The Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture's alumni are an exemplary group of diverse students who have entered into a wide variety of fields in the green industry.
To honor our alums, Temple University Ambler profiles just a few of the shining examples of our graduating seniors each year. All of them have a unique story to tell about their lives and their experiences at Ambler.
To learn more about each graduate, be sure to click "READ MORE" in each profile box.
Leading By Example
For her fifth grade yearbook while she was attending elementary school in New York, Diana Fernandez was asked a question everyone is posed at one time or another — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It didn’t take her long to come up with an answer.
“I said I wanted to be President of the United States. As an immigrant, I know that can never happen, but I certainly set out to become president of everything I could from thereon out,” laughed Fernandez, who was born in a small village in the Dominican Republic before she and her family moved to the U.S. when she was 6-years-old. “I’ve always loved leading and managing and getting people excited about what excited me.”
Anna Aniśko came to Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture no stranger to the green industry having spent more than a decade as a landscape designer and botanical illustrator before deciding to return to the classroom.
“My interest in the natural world comes from my home. I grew up in the mountains of Poland surrounded by meadows, forests and wild gardens,” said Aniśko, who will be one of the first 10 graduates to complete Temple’s Master of Landscape Architecture program, first established in Fall 2010. “My father was a wood technologist — he taught me the scientific names of many trees. My parents were the garden experts and they imparted their knowledge and love of the land to me.”
It could be said that Horticulture major Julie Bare took the scenic route in arriving at her passion for horticulture.
“I grew up in the suburbs, but gardening and horticulture was never really a family interest. I never considered it as a possible career,” said Bare, 21, of Coatesville who will graduate on May 10 with a Bachelor’s degree in horticulture. “I had taken a documentary filmmaking class at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia when I was still in high school and thought that was where my career would be heading. I actually came to Temple as a film major.”
Discovering that a future in film wasn’t for her, Bare started to explore other opportunities at Temple, landing in a Fundamentals in Horticulture class “just to see what it was all about.”
“It clicked. It simply made sense to me. I decided that this is what I needed to do,” she said. “Now I plan vacations around what garden I want to visit!”
Susan Fallon - Stepping Beyond the Fear to Pursue a Lifelong Dream
It’s a simple fact. The first day of school is intimidating…no matter what your age.
For Temple University Horticulture major Susan Fallon, 48, returning to the classroom wasn’t just a daunting endeavor, it was life-altering and career-changing. It wasn’t a decision that she in any way took lightly.
“For me, deciding to come back was a process. I wasn’t happy in my job, so I thought about what else I could do. I thought about horticulture, but how do I make a career out of it,” said Fallon, who was the School of Environmental Design Graduation Ceremony student speaker in May when she completed her degree in Horticulture. “I went to a horticulture lecture and asked the speaker how I would go about doing what he does. He said I needed a horticulture degree. I did my research, found Temple’s program, and made the appointment with Temple Ambler’s admissions office.”
Fallon said each part of the process for her fell in line one after the other, “and everything fell into place,” to achieving what she knew wasn’t just another job. She was on the path to pursuing her passion.
It’s safe to say that Horticulture student Austin Deputy was born to his profession.
“Essentially I live in the woods in Elverson, right near French Creek State Park. I’ve always had a connection to nature,” said Deputy, who graduated with a degree in Horticulture from Temple’s School of Environmental Design in the College of Liberal Arts in May. “My grandparents always had vegetable gardens and I started small gardens of my own.”
At Owen J. Roberts High School, Deputy had the good fortune to pursue his passion while pursuing his education, studying horticulture for four years.
“You could actually select it as part of your curriculum. I was involved in the greenhouse, holiday plant and fruit sales, and generally growing things that I found interesting,” he said. “I was also able to begin interning at Welkinweir Arboretum and Nature Sanctuary while I was still in high school.”
Safe to say Deputy was a natural fit for Temple’s Horticulture program offered at Temple University Ambler.
“It had everything I was looking for. The fact that the campus was an Arboretum and I could get hands-on experience in the campus greenhouse was a bonus,” he said. “The program has broadened my perspective on my career opportunities. I’ve become much more interested in the sustainable and environmental side of horticulture, environmentally friendly management practices and managing invasive species, for example.”
To track where Hannah LaCasse’s interest in landscape architecture began, you have to go back several years before she ever set foot in a classroom at Temple. Setting the “Wayback Machine” machine about 9 years into the past should do it.
“I started a landscaping business with my cousin when I was 13-years-old. I always had an interest in plants, but that’s where my interest in the landscape really blossomed,” LaCasse said, pun fully intentional. “After getting my scuba certification when I was 14, I thought marine biology might be the route for me, but when I discovered landscape architecture as a possible profession, I fell in love with it.”
