STEM Designation for Landscape Architecture Expands Funding, Research Opportunities

Many of the landscape architecture faculty and students in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design are shown in a design studio in Vol Walker Hall in fall 2023.
Oliver Right

Many of the landscape architecture faculty and students in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design are shown in a design studio in Vol Walker Hall in fall 2023.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated landscape architecture as a STEM degree program. STEM is short for the academic fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to a press release from the American Society of Landscape Architects, landscape architecture programs are pioneering some of the most innovative research and developing new technologies from using artificial intelligence for urban agriculture to urban planning for autonomous vehicles; to hydraulic modeling, robotic fabrication and augmented reality for water bodies.

Landscape architecture received the STEM designation after DHS reviewed nominations from advocates around the nation — including advocates within the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design's Department of Landscape Architecture.

Ken McCown, ASLA, department head and professor of landscape architecture, recently completed a decade of service to the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, serving as president, treasurer and regional director. During his tenure in leadership, he stewarded the conversation and strategies to make landscape architecture a STEM-designated program.

Importantly, the designation more correctly identifies the work of landscape architecture programs across the nation. It also expands funding and recruitment opportunities for the Fay Jones School's Landscape Architecture Department. The designation follows on the previous designation of architecture as a STEM field in 2018.

McCown said the designation does not change the curriculum in the Landscape Architecture Department.

"Since this discipline's inception, landscape architects used STEM as a basis for their planning and design work," McCown said. "The STEM designation is an important recognition of the tools used, and often invented, by the profession."

The designation will expand access to the discipline and bring about a higher awareness of what landscape architects do.

Robyn Lane, an instructor in landscape architecture, said this increased awareness is key in recruiting for the program and the profession. She said one thing that often hinders recruitment is the need to educate the public about what landscape architecture is and what landscape architects do. Lane, Ph.D., is also an alumna of the Fay Jones School, graduating in 2000 with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture.

"The designation of landscape architecture as a STEM discipline expands funding opportunities for research and students," Lane said. "Having an official STEM designation aids in defining the profession for the public and potential students."

External funding is often the key that allows the department to develop outreach and education strategies to foster long-term relationships with K-12 programs, educators and students. Noah Billig, Ph.D., associate professor of landscape architecture, said access to the discipline will continue to increase with the designation.

"It also aligns more correctly with how the discipline is moving in practice, teaching and research. Many landscape architects are tackling complex challenges with science-based solutions," Billig said. "The STEM designation is an accurate recognition that landscape architecture can often connect other science- and technology-based disciplines using our myriad tools of design and science."

"The STEM designation for landscape architecture has been long-advocated and long-awaited," said Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School, "and this status now gives added substance to the character and value of landscape architecture as a discipline and profession. The contemporary design of the built environment and the ongoing stewardship of the natural environment is both an art and a science, and the architecture and design disciplines of the school emphasize this hybrid character in our programs. For us, the STEM designation also reinforces our advocacy of our work in architecture, landscape architecture and interior architecture as 'applied research,' for the good of the citizens of the state of Arkansas."

The Landscape Architecture Department in the Fay Jones School is dedicated to fostering excellence in landscape architecture by nurturing designers and advocates through a multi-disciplinary, place-responsive education. This education is designed to be adaptable across various scales, technologies and locations, serving Arkansas, the nation and the world.

A key component of this is the department's focus on advocacy. Members of the teaching faculty in the landscape architecture program aspire to produce skilled designers with advocacy know-how. Students graduate with a range of experiences, having worked with various communities, organizations and sites.

"We help students become aware of global issues relative to landscape architecture and sustainability. We help students become more aware of their professional dispositions and skills as an advocate, and we give them specific training in how to advocate," McCown said.

The curriculum facilitates an understanding of context and culture, as students gain effective communication skills to engage with community members and collaborators. It also develops a foundation of knowledge, skills and abilities for competency and leadership, equipping future design professionals to shape a more just and sustainable world.

C.L. Bohannon, Ph.D., an alumnus of the Fay Jones School, graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. Elevated this year to the ASLA College of Fellows, he serves as associate dean of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and associate professor of landscape architecture at The University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

"The designation of landscape architecture as a STEM discipline carries significant importance, as it underscores the interdisciplinary nature of our field and recognizes our role in addressing complex, 21st-century environmental and societal challenges," Bohannon said. "This recognition can lead to increased collaboration, funding and visibility for the profession of landscape architecture, ultimately contributing to more sustainable, resilient and beautiful landscapes."

The DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List is used to determine whether a degree obtained by some nonimmigrant students qualifies as a STEM degree. The pursuit of a STEM-designated program is required for those with student visas to be eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM Optional Practical Training extension.

Seven other programs received STEM designation at the same time as landscape architecture.

Contacts

Tara Ferkel, communications specialist
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design
479-575-4704, tferkel@uark.edu

Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design
479-575-4704, mparks17@uark.edu

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