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Penn State’s First Architecture Ph.D. Student Earns Degree

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Stephen Mainzer

Stephen Mainzer, who successfully defended his dissertation on March 1, will become the first doctoral student in the Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture to graduate with a Ph.D. in Architecture. A member of the first cohort in 2014, his degree will be a dual-title degree, combining Architecture (with a focus in landscape architecture) and Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment (HDNRE).

“Graduating with the program's first Ph.D. is an immense honor,” said Mainzer. “I hope that I have demonstrated to my colleagues and future students the benefits of taking a strong design foundation – developed during my bachelor and master's work at Penn State – across disciplinary boundaries.”

The degree will be Mainzer’s third from Penn State. He received his bachelor of landscape architecture in 2005 and his master of science in landscape architecture in 2011. Mainzer is accustomed to being a trailblazer – his M.S. thesis, which analyzed neighborhood design through an ecological lens, led to him becoming the first student with an M.S. in Landscape Architecture from Penn State.

His dissertation, "A community landscape model of pro-environmental behavior: The effects of landscape and community interaction on residential energy behaviors in two Pennsylvania towns," combines eight years of professional practice in the fields of design and planning with his goal of attaining “a holistic picture of what is happening – or could happen – across people- and place-based landscapes.” His co-advisers were Dr. Andy Cole (Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Ecology) and Dr. A.E. Luloff (Professor Emeritus of Rural Sociology).

“I’m incredibly proud to have a dissertation committee that includes an ecologist, a rural sociologist, a forester, and an urban planner,” noted Mainzer. “As I collaborated with faculty and students in the inter-college Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment  program, I grew from a teammate to a leader of interdisciplinary project teams. Working across disciplinary fields continues to make me a better designer, researcher, and educator.”

Mainzer is currently pursuing teaching and research positions and developing plans for a future consulting practice geared towards informing the human values of environmental conflicts for design professionals. He has been an instructor for the Stuckeman School in the Department of Landscape Architecture and core faculty and course author for half of the pre-studio courses of the online Geodesign graduate program through World Campus.

“When I was working on a series of land use and transportation projects along the Space Coast of central Florida, we were successfully applying different approaches that tapped into various social dimensions. I was also teaching in the Geodesign graduate program at the time and was coming around to the idea that a career in research, teaching, and practice might be a way to address some of these questions,” he explained.

Mainzer was recently one of thirteen graduate students who received the Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award, Distinguished Doctoral Scholar Medal, in recognition of outstanding professional accomplishment and achievement in scholarly research. The recipients were honored during the Graduate Student Awards Luncheon. The $5,000 award, considered to be among the most prestigious available to Penn State graduate students, provides funding to full-time research doctorate students who have passed their comprehensive examinations and have received approval of their dissertation topic.

He has also published in Land Use Policy, a publication from the Hamer Center for Community Design, and has an upcoming publication in Community Development. Mainzer credits his design foundation and willingness to collaborate across disciplines for his success in the field and is looking forward to this next phase in his career.

View Mainzer’s faculty page to learn more about his work: