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K-State Today

October 19, 2016

Students to present on-campus colloquium about travel experiences with MESA

Submitted by Courtney Boman

This past year, landscape architecture students were provided an opportunity to apply for an award allowing them to explore a topic of personal interest in a location most appropriate for that topic. MESA, a Dallas, Texas landscape architecture office co-founded by alumnus Stan Cowan, '87, sponsors the Design Discovery Award.

Two fourth-year students, Kelsey Steward and Kaitlin Bernal, received the award. In addition to selecting their topic and study sites, Steward and Bernal were asked to identify a specific site, region, system, or culture as it relates historically to a theory of landscape architectural design.

"The Design Discovery Award was created as an opportunity for students to research and experience landscape architecture abroad," said Cowan, MESA senior principal, and Aaron Duncan, MESA principal. "We have enjoyed a long-lasting partnership with K-State's landscape architecture and regional & community planning department. We have a strong relationship with the program and the professors, in addition, many of MESA's employees are landscape architecture and regional & community planning alumni."

For Steward, the opportunity to travel motivated her to apply for the award. 

"I chose to travel to the tropical climate of Costa Rica to learn about ecolodge design and low-impact development," Steward said. "My desire was to deeply understand the place, culture, and ecology of Costa Rica, not just visit for a few days like a tourist. That is why I used the award to spend my whole summer — more than two months in Costa Rica." 

After receiving the award, Steward reached out to ecolodge expert Hitesh Mehta, a landscape architect based out of Florida. Mehta connected Steward to her dream location, Lapa Rios ecolodge. Steward interned for a sustainable hospitality company called Cayuga who manages eight properties in Costa Rica. She spent her first month at Lapa Rios, the world-renowned ecolodge in the Osa Peninsula, and her second month at Arenas del Mar beach resort in Manuel Antonio.

For Bernal, the award allowed her to expand on her experiences at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad.

"Through the school, planned opportunities to explore the more natural environments were presented through weekend excursions and fall break trips," Bernal said. "The MESA Design Discovery Award made these excursions financially possible for me to participate and explore the more natural environments of these countries. It also provided an opportunity to focus on design elements as I traveled."

Bernal's focus was to study and better understand the effects natural excursions could have on the positive psychology of a group of students and how these environments can start to develop restorative relationships between strangers. Bernal chose three trips that all went to remote towns and focused on active activities such as hiking and biking. The trips included:

  • A canoe and hiking trip in Sweden, exploring the Ronne River and the Kullaberg Peninsula.
  • A cycling trip on the Danish island of Bornholm, exploring various landscapes the 2.3-square-mile island has to offer.
  • A hiking, rock climbing, rappelling trip in Cesky raj navigating through the foothills of the Giant and Jizerske Mountains.

Both Steward and Bernal were inspired by work completed in studio leading up to their travels.

"Through studio work in the semester leading up to the trips I focused on this idea of positive psychology through landscape architecture and how trails and preservation in natural environments could encourage active restoration to the users," Bernal said. "These excursions provided a wonderful opportunity to observe these conditions."

Steward's focus leading up to her trip was sparked in assistant professor Alpa Nawre's studio focusing on India.

"My project was designing a tiny island theoretical ecolodge site in Kerala," Steward said. "As I began to work I was doing plenty of research and quickly became interested in these low impact tourism sites. Were they really sustainable? What was the guest experience like? What was the worker experience like? It was during the end of this project, in winter 2015, that I wrote my proposal for MESA's award."

"Ultimately, we hope the student's experience inspires a true passion for landscape architecture, broadens one’s design awareness, and cultivates a deeper understanding of landscape architectural design in the context of the natural environment and varying cultures of the world," Cowan and Duncan said.

The award allowed for Steward and Bernal to explore foreign countries, learn new languages, meet people and push them to think in the mindset of a student, tourist and worker.

"This award changed my education and certainly my outlook on the world," Steward said. "If you want to travel this award opportunity is for you."

Both Steward and Bernal will present on two separate occasions about their experiences. First, they will travel to Dallas to share what they learned with the the MESA office; then they will be featured in an Landscape Architecture and Regional & Community Planning Colloquium at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at the College of Architecture, Planning & Design's temporary facility by the Manhattan airport, also called APDWest.

The colloquium is open to the public.