For landscape architect Kim Kauffman, field experiences serve as the “ultimate classroom.” That’s why he helped to underwrite “Ridge and Valley in the Field,” a one-credit landscape architecture course that explores—through a series of one-day field trips—the relationships between physical and biological landscape processes, including geology, climate, hydrology, landform, soils, plants, and animals.
Kauffman followed the lead of the Landscape Architecture Affiliate Program Group (APG), which had chosen the course as their departmental “project” to support for 2016–17. Thanks to the funding provided by the APG and Kauffman, the students did not have to assume any of the additional costs associated with the course, such as transportation fees and lunches
“The APG is very sensitive to the cost of a college education, and the great benefits of field trips—especially in this major,” said Lisa Thomas, president of Glackin Thomas Panzak, Inc. and treasurer of the Landscape Architecture APG. “It was an easy decision to support the additional fees for this course for all of the students.”
Eliza Pennypacker, head of the Department of Landscape Architecture, said the additional costs had been problematic for students. “Ridge and Valley in the Field provides our students important regional understanding and a great experience. But the fact that students had to pay added fees for this one-credit required course caused us concern. We’re enormously grateful to Kim and to our APG for completely eliminating that financial burden in spring 2017!”
The course, which takes place in May after spring semester classes have ended, has been a longtime requirement for students in both the B.L.A. and M.L.A. professional programs. Taught by Tom Yahner, associate professor emeritus of landscape architecture, it includes four day-trips to select locations across the Appalachian Mountain section of the local Ridge and Valley Landform Region. The course gives students the opportunity to study phenomena at the site level, particularly plants, soils, and landscape contexts.
According to Yahner, landscape systems learning is something all landscape architects should pursue in the physiographic region where they practice. “Learning how to analyze and interpret landscapes is important to all design work—as a source of essential information and as a source of design inspiration,” said Yahner, noting the Ridge and Valley Landform Region contains a very distinct relationship between the geophysical and the biological. “This makes the Ridge and Valley an excellent place to learn how to observe these important, sometimes subtle, relationships. Once you understand what to look for and how to observe a landscape, you can apply this method to any landscape in the world.”
In addition to the field trips, students in the course complete a pre-trip workshop and test to ensure they thoroughly understand the subject matter before embarking on the field experiences. They also record information, both pre-trip and post-trip, in a field book, including information they want to reference on the trip, on-site field observations, sketches, and diagrams. In addition, the students complete a reflection on that day’s observations.
In 2017, the class visited a wide variety of locations in central Pennsylvania, including Plummer’s Hollow, a preserve near Tyrone; Spring Creek Canyon; Hartly Wood at the Arboretum at Penn State; Bear Meadows Natural Area; Shingletown Gap; and a Penn State research farm near Rock Springs, among others.
According to Kauffman, the course serves as important career preparation. “As a professional landscape architect, I believe anytime you can get away from the office or the computer and get your hands dirty is an invaluable learning experience. The more of these experiences our students can have, the more prepared they will be to be successful.”
Photos by Kendall Mainzer