May 6, 2010
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, and the students call my husband Bud!”
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 I graduated high school, I took a couple of years to travel the country. I ended up in California and then Denver, Colorado, where I had my children. I worked at a ski resort, daycare, among other things” she said. “I ended up in Pennsylvania in 1998, working in the medical field.”
Gilbert was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) in Bucks County, a Phlebotomist at Lower Bucks Hospital, and was an instructor in Philadelphia at Ultrasound Diagnostic School for Medical Assistance. When her children began school, she decided to return to the classroom herself, taking classes — “just the basics” — at Philadelphia Community College. Four years ago, she landed at Temple University Ambler.
“I asked someone not too long ago why they chose Landscape Architecture and they had the right answer — ‘It found me.’ I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and lived there until I was 9,” she said. “My memories of the landscape are so vivid; I had such a connection with nature. It was just meant to happen.”
Initially, however, Gilbert thought interior design might be the right career choice for her.
“My mother was an artist, art and design has always been a part of my life. I started to do a few jobs and realized it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I loved being outside, so I combined those interests and arrived at Ambler. It was a small, personable campus — the right fit for me.”
While her own family has been an integral part in Gilbert’s journey to her degree, her “Ambler family” has also been essential to her success.
“We are a community, intense and passionate and completely committed to the profession and each other’s success. It’s a difficult program and I truly don’t think any of us could do it without each other,” she said. “It’s a very diverse group. We’ve been through four marriages and two on the way, students turning 21, babies, first girlfriends, the loss of loved ones. It’s a team — if one of us is down, we help them get back up.”
Gilbert said the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture staff is equally dedicated to the success of their students.
“They know you personally. They know our children’s names,” she said. “They want to know what is going on in your life. The faculty and staff play a huge role in what we are able to accomplish.”
It’s that sense of community that Gilbert brings to much of her landscape architecture work as well.
This year in the Senior Design Studio coordinated by Landscape Architecture Adjunct Assistant Professor Stuart Appel and Lecturer in Landscape Architecture Bess Wellborn Yates, Gilbert and 26 of her fellow students have been working on a comprehensive project for the City of Cape May, New Jersey, to revitalize several of its parks in addition to creating a new pedestrian and biking trail that will highlight and educate visitors about the city’s ecological sites, historic structures, unique neighborhoods, and cultural landmarks.
“It’s been an amazing year — we’ve been given so many opportunities to grow and develop our own ideas. Our professors have such confidence in our class that we’ve been able to approach the project as if we were a professional firm,” she said. “I think that’s given us a great deal of confidence in ourselves and our own design work. The whole process, receiving feedback from municipal officials and members of the community during public meetings, has been tremendous. It’s one thing to work on designs in the classroom, but to actually go out and see how people react to your designs and the likelihood that it will be built, it’s a true hands-on, real life experience.”
Gilbert is currently interning with community activist Penelope (Penny) Giles on a community revitalization project in the Francisville section of Philadelphia, a comprehensive project that the Spring 2010 Landscape Architecture Sophomore Design Studio is tackling as well.
“(Giles) had grown up in the neighborhood. Upon returning, she wanted to fix it up and make a difference and she certainly has,” said Gilbert. “With her non-profit organization, the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation, so much has changed. We’re developing pocket parks and community gardens and starting an orchard and urban farm.”
Gilbert said a vineyard will soon be growing in areas where William Penn and other city founders once had their vineyards. She and her family recently spent a weekend helping to layout a new community garden, she added.
“The community in Francisville understands the importance of working together. They have neighborhood clean-ups and street clean-ups and my kids are right in there with them,” she said with a laugh. “I love what we are doing and what this community is working to accomplish. At one point, I’d like to work in a landscape architecture firm and maybe one day start my own, but this is the type of work I want to be a part of.”
For other students thinking of making the return to the classroom to finish something they started or start on a completely new path, Gilbert’s advice is simple.
“Don’t be afraid. Anybody can be anything that they want to be,” she said. “Have faith in yourself…and include your family.”