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[Re]Visioning the Ave: Students devise real-world strategies for a thriving, accessible neighborhood hub

For several years, the U-District Partnership has sought to figure out what kinds of investments and interventions might help bring optimism back to the Ave. In this effort, UDP reached out to the College of Built Environments for assistance. Might there be a chance to get CBE students involved in devising some solutions?

CBE Community, Environment, and Planning alum encounters experiences of a lifetime during his undergraduate career

Elijah Mason stepped through the door of his second-ever UW College of Built Environments (CBE) class. He was nervous, but also excited. “I chose the course because it was a planning practicum,” explains Mason. “We were going to be doing real work for the community, not just handing in assignments.”

Shantol Morgan (BLA ’25) awarded inaugural LAF Ignite Scholarship

Shantol Morgan, BLA 2025, has been awarded the LAF Ignite Scholarship, joining an inaugural cohort of four students. LAF Ignite is a unique program within the landscape architecture community and design professions, designed to overcome particular barriers faced by BIPOC students to stay in school, graduate, and enter landscape architecture practice.

Celebrating the Husky 100

Each year, the Husky 100 recognizes 100 UW undergraduate and graduate students from Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma in all areas of study who are making the most of their time at the UW. The Husky 100 actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom and apply what they learn to make a difference on campus, in their communities, and for the future. Through their passion, leadership, and commitment, these students inspire all of us to shape our own Husky Experience.

In honor of their many contributions to the University of Washington, each member of the Husky 100 is eligible to receive exciting benefits, and to participate in a range of activities and opportunities offered by the UW’s on- and off-campus partners.

The students from the College of Built Environments represent a range of disciplines and causes: Lan T Nguyen and Reese O’Craven.

Lan Nguyen, PhD student of Urban Design and Planning and Husky 100 2021 recipient

“Xin chào! In my research and practice, I center the knowledge, culture, and lived experiences of BIPOC, immigrant, and refugees in risk communication, disaster preparedness, public health, and community resilience. As a community development scholar-activist, I work in and with communities to advance social and spatial equity and justice. As an educator, I support students in the classroom and careers. My UW experience allowed me to apply knowledge to practice for social change.” – Lan Nguyen





Reese O’Craven, CEP student and Husky 100 2021 recipient

“We live in a world that is beautiful and diverse, yet deeply unequal and unsustainable. My work and academics focus on the intersection of human connection and sustainability: I intend to devote my career to moving the needle towards a future where wealth is more evenly distributed, communities are designed to be resilient and connected, environmental stewardship and sustainability are valued, and overall wellbeing and happiness are greater.” -Reese O’Craven



Congratulations to all the students selected for this year’s Husky 100 award! To learn more about their experiences, please visit the Husky 100 page.

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A letter to my Asian women students looking for answers

Dean Cheng sitting with two men one in a red shirt and one in a gray shirt looking at something in the distanceMy mom loved Obama, she loved his measured speech, his cool, his handsomeness, how he reminded her of JFK. She loved that America had a Black president. A few weeks before she died, her stamina wasn’t great, but she stayed up after dinner to watch his State of Union address. Sitting in her tiny rocking chair, she was rapt, nodding at the good parts, making comments like, “so smart” and “so true.” I noticed she was starting to nod off, so I offered to help her to bed. She readily agreed, “Yes, I don’t need to see anymore, he’s got it right.” She died in 2009, confident that America had moved into a post-race era. While I will always wish she lived longer, lately the stronger emotion I have when thinking of her is gratitude. I’m thankful that she died never knowing how wrong she was.

Over the past year, the historic hate against Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders has once again exposed itself. But a few weeks ago, as I drafted a message to my college community after the murders in Atlanta, I experienced something new. I tried so hard to stay in my identity as a leader and public figurehead of our college, which is usually a comfortable skin for me. But this time, for this message, for the first time in a year’s worth of tough messages, I resented being a leader crafting a statement for my majority-white colleagues and students about tolerance, culture, and bridging differences. I understand that what I say can help you, and most of the time I welcome that responsibility. But today, can’t I opt out? How can I speak when I have so much confusion over my own race?

