environment. In a world where human population and consumption is constantly rising, it is increasingly important for citizens to make thoughtful choices about resource use.
Lastly, the concept of “service to the soul” has two distinct meanings. First, it involves creating socially responsible, democratic spaces which support human needs and allow for citizens to move freely through an enjoyable, healthy environment. On an individual basis, “service to the soul” means compassion, caring, understanding, and empathy. It is both about helping fellow citizens of the world and fostering growth and curiosity within a student and making sure they too keep the spark that inspires them toward their own great achievements.
The art of teaching, like most things, is not an activity or concept that exists in isolation. Without reflection, curiosity, flexibility, and awareness of external influences on the classroom and students, teaching will not be successful. Teaching is more than a discourse between the instructor and students. Because learning also happens peer-to-peer, where individuals grow through their experiences together, teaching must be approached as a culture or lifestyle. The more I learn, the more I come to understand that the journey toward knowing and understanding is endless; inquiry and discovery are constantly teasing us to ask: “Well, what else? What’s next?” My teaching philosophy is the culmination of years spent in study, and is continuously evolving through my experiences. What I have learned is that what happens in a classroom is the product of the individuals who participate. I believe that in a class, we are all learning: constantly, individually, and holistically as a group.
Because teaching is a practice in communication, in a studio course, instructors and students both activate their communication skills through desk critiques, pin-ups, presentations, deliverables, and conversations throughout the term. Learning is not something that just happens through work produced, but also through developed interpersonal skills in improvisation and articulation.
As an instructor in a design discipline, my teaching methods are rooted deeply in problem-based learning. By using real issues to frame the problem statements given to students, I am able to both present practical applications of the design process and guide students through scholarly inquiry. In this way, the class develops their ideas through exercises in writing, drawing, and proposals of concepts and design interventions. I believe it is important for students and practitioners alike to ground their work in research, so in my classrooms, projects are developed through lines of reasoning and analysis. I ask my students to identify what they are trying to accomplish and then I help them work backwards to understand which pieces of data or information are necessary to developing their ideas.
As with all of my projects and assignments, I invite my students to incorporate their personal interests into their work. For instance, in my Graphic & Illustrative Technologies course, I encourage students to focus their projects on aspects of landscape architecture that interest them, whether it be planting design, hardscape, or something else. If the end result is to have students develop a portfolio-quality documentation, which would require an in-depth exploration into how to produce work in AutoCAD, students would select a site they enjoy or are interested in as a model for the site features they model in the program. In this way, they are able to show their proficiency in the program and also showcase their personality and interests in their portfolio. To achieve a classroom culture that is truly engaged and excited about their projects, I allow students to explore their personal interests. In this way, I can achieve active and engaged learning and critical thinking, which results in a cohort of students who are proud of their work.
Evaluation of student learning is integrated into the courses I teach. For instance, students are invited to critique and reflect on their experience at both the midpoint and end of the semester. It is not useful for current students to only have opportunities after the course is complete or near completion to provide feedback. How can I help them get more from their experience if I don’t provide them the space and opportunity for dialogue early on? In this way, students are empowered in their education and can express to me what is working for them and I can respond by making changes in how I am presenting the course material in a timely way.
Student learning is not assessed simply by testing or quizzes as in conventional classroom environments. In my courses, students show their growth and progress through written, reflexive writing samples taken at different points in the semester. They demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and mastery of the computer programs through the project deliverables, where they can show through their progressive sketches, drawings, and plans that they are growing and developing as thinkers.
The art of teaching, like design process, is iterative, connective, and resilient. In each course and in every classroom, there are unique opportunities and constraints. My philosophy is to always press on, in spite of obstacles, because there is always more good work to be done.