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Landscape Architecture Student’s Persuasive Paper Leads to New Fund to Offset Field Trip Expenses

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Landscape Architecture students at Halka Nurseries

While the hours spent in studio are a big part of Penn State Landscape Architecture students’ education, they can’t truly prepare for the profession in the studio alone. That’s where field trips come in. From urban parks to the Flight 93 Memorial to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, field trips show students landscape architecture in the “real world” and provide insight into the history and inner workings of the profession.

But they cost money, often placing a financial burden on students, who need to cover a portion of the expenses. That’s why one student wrote a persuasive piece for an English class, arguing that the added cost was problematic and should be addressed. That paper did more then fulfill a class requirement—it led alumnus Dan Dahlkemper and his wife, Kathleen, to establish the Dahlkemper Landscape Architects and Contractors Fund to offset the costs of field trips for undergraduate Landscape Architecture students.

“As a student with limited financial resources, it is not always easy to concentrate on my course work when I am faced with mounting debt,” wrote Rachel Hill in her assignment for English 202D, Business Writing. “Therefore it was important to me personally to find a solution to eliminating field trip charges to the students as a means to alleviate the growing financial burden of higher education.”

According to Eliza Pennypacker, professor and head of the department, the faculty understand the extra expenses can be problematic for students. “Field trips are essential to our pedagogical mission … Just about every semester, faculty take students on a field trip. And, while we wouldn’t dream of cutting any of these enriching experiences, we are as sensitive to the added financial cost as we are committed to the educational benefit.”

When Dan Dahlkemper, owner of Dahlkemper Landscape Architects and Contractors in Erie, was approached about making a gift that would help make the field trips less expensive for students, he gladly stepped up to help. Because he valued his own field trip experiences as a student, today he makes an effort to host students when they visit the Erie area and to share his professional journey. Dan and Kathleen, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009 to 2011 and is currently Erie County Executive, are generous philanthropists outside Penn State as well. Among other efforts, they founded the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park, which opened in 2001. 

Pennypacker said the department was thrilled when the Dahlkempers created this fund. “Dan has always been a much-appreciated friend of the department. And this gift makes us even more grateful to count him as a loyal alumnus!”

The Department of Landscape Architecture’s Affiliate Program Group (APG) also recently decided to use the annual proceeds of its endowment to support field trips, but additional funding is still needed. For more information on making a gift to the Department of Landscape Architecture, visit arts.psu.edu/philanthropy.

Photo: Landscape Architecture students visited Halka Nurseries in New Jersey in spring 2015.