May 15, 2007
Self-centered. Egotistical. Selfish.
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.”
Kasitz, 22, of Bechtelsville, started his journey toward a future in the Green Industry quite naturally. He grew up on an orchard — one of seven children — where he was home schooled by parents who instilled in him “a genuine concern for helping people.”
“I found from growing up that if you travel through life centering on yourself, you won’t get very far, especially emotionally. I was involved in home gardening for as long as I can remember and I was in the outdoors all of the time,” he said. “I was involved in environmental studies at Boyertown High School and then met Doug Kane, a former professor at Ambler. He showed me what the landscape architecture profession was all about and why it was important.”
Kasitz chose Temple University Ambler, he said, “because I really liked the campus — its landscape features — and I was impressed by the core group of faculty.”
“Their diversity of skill sets and their willingness to reach out and make a connection has been invaluable in developing leads for the future. Career-wise, they’ve really taken an interest in my career goals and hopes. When I first entered the program I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the degree but then I came to realize my love of landscape design and community development,” he said. “I wholeheartedly want to be involved in community development work and it could be anywhere — the inner city here or overseas. I want to use my education to help people and I want to do that as part of a team of people — I really want to go somewhere with a group of educated, talented people who will take a holistic approach to community development.”
Kasitz may call Temple University Ambler home for his undergraduate education, but he learns on a global scale. While other students might have been enjoying a relaxing summer between semesters, Kasitz spent the summers of 2004 and 2005 in Brazil where he worked at a youth center. He spent summer 2006 volunteering for an environmental engineering mission in Port au Prince, Haiti. In fall 2006, he also received a Study Abroad Scholarship to attend Temple University in Rome.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college and I believe that God wanted me to stick with my education to benefit people,” he said. “Brazil was my first cross-cultural experience and it was amazing — I was away from college and I was just able to focus on the people. I liked it so much, I went back the next year.”
In all of his endeavors, Kasitz wants to take a “proactive approach to landscape architecture.”
“In Haiti, I was working on a large scale watershed restoration project in the poorest part of the country,” he said. “I was blown away by the poverty and lack of natural resources, but there was a genuine desire among the people that I met to live. It was heart wrenching to see people living in such conditions, but it as uplifting to see their resolve.”
Kasitz views such selfless trips — tasks that others might turn tail and run from — as “stress relievers.” He even has his own landscaping business on the side, which has been growing steadily over the years.
“I love what I do, which, of course, helps. I get a thrill out of running around helter skelter,” he said with a smile. “At the end of the day, that day has been filled with so much that I’ve been able to get done and that feels good. I love the non-stop pace.”
The semester in Rome was one of those “recharging” moments, he said, and he certainly made the most of it.
“It was a walk through history, seeing how the cultures and landscapes evolved over time, how they function, and how that interacts with the people today. You’d get three-day weekends and I went everywhere — Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland,” he said. “It was a way get outside the Ambler bubble a little bit, but I know how blessed I am to be here. I know I was meant to be here for these four years and I’ve truly reaped the benefits academically and through the relationships I’ve made with professors, students, departments, and organizations. Being away from it, you realize how great it is.”
While at Ambler, Kasitz has left a legacy of community service that will stand for years to come. During his sophomore year, he founded Owlreach, a student organization solely dedicated to community service. During his junior year, he founded Jubilee at Ambler, a Christian organization, which also values community service as an important part of its mission.
“With Owlreach, I wanted to see a group that focused completely on community service on and off campus and I wanted it to be a lasting thing,” he said. “When I lived on campus, I started a residential Bible study group in my freshman year. With Jubilee I again wanted it to be something lasting, something that added to the campus community as a whole, and I wanted the group to shoot for something big!”
Since their inception, the two organizations have held a wide array of programs to support families, children, and communities in need — from holiday toy drives, clothing drives, and food drives to feeding the homeless in Philadelphia, supporting a child in Indonesia through bake sales, and holding community clean-up days in the region. Jubilee has also held a series of successful worship concerts, which culminated in a Good Friday concert in April that welcomed more than 150 people to campus — the event garnered a Special Achievement Award at the 2007 Temple University Ambler Student Leadership Banquet.
