In the U.S., mentor programs in landscape architecture programs are almost unheard of. Utah’s ASLA members have distinguished themselves as leaders nationally in creating the ASLA Student Mentor Program. Each year, landscape architecture students at Utah State University are paired with ASLA members to gain first-hand understanding of the world of landscape architects. Students’ learning focuses on two primary areas:
- The world of a professional
- Preparing a future practitioner
The Program has proven to be highly successful. So much so that mentors’ efforts were applauded by peers at the 2010 ASLA National Meeting, and were featured in the May 2011 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. The Program’s partnership with LAEP clearly demonstrates how practitioners can give the next generation of landscape architects a better shot at bridging the divide between college and professional life.
In 2009, leaders in the Utah chapter of ASLA and USU’s LAEP program met to discuss the greatest threats to the next generation of practitioners. The resultant discussions pointed time and again to the divide that separates future practitioners—students in BLA and MLA programs—from current practitioners. With an unusual show of leadership, ASLA’s leadership endeavored to strike at the heart of the problem, forming the Catalyst Committee. The group’s express purpose was to break down the divide that separates professional practice from academe. And central to that mission was the creation of a bridge between students and experienced landscape architects.
The 2010/11 academic year demonstrated how successful the program could be. We launched the pilot year of the program by pairing one mentor with each student in his/her final year of the BLA and MLA programs. Sixteen mentors were paired with students. Their interactions included a wide array of activities, from office tours to attending client meetings to site visits. The year culminated in a special recognition of the program, including awards by students for the top mentors, at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Logan.
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches
but to reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli
Why mentor indeed? Today, more firms are scraping for smaller contracts, in more diverse market sectors, and with less resources than in several decades. Why is now the time for a practitioner to take additional time out to mentor a student?
It is highly unlikely that those reading this will have had a mentor when they were students. It is equally unlikely that any readers, when they were students, would have turned down the opportunity to work one-on-one with a mentor. The “great divide”, as the Committee called it, is thus nothing new. However, today, in the midst of the Great Recession, students are straining for any means to assure that they are the best-prepared graduates in the country. They—just like their professional colleagues—are seeking any leg up on the competition. Utah ASLA and LAEP are committed to helping them get that competitive advantage over regional competitors like Colorado State, the University of Arizona, and Texas Tech, as well as programs across the whole of the U.S.
Becoming a Mentor
What can you do? Simply put, the Mentor Program needs practitioner-mentors. The program calls for mentors to pull back the veil on the professional life of a landscape architect, whether in private or public practice, in a for-profit or not-for-profit setting. It asks mentors to speak into the life of a young person whose hope is that they might learn from your hard-won experience. In short, it asks you, as a mentor, to open your world to a student for 2-4hr a month. Those hours—whether visiting a site, sitting in on a public meeting, or commenting on that first interview—will be invaluable to them, and often will involve little more than the mentor extending an invitation.
If you have 5 or more years of professional experience, are an ASLA member, and are willing to help a young person, we encourage you to submit a Mentor Form.
- LAEP hosts the ASLA Student Mentor information meeting in Logan in September.
- Eligible students will be assigned to a Mentor by October.
Dustin Wiberg, ASLA Student Mentor Program Coordinator
Dave Evans, ASLA Student Mentor Program Advisor
Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning