Photos: Kathy Rudnyk

I’m honored to work at AHBE Landscape Architects, where I am able to share my multi-disciplinary education with other landscape design professionals, and work toward realizing a beautiful and sustainable vision of the future. I’m also glad I graduated from college before the introduction and adoption of iPhones. My pre-mobile device youth encouraged me to explore the great outdoors and spurred on a fascination of built environments.

Back in the late 80s, I still carried a pen, used left-hand notebooks (despite being right-handed), and talked on a “brick” phone. I memorized the Merck Manual as if I was still planning to attend med school. I’d often go to the laundromat with a daiquiri in hand, still religiously read the daily newspaper, happily rode a bike, and typed on an Apple Macintosh desktop.

In other words, I wear my Gen X badge with pride.

While attending Tulane University, I wanted to earn a multi-disciplinary degree. The goal was to create my own pathway during the four years I was there. Unfortunately, when I graduated reality set in. I was unsure what I would do with my American Studies degree to earn enough money to pay off my bills.

I know I was not alone way back when. Today’s students still face these same uncertainties and questions as they cross over from university life to a full-time working one. I believe it’s still okay to graduate without a clear career track. As for me, years later that degree in American Studies has provided more purpose and meaning than I ever anticipated.

While attending Tulane I was forced to explore landscape architecture beyond just a visual solution of plants framing a building. At the time our professor had a son who was completing the Harvard Graduate School of Design in landscape architecture; his son was willing to share with me a boatload of printed materials to review. One assignment required me to write about which landscape architect would become famous in 20 years. Even though I met a number of landscape architecture students from the United State and internationally while working at the Monrovia Nursery Company during my college breaks, I honestly had no idea what landscape architecture really was about until tackling this assignment.

Even though I had a busy life – working, running at the gym (while occasionally watching the boys play basketball), socializing with friends, and tackling a full course load – I thought I would just embrace the task and educate myself alongside my five other classmates. I found Los Angeles with a thriving creative industry with a booming economy motivated by an optimism in technology, alongside an amazing hotbed of talent in the realm of landscape architecture.

Unfortunately, even in the 1980s, Los Angeles was quickly losing cultivatable space for plants; it was completely inappropriate to graze animals in one’s Brentwood backyard, and unrealistic for massively sleek swimming pools (even though I have been to a few West Hollywood homes where there was only a swimming pool in the backyard and nothing more). That said, Los Angeles has never lacked in money nor in leaders with a strong creative spirit for landscape architecture!

Words may have earned me high grades, but it didn’t get me any further than the next Joe/Jane when it came to getting an interview. Creativity always dircted the dialogue during interviews for jobs out of college. To stand out in a dismal New Orleans economy, I pulled together a rudimentary portfolio of laminated images that I would bring to an interview. Most Tulane graduates crafted short resumes listing their recent degree(s) advertised at the top of the page. I knew that people in New Orleans would most likely be put off by the words, “Tulane University”, and also that the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau were enough without listing knowledge about a computer language. Perhaps it was my craftiness for printing, drawing, graphics, and visual imagery that worked for me in the end.

Understanding the client – my future employer – was more important than anything else. I spent my first year at Tulane studying fine art, and it helped me formulate how to share my artistic vision, and also how to listen to feedback about my artistic efforts for improvement. And because of these realizations, it was easier for me at a job interview to discuss my art than my research papers, making it even more relevant to a job in advertising or publishing. Those possible employers who did not share my passion for the creative mind…well…I clearly decided that they probably were a poor fit for me anyhow.

Technology has moved forward since then. I’ve come to discover I will never be able to extract my prose from the CPU-powered box shown up top. My Macintosh Plus may still welcomes me with a “ding” chime, a rather cool sound to hear even decades later, but its contents are no longer easily accessible. Lucky for me, I was better at creativity and merging it with my education in horticultural science and liberal arts than navigating obsolete technology.

I wish everyone attending university right now a rich academic experience, regardless of the career path they decide to follow. But please, print out and save your written work for later. There’s a good chance anything saved on a flash drive today won’t be easily accessible nor compatible with anything 20 years from now. And for all those who want to know who I selected, I can reveal she is still practicing today – a talent I believe who remains cool and famous in her own regard!


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