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Diversifying the Landscape Architecture profession through K-12 outreach

Original article Diversifying the Profession Through K-12 Outreach
by Allison Ong (MLA ’18)

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.

Students working in a classroom
Tyee High School students were completely immersed while drawing their ideas in plan. The Youth Outreach WASLA student volunteer blends right in. / image: Allison Ong

At my first school visit, I paired up with local professional, Gina Kim of HBB Landscape Architecture. We made our way to a small classroom in a South Seattle high school where we faced our audience, all of whom were young women of color. Gina and I presented a short slideshow entitled, “What is Landscape Architecture?” We finished with an aerial photo of an empty lot adjacent to their school. “Do you know what this is?” we asked. Though the students had walked by the lot before, none of them remembered anything about it. We then asked them to think like landscape architects and imagine what that space could be. After a quick drawing demonstration and group brainstorm, they got to work designing.

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