872. A Day in the Life–What's It Really Like to Be a Landscape Architect?
Shawn T. Kelly
“As a teacher, one of the things I enjoy is seeing people embrace the reality that they can make a difference—can turn this boat around. I tell my students that they are our hope not just for the profession, but for our civilization because they’re thinking about all these different vital issues. Like relieving stress and anxiety, which are higher than they’ve ever been. We know the exposure to greenspace is the greatest antidote to that. And so when my students go out and create these green spaces that are also high performing landscapes, they’re harvesting the water, pulling out the pollution, and then reintroducing that water to do other things storm water can do, putting less of a demand on our decreasing potable water supplies.”
Shawn T. Kelly is a licensed, practicing Landscape Architect, Principal of Kelly Design Group, LLC, a design build firm in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. He opened his firm 25 years ago after moving his practice from San Diego, California. He is also a full time faculty member and Distinguished Faculty Associate in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has taught for 24 years. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and is currently the Immediate Past President, having completed his Presidency in 2019.
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“I had a vision of making a difference in the world and helping people who were less advantaged, and I really wanted to work overseas. Soon after I graduated from the University of Arizona, a professor of mine told me about an opportunity in West Africa with the USAID, The United States Agency for International Development. The country is called Burkina Faso today and the project involved doing a baseline data inventory of the South Saharan Desert, which was in the midst of a seven year drought. The work was fascinating and engaging, but after one year our project was suddenly terminated. On reflection this was a major turning point in my life, because I began reflecting on all the feedback I had gotten from my professors and my significant other about how my lifelong passion for drawing and design were ideally suited for the profession of landscape architecture. When I came back to the United States, my significant other and I got married and I enrolled in graduate school at the U of A and after three years launched my career as a landscape architect. The work I do every day continues to inspire me.”
The Most Powerful Lessons and Experiences?
1. My Dad had probably the greatest work ethic of anybody I ever met. I grew up working on the docks of his freight company with some pretty rough people. I started to develop my leadership skills at a young age because I realized I had to carry my weight in order to be looked at as equal to other people.
2. My time at West Point shaped my life. The concept there is that they break you down from being a strong person into a follower and from there you build yourself back up and learn how to lead.
3. My experience in Africa with range management—helping people grow crops, improve their grazing facilities—making a better planet for people, was a perfect background to be a landscape architect and led me back to the University of Arizona and the School of Renewable Natural Resources.
4. To anyone considering this profession I would suggest looking inside yourself, which is something that most people don’t do. You know, there are a lot of older people I know who’ve never done this. What is it that puts a grin on your face? What makes you feel good? I like to think that every one of my students isn’t one of those people who finds themselves dreading work on Sunday night and thinking, “Oh no, not tomorrow again.” It starts with you.
Connecting With Shawn T. Kelly
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Website for American Society of Landscape Architects: asla.org
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Careers: Landscape Architect, Teaching/University