Student view:

Stephanie Onwenu: Contributing to a community

Sept. 12, 2018

Stephanie Onwenu is a senior majoring in landscape architecture in the School of Planning, Design and Construction with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies. Onwenu is also pursuing a Master's degree in environmental design in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

As a senior landscape architecture student in Michigan State University’s Landscape Architecture Program, the opportunities I have had are endless. Landscape architecture has allowed me to combine my interests in helping people and protecting the environment.

As a designer, my goal is to create and design diverse, innovative spaces that respect human needs and the roles they play in nature and the environment, while also connecting spaces and places to the people who define it.

MSU has the oldest known landscape architecture program in the United States. This rich history is evident through the courses I have taken.

Combined with my internship experiences, both have greatly helped me in gaining a better understanding of the field of landscape architecture and how it relates to social, economic and environmental issues that affect communities on a daily basis.

Additionally, MSU’s landscape architecture program has provided me with opportunities to participate in collaborative design within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, such as DETXMSU: DesignThink Program and the Sparty’s Cabin Tiny House Project. Both projects involved collaboration among all four School of Planning, Design and Construction programs within CANR.

I saw this project as a great way to meet other CANR people from different programs and as an opportunity to learn and work together as a team — to accomplish a goal. One of the most important skills and bits of knowledge I have taken from these projects is collaboration is key within landscape architecture.

Another opportunity I had is the City of Detroit’s "Give A Park, Get A Park" design competition. As a proud native Detroiter, I saw the GAPGAP design competition as a unique opportunity to challenge myself as a student and emerging professional and contribute something positive to my community.

I gained so much from the experience, especially a new perspective on how to approach underutilized neighborhood mini parks under an acre that have fallen out of use due to poor location or lack of resources.

Landscape architecture requires a combination of skills including, critical thinking, creative expression, collaboration, developmental knowledge and real-world application. As students, we are trained through our lectures and studio design workshops to employ those skills to our project designs.

Design competitions like GAPGAP are great opportunities that give students the access and freedom to explore how design can impact a community. My team, who share professional backgrounds in architecture and landscape architecture, and I were able to support the vision of the MorningSide community in creating their park design.

As a student going into my final year, knowing that our team’s GAPGAP competition model could be utilized to foster the development of neighborhood parks is amazing and, in a way, engages the community while stimulating the emerging professional design community within Detroit. In the end, this design competition not only provided me with the opportunity to share my passion for design, but to contribute to a local community by creating a canvas for people to come together and express themselves.