Owlreach and Jubilee have also hosted community awareness and fundraising programs for important causes, such Invisible Children, a national effort to end the civil war in Northern Uganda, which is devastating the lives of thousands of innocent children. In summer 2006, members of the Owlreach and Jubilee took part in the “Global Night Committee,” in which thousands across the city and the country slept out to “raise awareness of what these children are going through in Uganda.”
“I think when you are confronted by something like this, it causes you to do something about it,” Kasitz said. “A single voice can be very powerful, but many voices together can be that much more powerful.”
During Spring Break 2006, while others were headed to a welcome respite from the books on sandy beaches, five members of Jubilee, including Kasitz, headed to the devastation in New Orleans left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“I felt bad that we couldn’t respond right away, but we were able to make contact with people and help in a number of ways. We were able to clear out one man’s house, talk to him, and help him — a small gesture in the grand scheme of what had taken place, but it gives you a true appreciation for the value of humanity and of working together,” Kasitz said. “We also had the opportunity to work in a distribution center and assemble family food packages, water containers, and medical cleaning kits and distribute Bibles.”
At noon daily an estimated 400 people came to collect needed supplies. According to Kasitz, the people seeking supplies were still displaced, living in trailers, tents, and even cars.
“We asked them how they were, what we could do for them, how we could pray for them,” he said. “We wanted to feel a little bit of what they were feeling and do what we could to help their situation.”
Back at Ambler, Kasitz also made reaching out to senior citizens an important mission for Owlreach through special “Senior Citizen Proms,” Halloween Dances, campus barbeques and arboretum tours, and community clean-up days.
“My parents instilled in me the value of interacting with the older generation and not getting consumed in my own generation. Over the years, I’ve helped out at senior center and Meals On Wheels and developed some great relationships,” he said. “We wanted to do a little more with the dances and clean-ups — it felt good to reach out and those programs were very special to us. You can’t forget older individuals; value the conversation and the wealth of knowledge and experience they can share.”
For his swansong as a campus community activist, Kasitz is also spearheading a new recycling program at Ambler that incorporates more receptacles, a food waste recycling program, and “broadens the scope of what we think of as recyclables.” At EarthFest 2007, the annual celebration of Earth Day at Ambler which welcomed more than 10,000 people this year, Kasitz and Owlreach built a recycling game to promote important recycling concepts to visitors — it proved to be a huge hit with thousands of the student visitors.
Amid the whirlwind of community advocacy that Kasitz, a Dean’s List student, continues to promote, he has maintained a remarkable 3.78 grade point average and has received numerous accolades for his academic endeavors and landscape architecture projects from the University and beyond.
In 2006, he became a Sigma Alpha Lambda Landscape Architecture Honors Society Inductee. He also received the Pennsylvania Garden Club Regional Conference Scholarship, the National American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Council of Fellows Award and a scholarship to attend the national ASLA conference, and the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association Scholarship.
In 2007, he received the Ambler Collegial Assembly Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement, the Award for Conservation Education, the ASLA Student Achievement of Honor and Merit Award, and was a Dean’s Leadership Award recipient.
“I think there’s one (honor) that stands out in my mind, and it kind of happened in an interesting way. I had applied for a scholarship with the Garden Club of Pennsylvania and had met the president of the Wyomissing branch,” he said. “I didn’t get the one I applied for, but the members believed in me, so much so that they sent me a check for $200. I was touched by that, they were certainly under no obligation to do so — that was very personal to me.”
Looking back on the past four years, Kasitz said, “I wanted to make the most of my time here, of this season in my life.”
“I wanted to interact with the Ambler community and beyond and inspire others to do the same through their careers and their passions. I believe in action — the only way the world is going to change is by people becoming passionate about it,” he said. “This is an experience you are never going to get back. If you pass up the ‘people’ part of it, you’ll never know about the relationships you could have had, the people you could have met, what you could have learned from them, and the opportunities that they could have opened up to you.”
As this part of his journey ends, Kasitz’s advice for students just starting their college career is simple, yet poignant.
“Stop and think. Just because it is easy you get caught up in the college cycle, you don’t want to skip through it and you don’t want to skip through life. Take an inventory of the opportunities that come to you, academically and socially, and see the bigger picture,” he said. “Value your education to help yourself but also to help others. Look at the people around you, where they are at and why they do the things they do. Appreciate them and simply appreciate the life you’ve been given.”