Landscape architecture, LaCasse said, “is a combination of so many different professions” that the possibilities for a career within the industry catered to her personal interests seemed limitless.
“It combines sociology with art, the environment, and architecture. It’s how we incorporate the land and people together. Landscape architects design the world we live in. Essentially, they are designing everything outside of the buildings,” she said. “Landscape architecture designs need to function for people and the environment and also be beautiful. If you don’t have those three things, you have to go back, reexamine your design, and start over to find a better way.”
Jennifer Gilbert - Landscape Architecture is a Family Affair
For Jennifer Gilbert, landscape architecture isn’t a singular endeavor. You won’t find her find her at a site location, mapping it out on her own. She won’t be found insolated in a corner of a design studio working on a project by herself.
When Gilbert, 36, entered Temple’s Landscape Architecture program at the Ambler Campus, she brought her entire family along. Her husband Edward, who she affectionately calls “Bud,” two children and three step-children — Amanda, 21; Veronica, 20, Nicholas, 18, Marissa, 14, and Grace 13 — never have to wonder what she’s up to.
“My husband is my biggest supporter and has taken on a lot of responsibility with the kids — and everybody is proud of Mom. We’re doing this as a family; they’re included in everything,” said Gilbert, who will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture on May 13 and will have her entire family present for the School of Environmental Design Graduation Ceremony. “They know all of the studio projects I’m working on; they’re often in the studio with me and come along on study analyses. They know all of the other students in my class by name.”
Daughter Marissa also has an interest in following her mother into the profession, though she might take a more direct path. It could certainly be said that Gilbert took the “scenic route” before arriving at landscape architecture as her life’s avocation.
When Folin graduates with a BS in Horticulture on May 13, he’ll be able to place the diploma next to his BS in Spanish and Master’s in Education, also from Temple. When he decided to make it a Temple “threepeat” and return to the classroom after 10 years working as a Spanish teacher and trying his hand as a professional photographer, he felt the Ambler Campus was the right fit.
“It seemed that if I was going to jump off that cliff and see where it took me, then this was the place to do it,” said Folin, 40, who will graduate with a 3.94 grade point average. “Since I had my core courses out of the way, I could focus on what I loved to do — being in the garden and learning about plants.”
Finding his true passion, however, took a little bit of searching.
“After five full years of teaching Spanish at three schools in the Philadelphia School District, I found that, while I loved the students, it didn’t really fit my vision of who I am as a person,” Folin said. “At that point I thought I might explore my fascination with photography as a possible new career path — I also worked as a bartender to pay my rent. I discovered photography is a very competitive and very expensive field just to break into and I wasn’t ready to work 60 to 80 hours a week just to try to get my name out there. It was great experience, but I realized, again, that it didn’t feel right.”
David Burns credits one thing above everything else that has most contributed to his success at Temple University Ambler. For Burns, the support of his family — wife Geralyn and sons Sam and John, the latter of whom will be transferring to Temple in the fall — was not simply welcomed, it was essential.
“My wife was the A number one fan for me doing this, coming back to school and always doing my best. It was a perfect situation where I could return to the classroom and still be on deck for parent-teacher conferences and the needs of my family,” said Burns, 58, who will graduate with a degree in Landscape Architecture on May 14. “It’s a true partnership. I don’t think it could be done without significant other support.”
Burns’ journey to this next phase in his life began in 2001, when he started at Ambler as a non-matriculated student after serendipity struck and provided him with his first piece of information about the campus programs.
“I was a medical supply salesman for 25 years. We were living in California when my wife took a job with Wyeth and we moved to temporary housing here — that’s where I received a flyer from Ambler addressed to a previous resident,” he said with a laugh.
Jennifer Johnson is a veteran of the Philadelphia Flower Show.
While many of Temple University Ambler’s Landscape Architecture graduating seniors have maybe one or two years of Flower Show experience under their belts thanks to the hands-on, design-build nature of the program, Johnson has eight.
A graduate of W.B. Saul High School in Philadelphia, Johnson had already been a volunteer at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s premiere event for four years running. She wasn’t about to let that streak end when she made the natural transition to the Ambler Campus.
“I asked to volunteer as a freshman and as a sophomore. It gave me the opportunity to see how the exhibits were built and to interact and learn from the students in the classes ahead of me,” she said. “When I was asked to lead the graphics team for the 2008 exhibit (“The Big Four Mississippi Meander”), I was extremely honored and returned to volunteer again in my senior year. The terrific benefit of design-build projects like our Flower Show exhibits is that you get to see a concept become a design and then that design is constructed and built by hand — it gives you a real sense of accomplishment.”