Like many of us, my concept of race isn’t simple and can be traced to experiences over a long period of time and to the people who taught us. My mom fiercely loved America and believed it truly lived up to its promise as the land of opportunity, even when she found many aspects of America “qíguài” or even more extreme “qíguài sǐ le” which, depending on the context and the topic, translated to odd, baffling, perplexing and/or wrongheaded. When I was a child, my mom used to tell me about how hard it had been to come to the U.S. from China, homesick and disoriented. Part of earning her college scholarship was visiting places in Ohio that had never seen a Chinese person before. She dressed up in her qipao, and let schoolchildren touch her, and made small talk at country clubs, patiently correcting assumptions, assuring her audience that she grew up with both running water and books and if the curiosity seemed genuine, she mentioned that those amenities were no surprise in a country that had movable type printing presses and infrastructure at the time when many in the Western world were living in caves. She said it made her skin crawl to be touched, and that presenting felt like being a performing seal, but the scholarship was important.

My mom drew as fluidly as the most accomplished Walt Disney animator. I asked her once how she learned to draw so fast, and she told me that when she was in college, she busked to earn bus fare to visit her sister who had married a man in Florida. Drawing faster meant more caricatures, bigger crowds, and more money. As a child, what struck me most about her description of Florida in 1950 was that when she wanted to go to the bathroom, she had to choose between the “colored” and “whites only” doors. Deeply puzzled, I asked:

Which one did you go into?
I didn’t know what to do.
So which did you use?
I waited until we got home to go.
Couldn’t you ask someone?
I didn’t want to ask.
Couldn’t you wait to see what the other Chinese people did?

She shook her head and laughed.

What ‘other Chinese people’? There were no other Chinese people.
What did Aye say to do?
She said, ‘don’t drink anything so you don’t have to go until you get home.’
Are we white or colored?
Well, we aren’t white.
So are we colored?
Maybe, I don’t know. But you don’t have to worry about it, it’s one of those strange things that happened a long time ago and no one cares about that anymore.

To Mom, race didn’t matter but culture did. Chinese food, not American, was comfort food. All those cool things my friends did that I wasn’t allowed to do, hanging out at the mall, having sandwiches for dinner, calling grown-ups by their first name, treating report cards cavalierly, were all off-limits to me. The default reason was always “because our family is Chinese.” For all those reasons and more, I’ve known since childhood that I’m not white, yet I’ve never known if that meant if I was in Florida in the 1950s, would I use that door marked “colored?” Let alone answers to even more haunting questions: If that door still existed today, would I use it? If there is an equivalent metaphor for that door, have I been passing by it or through it without conscious choice?

A few years ago, planning a diversity training, I disagreed with the much younger white woman who was in charge of the program. I can’t remember what the issue was, but I remember her dismissal of my viewpoint “since you aren’t really a minority.” It’s true that I’m hardly the only Asian walking around my campus, but it’s also true that the Asian perspective is not part of the dominant white culture. The first time I was in a majority-Asian event, my freshman year of college at a Chinese volleyball tournament, I walked around in a daze, wondering to myself “What is this feeling? Look at all these Asians and not one of them is my cousin or someone I know.” It took me many more of these events over a couple of years to identify what I was experiencing was a tiny part of me relaxing, a consciousness of difference didn’t need to be held. The feeling was a missing tension, a release of pressure to try to see through white eyes; I didn’t have to be vigilant that something I said might be heard differently because of my Asian face.

A few weeks ago, sitting down to craft the message to my college, I felt an unexpected resentment. Why can’t I be that freshman at the volleyball tournament, able to speak as just me – a Chinese-American person in a crowd of Chinese-Americans. I felt burdened; I yearned to be that Chinese-American daughter being reassured by her Chinese-immigrant mother that America was the greatest country in the world and race no longer mattered. I felt insecure, as a leader that people look to for answers to complicated questions, how can I talk about this if I don’t know for myself the answer to the simple question – which door would I enter, the one marked “colored” or “white”? When my university excludes Asians from the category of “underrepresented minority,” does that close a door that I might want open, if not for myself, for my students or faculty?

