On January 6, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) announced LAF Ignite, a transformative new program that promises to have long-lasting impacts on the landscape architecture discipline and the communities we serve.
LAF Ignite is a comprehensive scholarship-internship-mentorship program created to help BIPOC landscape architecture students overcome barriers to staying in school, graduating, and entering practice. Student participants receive an annual $10,000 scholarship, paid summer internships, and three types of mentorships throughout their academic journey. The program is the result of a concerted, years-long effort by LAF, a dedicated group of stakeholders, and more than 100 donors to accelerate the pace and scale at which the discipline takes action to address underrepresentation of BIPOC professionals within landscape architecture.
Many barriers to becoming a landscape architect occur from the time students enter college and enter the workforce, particularly for BIPOC students who may not see themselves or their lived experience reflected in their faculty, employers, and peers. LAF Ignite was developed to support BIPOC students through this important stage – and beyond.
Countless hours went into the development and launch of this program, with extensive research, input and support from people across the profession. We had serious and often difficult conversations about race and diversity with a variety of people within the landscape architecture community. Perspectives from those with expertise and lived experience informed every aspect of the development of the program, including the idea to focus on Black/African American students for the first two years. We want to create an experience and network of support that addresses the particular needs of Black/African American students while simultaneously creating the framework to broaden the program to other students of color in the future.
The excitement around LAF Ignite has been building since we put out the call for applications last fall. Each year, 3-5 new students will be accepted into the program and participate until they have completed their landscape architecture degree. Ultimately, up to 15 students will participate in the program concurrently.
After a competitive application process, we selected the first four Ignite participants:
- Naomi Canino, Rhode Island School of Design
- Ezra Lewis, University of Georgia
- Shantol Morgan, University of Washington
- Charlye Stewart, University of Pennsylvania
These students have big ideas and hope to address important issues through landscape architecture. We were inspired by the depth, range, and scale of their interests – from mental health to food deserts to wildlife conservation – and their understanding of the important role that they as landscape architects can play in changing the world for the better.
We had so many great candidates for the Ignite program, we decided to fast-track our plans to offer finalists access to LAF’s network for mentorship and internship opportunities. The finalists are:
- Isiah Dashiell, University of Maryland
- Maurice Gaston, Illinois Institute of Technology
- Kareem Harris, University of Wisconsin
- Carington Light, North Carolina A&T State University
- Amira Slocum, North Carolina State University
LAF Ignite is a unique program within the landscape architecture community and allied professions. While each scholarship, internship, and mentorship component is important to support students, LAF Ignite’s three-component design collectively helps students overcome prevalent barriers that scholarships, internships, or mentorship cannot do alone. The multi-year scholarships are critical to help students plan and ease their financial pressures. The integrated internships and mentorship components help students build a network, explore career options, and work through challenges with a supportive group of peers and mentors.
Students and paid internship providers will be matched after a thorough interview process, based on student interests and provider needs. There are many ways to practice landscape architecture and we want students to explore different career paths, including those in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, industry, and academia, to better meet their interests and strengthen the discipline. The internship is also an opportunity to earn money, develop skills, and build a network of professionals.
Internship providers participating in the program must demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through their policies, trainings, or initiatives. These providers also must pay a living wage to the student in the city or county where the internship takes place and provide exposure to a range of the firm or organization’s work. These requirements are key to ensure students are comfortable in the workplace and able to complete their internship successfully without the stress of low or no wages. We hope LAF Ignite sets a new standard for workplace culture.
In addition, each participant is matched with a one-on-one mentor who works with the student for the duration of their participation in the Ignite program (and hopefully beyond!). Mentors and students meet regularly (mostly virtually) based on a mutually agreed upon schedule. Students will have access to a network of subject matter experts to support specific interests as well. LAF will provide more information and begin accepting applications for mentors in the next two weeks, so subscribe to LAF’s communications or check back to our website for the announcement.
We encourage eligible students to begin thinking about the program and plan ahead for how they can be part of next year’s cohort. We also encourage anyone interested in providing an internship, mentorship, or donation to the program to visit the Ignite webpage and become part of the broad and national community of support.
The word “transformative” can be overused these days, but we project that this program will truly change and strengthen the discipline for generations to come. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from the landscape architecture community in just these past two years as LAF has worked with other organizations, developed the program, and established a baseline fund for LAF Ignite. It has been phenomenal and truly heartwarming. I am deeply honored and delighted that we are able to in turn support the talent, ideas, passion, and aspirations of the next generation to their fullest potential.Published in