May 14, 2009
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. “I went to an information session, decided to try it, talked with a counselor, and signed up for a computer class. After taking CAD and Advanced CAD, I decided to matriculate.”
Of course returning to the classroom after decades in the working world did take a little getting used to.
“When I first started, non-traditional students were relatively rare; there were a few, but not many. Now they’re fairly commonplace at Ambler. It wasn’t so much cultural shock as it was familiarizing myself with the needs of the classroom — I had never needed word processing skills prior to returning to school, for example,” he said. “I remember one helpful student assisted me setting up my first Yahoo account. The CAD lab became my home away from home — there were just a lot of nice, helpful people to hang out with.”
While he was often “pretty much the oldest person in class,” Burns said, his fellow students in the Landscape Architecture studios made him feel right at home.
“I learned to leave my ‘Dad’ role at the door. I really enjoyed getting to know the other students as people and have been so impressed with their dedication and seriousness,” he said. “I learned very early on — in my first freshman design classes — that we all wanted to be there, which makes any class that much easier. My first degree was in history and I really enjoyed the studio experience; I thought it was a cool way to approach and get projects done.”
Burns said the Landscape Architecture students have a particular sense of pride in the Ambler Campus.
“We feel it’s our campus, we take ownership of it. It’s a very vigorous program — there are a lot of late nights making sure that everything is done to a professional level — so we are here on campus a great deal of the time,” he said. “It’s a very conveniently located campus and the shuttle to Main Campus makes it so easy to experience Temple as a whole. Sometimes I’d leave campus at 5 or 7 p.m. and you’d see hundreds of students just coming onto campus for the evening classes. I’d think ‘What a resource this campus is to the community!””
Burns himself has become an invaluable resource for the campus, working in the Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler for the past few years. The one prerequisite, which he ably provided — being a hard worker.
“Taking my sophomore studio, I realized I did not have a comprehensive background in plants; I needed actual work experience. I’ve become a jack-of-all-trades of sorts in the gardens,” he said. “I was involved in installing the new (Ernesta Ballard) Healing Garden, which is based on our 2007 Philadelphia Flower Exhibit “Nature Nurtures,” a project that I was directly involved in. I’ve loved every opportunity I’ve been given.”
Burns said working and studying in the Arboretum provides Landscape Architecture students with “a tremendous knowledge base.”
“Ambler is 100-percent part of the Temple University experience,” he said. “You have access to all of the resources of a large urban university, but we as landscape architects and horticulturists are able to be in the Arboretum seeing and learning firsthand about the trees and plants that we’re talking about in class. There are few institutions that provide that kind of opportunity.”
During his time at Ambler, Burns has been recognized for his achievements on several occasions, receiving the Viola Anders Merit Award twice, which recognizes “meritorious service and dedication to the Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler.” In 2009, he was awarded the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Faculty Special Contribution Award. He has also been recognized for his contributions to Temple University Ambler’s Philadelphia Flower Show exhibits for 2007 through 2009.
“I enjoy the balance of outside (construction and implementation) and inside (design) work. I’d like to find a small landscape architecture firm to do my apprenticeship with or an outside-the-box non-profit,” he said. “I feel fortunate that I’ve had this opportunity to come back and get this degree. Looking back on high school and previous college experiences, there’s always that thought in your head ‘I’d do it differently if I had the chance.’ This was my second chance and I did do it differently. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved.”