LANDSCAPE COURSE OFFERS
STUDENTS A GLIMPSE OF THE WORLD OUTSIDE
What do 18th-century English gardens, former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, and New York’s Central Park mean to an architecture student? Plenty, if the student is to understand the relationships between architecture and the natural environment.
In the course Reading the Landscape, architecture professor Julia Czerniak offers a historical look at these relationships through detailed study of designed exterior space. The elegant public gardens of England, Thomas Jefferson’s exhaustive designs for Monticello, and Manhattan’s urban oasis are just some of the topics covered.
Such of this is new ground for architecture students, who spend most of their time studying building structures and interiors. “Students often come to my class thinking that landscape is the shrubbery outside the door,” Czerniak says with a laugh. “It doesn’t take them long to become more conscious of the designed landscape’s complexity.”
Richard Nisa ’01 found the course a welcome counterpoint to most of his other architecture studies. “The class changed the way I approach architectural form-making because it asked students to articulate both a historical and a theoretical understanding of how we interpret our environments,” he says. “As the class moved through such topics as site and landscape urbanism, I realized that after being given a rhetoric with which to approach landscape, my understanding of design and design processes was challenged and reaffirmed.”
By studying examples like Central Park, Czerniak says, students learn how landscapes can become a systemic part of an urban infrastructure and large-scale planning. In addition to possessing aesthetic qualities, the best landscape work is carefully and critically designed, as well as ecologically sustainable.
“Professor Czerniak’s course intrigued me because it seemed more introspective,” says Joshua Linkov ’01. “This class helped me develop tools to read and understand what different landscapes are about and to figure out the designer’s intentions.”
Although students typically take the course in their third year, some, like Linkov, find the material helpful in preparing for their fifth-year thesis. “The class was actually a starting point for my thesis; I analyzed the American lawn,” Linkov says. “I took this information and applied it to town greens in New England. With an interest in how towns use public green space, I came up with my final design project.”
Czerniak refines the readings and discussions each year, taking into account what students need to know historically, and what they want to know about contemporary issues in landscape architecture.
Another important element is Czerniak’s professional experience. She has worked as both an architect and a landscape designer in Philadelphia. “Teaching this course is a great thing for me,” she says. “When I came to Syracuse five years ago, I saw it as a long-awaited forum to combine the two disciplines and share my interest.”
A PROFESSOR'S COMMITMENT TO STUDENTS REFLECTS HIS LOVE OF TEACHING
Marvin Druger is not one to sit still, even after 38 years of teaching biology and science education at SU. More impressive than his energy, however, is his dedication to the thousands of students he has taught throughout his career. As the professor of an introductory biology course, he emphasizes attendance and calls students if they miss too many classes. He also encourages students to open their minds and look at things differently, and to discover their own unique talents and apply them to career goals. “They’re here for the experience,” says Druger. “My theme is that we learn from everything we do, and everything we do becomes part of who we are.”
Such a commitment leaves students with a positive impression of Druger and the course. “He shows us that we’re not just a number,” says Steven Bedard ’03.
Marvin Druger is a national leader in the field of science education.
Druger informally calls the course “Adventures in Life” and provides many unique opportunities for students to learn about “life.” For example, Druger, who emphasizes motivation and subject-matter competency, holds the Bio-Creativity Contest, enabling students to earn extra credit by developing something creative, such as an essay, poster, sculpture, model, or computer presentation. He also provides “benefit-of-the-doubt” credit for students who attend campus lectures and activities that enrich their life experiences. “One of my major goals is to teach students to learn,” he says.
Recognizing that teaching assistants (TAs) are critical to students’ classroom experience, Druger initiated the biology TA program soon after he arrived at SU. “When I began as a teaching assistant, I was handed the textbook and received no training,” he says. “I want our TAs to have a better initiation. I try to instill in them that they must truly care about the students.”
Druger’s positive influence reaches nationwide. He has been president of three national science teaching organizations, and is currently president-elect of the Society for College Science Teachers. He received the 2000 Robert H. Carleton Award for National Leadership in the Field of Science Education, the highest honor given by the National Science Teachers Association. While he appreciates the honor, he believes the true impact of his teaching is seen in how students feel about the course a decade after taking it. “I always have former students stopping me wherever I go,” he says. “Their comments make me feel that I’ve had a positive influence on their lives.”
Druger also has organized, directed, and taught many programs for teachers and students and continually finds new ways to help students learn about science and life. “I have had the opportunity to influence the lives and careers of thousands of students, and make them think about life,” he says. “For me, that is very satisfying.”
DANIELLE K. JOHNSON