Michael Cristinzio - Seeing the Forest for the Trees
Michael Cristinzio is one of those rare students that knows exactly what he wants to be when he grows up.
His family’s business, the 21-acre Green Acres Nursery and Garden Center in Colmar, turned 30 this year. He fully intends to keep it going for another 30 and has already been hard at work developing a plan to expand the business and help it thrive for years to come.
“I’ve been working there since I was a little kid. I always wanted to go into the family business and knew I needed to learn more about the industry, which is what brought me to (Temple University) Ambler,” said Cristinzio, of Chalfont, who lived on campus for his first two years while commuting as a junior and senior. “Speaking with other people in the industry, Ambler has a great reputation for its landscape architecture and horticulture programs. With the teacher to student ratio alone, I knew it would be a good place for me to learn and gain experience.”
With a 3.87 grade point average, four years of intensive study in the deeply intermeshed horticulture and landscape architecture programs in addition to a focus on marketing and business courses — not to mention a newly minted degree in Horticulture — Cristinzio is ready to take that next step and he’s already provided a comprehensive glimpse into his vision for expanding Green Acres Nursery.
Jeff Harris - Taking a Different Path to Reach His Goals
On Thursday, May 22, Landscape Architecture major Jeff Harris will don cap and gown to graduate with a group of friends and colleagues with whom he has spent innumerable hours envisioning elaborate, comprehensive, sustainable futures for towns and cities across the country and well beyond.
A little less than a year ago, the landscape of Harris’ own future — and the possibility that he would see the end of this part of his journey at his friends’ side — changed dramatically. While celebrating the 4th of July holiday with friends in North Carolina, a beach accident rendered the 24-year-old a quadriplegic.
For some, that might have been the end of a promising career as a graphic designer and landscape architect. For Harris, his resolve unwavering, he set about determining new paths to achieve his goals.
“In the beginning, I was worried that I would lose everything — who I was, what I was about. In some respects I have, but it’s not going to change my life,” he said. “I’m not going to change my aspirations for success because of this — you just change how you approach it. You find new ways to accomplish tasks — I know that if I have the desire and the will and I keep working at it, I will eventually accomplish everything I want to do.”
For Joyce Rondinella, the Earth is her classroom. She plans to protect it in whatever way she can and teach others to do the same.
“I’ve always had a passion for the environment — I’ve always wanted to be outside, planting and gardening. My particular interest is in conservation,” said Rondinella, who will graduate with a degree in Horticulture on Thursday, May 22. “We are entering the Green Industry at a crucial time for the environment. With the education that we have received here, we have an obligation to spread the word and use what we have learned for the betterment of the environment.”
Rondinella came to the program already armed with a wealth of knowledge that she has freely shared with her fellow students. While attending classes, she has maintained a full-time position at Longwood Gardens as a senior gardener in charge of the tropical display conservatory. Her field work and research has taken her to Europe, South America, and “as many botanical gardens as I could in the United States” and well beyond.
“I started at Ambler in Spring 2004. I transferred from the Longwood Gardens Professional Gardeners Training Program — Temple’s articulation agreement with Longwood is a tremendous asset,” said Rondinella, who will be the student speaker at the Ambler College Graduation Ceremony on May 22, which begins at 3:30 p.m. in the Learning Center Auditorium. “There are currently interns working at Longwood from the Ambler campus and I try to spread the word to all of the horticulture and landscape architecture majors — it’s a strong partnership.”
With a more than impressive 3.78 grade point average, graduating Landscape Architecture senior Luke Kasitz surely knows the meaning of these words. He has simply never put any of them into practice.
To his core, Kasitz has centered his life on community service, helping others, and bettering humanity and is directing everything he has learned — inside the classroom and out — towards that goal. Kasitz has no interest in ruling the world, he just wants to make it a little better than how he found it.
“I know the value of beauty in life, whether it’s a flower or a smile. Just from my experiences, the good and the bad — I’ve learned so much from the hurt that life can bring — that I want to help show others how to live life to the fullest,” said Kasitz, who will receive his Landscape Architecture bachelor’s degree after a distinguished four years at Temple University Ambler on May 17. “I want to use what I’ve learned in Landscape Architecture environmentally, aesthetically, and politically. Beauty can change lives, it can change communities.”
Joshua Meyer - Planning for the Future By Protecting the Past
Just days from graduation, Joshua Meyer has his mind on his future. That future, however, is firmly rooted in the past.
