Isabelle Smith affectionately calls her journey to a Temple University Ambler degree in horticulture her “10-year plan.”
The Glen Mills grandmother began her quest for a bachelor’s degree in 1993 and never once over that 10 years thought about throwing in the towel.
“I was an at-home mom, I worked in my husband’s business, and I was an avid gardener. I came to Temple University Ambler to learn more about my plants,” said Smith, who describes herself as being “about as non-traditional a student as you can get.”
Smith would take one or two classes a semester, all the while helping her husband Raymond maintain his business.
“He was the workforce. I was the administration. He works in machine tools, about as far away from horticulture as you can get,” she said with a laugh. “Temple was really very good about working out options for a degree that fits around someone’s life. Everyone was extremely supportive the whole way through.”
In addition to using every course assignment in some way to enhance her own home garden, Smith has every intention of passing along what she has learned.
“I would like to teach or possibly go into public horticulture,” she said. “I’d like to be somewhere that I can work with people and help them understand the connection between the plants around them and the air they breathe.”
Smith has already taken her knowledge into the township council room and the courtroom in heated debates, and some all-out battles, with area developers. On one occasion, she added, see did come close to “chaining myself to one particular tree.”
“Part of the problem is that there is not enough understanding of how important municipal government is to the quality of life that people are subjected to,” she said. “You do have resources and there are ways to impact what developers are allowed to do in your community.”
Armed with the knowledge she has received in her classes at Temple University Ambler, “I’m able to go to hearings and say these trees will die if you build a road here and tell them exactly why,” Smith said.
“At least when I say I’m from Temple, they know I have the knowledge behind what I am saying,” she said. “At first, the developers didn’t want to hear it at all, but it has impacted the way developments and open space have be planned in our area.”
In May 2003, Smith took part in a special diploma ceremony for Landscape Architecture and Horticulture students, an event that will be attended by her husband, daughter Laura, son Raymond and her grandchildren Amelia and Alexandra.
“Amelia and I did homework together. I think it is very cool for them to see that I’m still in school,” she said. “It gives them a broader perspective on education.”
Smith graduated with an astounding 3.95 GPA, which see attributes to “a love of what I’m learning and being very competitive.”
“The advice I have for anyone exploring the idea of going back to school is to simply do it. You’d be surprised what can be accomplished,” she said. “It feels real now. It feels like going on to the next chapter in a book and I’m looking forward to it.”