In the end, I know if my words can help my college community, my built environments community,  I will always take the opportunity to talk or engage about race to an audience willing to listen. I know my actions matter in a different way from my white colleagues as we work on the systemic issues that impact all historically marginalized people. But today, I’m taking the time I need to work out some things for myself. And I’ll let you know if I have answers to share.


Renée Cheng, FAIA, DPACSA, is Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. She is the lead researcher for a multiyear project resulting in the American Institute of Architects Guides for Equitable Practice .

Congratulations to our 2019 Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Olmsted Scholars

“Using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.” 

These are the qualities of students recognized through the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted Scholars Program, considered one of the most prestigious national awards for students of landscape architecture.

The College of Built Environments is proud to recognize two graduating students as Olmsted scholar nominees: Fatema Maswood (MLA) and Nick Zurlini (BLA). Fatema, in particular, deserves special recognition as one of six National Olmsted Scholar Finalists. 

Each year, faculty from accredited landscape architecture programs across the country nominate students with exceptional leadership potential for Olmsted Scholar recognition. Two independent juries select winners and finalists from a group of over 80 Olmsted Scholars.

Fatema Maswood crossing the stage at graduation
Fatema Maswood crossing the stage at CBE’s graduation ceremony.

Fatema was recognized by faculty and the independent juries for her approach to design and design research that uncovers overlooked narratives, critically engages political questions, and translates design processes and methods to a broader public as tools for education and mobilization. Fatema’s research explores disaster resilience and stormwater management grounded in traditional ecological knowledge, considering approaches for a decentralized water harvesting network in her mother’s native city of Tunis, Tunisia. 

Nick attributes his nomination in part to the landscape architecture faculty who serve as both role models and mentors to him. Through his studies, he has found a passion for the design process and for the landscape architecture as an academic discourse and as a profession.  

Fatema and Nick represent a strong history of Olmsted Scholars from the University of Washington. The College of Built Environments’ Department of Landscape Architecture has seen four other past finalists and two award winners, David de la Cruz, MLA ’17 and Leann Andrews, MLA ’13, Ph.D. ’18. The Olmsted Scholars will gather in November with this year’s group of Scholars and leaders from practice, academia, and industry at the LAF Benefit in San Diego.

A greener smile

Isabelle de Mozenette, a recent Community, Environment, and Planning (CEP) graduate, approached the UW School of Dentistry early this year with a plan to replace some of the plastic toothbrushes handed out to patients with ones that have bamboo handles. She quickly gained the approval of Dr. Ricardo Schwedhelm, Associate Dean of Clinics, and then worked with Dr. Diane Daubert of the Department of Periodontics faculty to implement the plan.

De Mozenette’s focus was on environmentally sustainable business and her idea originated last winter in a class called Attaining a Sustainable Society.

A woman stands in front of a screen projecting on the wall
Isabelle de Mozenette presenting her project on sustainable, bamboo toothbrushes.


“My teammates and I thought that dentists handing out free bamboo toothbrushes to their patients instead of plastic ones would be a really good example of businesses using the power and the impact that they have for good,” she said, “and for setting a norm by communicating to their patients that they value patient safety as well as environmental sustainability.” The idea soon evolved into her senior project.

De Mozenette secured grants to purchase the toothbrushes, which she obtained from the Seattle company SenzaBamboo. The company uses wild bamboo grown with no pesticides or fertilizer, and says  the variety is one that pandas do not eat, and thus are not deprived of a food source. While other companies make bamboo toothbrushes, SenzaBamboo stood out not only because of its local nature  but because it donates part of its profits to the Mary’s Place women’s shelter in Seattle.

The bamboo handle holds up well beyond the three months’ maximum that dentists recommend patients use a toothbrush before discarding, but then biodegrades in a natural environment or in a commercial composting facility, de Mozenette said.