After receiving his degree in Landscape Architecture on Thursday, May 17, walking in Temple University’s 120th Commencement Ceremony and participating in the Ambler College Diploma Ceremony back at the Ambler campus that follows, Meyer will be returning to his home state of Maine to place an historical spin on an important landscape.
“This summer I will be working at McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, Maine. I’ve been an amateur gardener all of my life and I really wanted to get my hands in the mud, I wanted to be involved in horticultural work and really learn about the plants,” said Meyer, 22, who is originally from South Portland, Maine. “I will be helping to create a master plan to maintain the integrity of the gardens and restore them to their 1840s character. The location has an historic home and barn, about four acres of gardens, and the largest collection of lilacs in the state.”
His ambition, Meyer said, is to “practice as a landscape architect,” with a specialization in historic sites.
Donna Swansen clearly recalls her very first garden.
“I planted my first garden when I was five-years-old. It was a vegetable garden under the maple tree in our yard,” said Swansen, a 1981 graduate of Temple University Ambler’s Landscape Design program, which was one of the first offerings in what would become the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. “It leafed out, but I didn’t cultivate any vegetables on that first try.”
Little did Swansen know at the time that from those humble beginnings she would go on to help found an international association of professionals that today is more than 1,000 members strong and boasts members from such diverse locations as the United States, Canada, England, New Zealand, Bermuda, Lebanon, and Bahrain.
Swansen, a resident of Ambler for 40 years who helped to establish the borough’s Plant Ambler beautification program, said she returned to school initially because “I couldn’t imagine doing nothing for such a long time when my children were at school.”
“With landscape design, I could go into business for myself; work in my own basement and be home when the kids came home from school. My landscape design firm is still in operation — we do about 10 to 20 jobs a year of all sizes, from small to very large,” she said. “Landscape Design was a two-year program that took me 10 years to get through. I took one course at a time until I was done — I was there so long I met more people at Ambler than I ever had in my life.”
In 1985, Philip Albright made an unlikely freshman at Temple University Ambler.
“I had my degree in Civil Engineering from Stanford and was moving toward retirement, or at least winding down. I felt that if I could complete the two-year degree in Horticulture, there was no four-year degree then, I’d make a half-baked landscape architect,” he said with a laugh. “My mother was an avid gardener. Growing up during World War II, we had a victory garden and I always loved gardening.”
Albright, a Blue Bell resident, had the intention of involving himself in design work during his retirement. Of course even the best plans don’t always work out as expected.
“All of my outside activities have taken up most of my time for 15 years,” he said. “I’m not one to sit still for very long. I enjoy getting things done.”
Albright’s idea of “getting things done” has been to involve himself in countless community organizations and charities, selflessly giving his time to brighten the lives of others and enhance the community in general.
William E. Mifflin - Ambler Never Left Him and He Never Left Ambler
William E. Mifflin, ’66, ’68, ’86, came to Temple University Ambler after “growing up in Northeast Philadelphia with an extended family on a ‘farmette’ that included greenhouses and a small nursery.”
“My interest in horticulture began at an early age. Looking back, it was a fabulous experience,” said Mifflin, Chief Executive Office of Philadelphia Hospitality and former Executive Director of the Fairmount Park Commission from 1988 to 2002. “The program was strong academically, but the experience was also practical; you learned the basics of planting, arboriculture, and horticulture — you got your hands dirty. I clearly recall spending time weeding in the gardens.”
Mifflin’s continued dedication to Temple, and to Temple University Ambler in particular has never wavered. A member of the Ambler Campus Board of Visitors since 2003, the flurry of numbers after his name — Associate Degree in Ornamental Horticulture in 1964; Bachelor of Science in Recreation Management in 1968; Masters of Education in Recreation Administration in 1986 (all from Temple) clearly shows that, while he may no longer be attending classes at Ambler, “I never really left.”
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.”
It’s a sentiment Kate Nuernberger, of Berwyn, took to heart when she found herself in her fifties and a freshman again at Temple University Ambler.
“I was working in marketing and research as an independent consultant,” said Nuernberger, who graduated with a B.S. in Horticulture. “I was called in for another job and as I sat down to listen to the job description, the more I listened the more I thought, ‘I never want to do this type of work again.’”
A conversation with her husband Jerry and her new career path was set. He urged her to find something that she did love “and do it,” she said.
“I told him I’d love to study horticulture,” Nuernberger said. “We had two children in college, but he told me I should do it.”
Nuernberger spent her first year at Temple University Ambler as a part-time student, then enrolled full-time, taking courses with many students that had entered college directly from high school.