The brushes were given to Dentistry faculty and staff as part of a “goodie bag” that also included sample-size toothpaste and compostable dental floss. Although the pilot project was set up for spring quarter, de Mozenette recently purchased another $900 worth of toothbrushes that will allow patients to receive them during the summer as well.

She also offered a parting plug for the green initiative, directed at School of Dentistry alumni and other dentists: “If they want to be more sustainable in their own personal practices, then they can order from SenzaBamboo and get the same wholesale price of 70 cents per toothbrush.”

Meet the two CBE students in the Husky 100

Established in 2015, the Husky 100 recognizes students from all three UW campuses who are making the most of their Husky Experience – the collection of transformative educational experiences that help UW students discover their passions in life and work, become independent thinkers and gain skills that lead to meaningful leadership opportunities and rewarding careers.

Colton Twiddy, left, and Hayden Campbell, right.

Nominated by their peers, faculty, staff and mentors, the students who become the Husky 100 are juniors, seniors and graduate students who actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom and apply what they learn to make a difference on campus, in their communities and for the future.

This year, we have two students and three departments represented from our college: Hayden Campbell from the MUP program and Colton Twiddy in the Architectural Design and Construction Management dual degree program.

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Spring Breaker: MLA Student heads to Peru for Population Health

MLA 2018 candidate Nicky Bloom has been named the landscape architect InterACTION Exchange Fellow and will spend her spring break in Iquitos, Peru to participate in our ongoing Population Health Initiative grant activities with the design team of Nancy Rottle, Coco Alarcon, Leann Andrews, Ben Spencer, Ken Yocom (remotely), and three Peruvian architects and engineers. 

Specifically, they’ll be designing a landscape intervention aimed at improving microbiome and human and ecological health for Claverito, an informal urban floating community on the Amazon River. Nicky will join a team of over 30 researchers and professionals from both UW and Peru representing ten different disciplines: dentistry, nursing, environmental health, environmental engineering, chemistry, biology, landscape architecture, civil engineering, global health and environmental science.

Sponsored by the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, this exchange will bring four UW students to Iquitos to work on the project as well as funding for two students to process the samples in the labs here at UW. The exchange will also bring two Peruvian students from the University of San Marcos to Seattle Seattle for skills training, cross-cultural exchange of ideas and technology transfer, fostering the international mobility of students from both participating institutions.

InterACTION Labs: Piloting an interdisciplinary built environment community health program with an informal settlement in the Peruvian Amazon

Joseph R. Zunt, Global Health, Neurology, Epidemiology, Medicine (Infectious Diseases)
Sarah Gimbel, Family and Child Nursing
Rebecca Neumann, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Peter Rabinowitz, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
Ana Lucia Seminario, Dentistry
Ben Spencer, Landscape Architecture

We propose to develop an interdisciplinary, action-oriented program – InterACTION Labs – to improve human and animal health, environmental resilience and social equity through participatory design, implementation and assessment of projects, processes and technologies in vulnerable communities. We will pilot the first InterACTION Lab in Claverito, Iquitos, Peru – an informal urban floating community living on the Amazon River.

The Lab will design and implement innovative interventions to improve the built and natural environments in Claverito and then assess for improvements in health by examining the “microbiome,” or flora, in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract of human and animal residents and the environment, alongside traditional measures of health (e.g., blood pressure, hemoglobin levels) to determine if these interventions can reduce exposure to harmful bacteria (e.g., Escherichia coli), parasites (e.g., Giardia lamblia), and metals (e.g., lead) that stunt growth and development of children and health of adults. Initial interventions will address community-defined challenges and will likely involve integrated productive gardens and floating pathways that clean water and soil, provide microhabitat, food and medicinal plants and carry future community services (e.g., electricity, water, sewer).

Our project will not only improve health conditions for the Claverito community, but also provide collaborative service learning opportunities for UW and Peruvian students and faculty, and contribute to knowledge about the influence of the built and natural environment upon the microbiome – a determinant of health. The InterACTION Lab in Claverito will inform future Labs in other vulnerable communities in Peru, the US, Washington and internationally.