Since the fall of 2008, students entering the BLA program at the University of Illinois have been required to incorporate a minimum ten-week internship into their studies. The internship has been a long-cherished ideal shared by alumni and faculty within the department, and has always been an option for students. The goal of the required internship is to provide students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a particular type of practice in landscape architecture. Internships are not meant to duplicate course work. Instead, students are expected to work full-time with clients on actual projects, learning about human relations, ethics, business, work flow, and time-management techniques. Interns must be supervised by a licensed professional.
Keeping in mind the wide variety of interests that LA students hold, a range of internship proposals are accepted by the department: not-for-profit organizations, public sector agencies, forest preserves, land planning firms, design-build, zoos, arboreta, park districts, engineering firms, multi-disciplinary, and traditional design firms, among others.
In order for an internship to meet the department’s requirements it must last a minimum of ten weeks, but can be extended for longer periods. While the internship may be undertaken at any time during the year, summer is the most popular internship period. Most students tend to wait until their junior or senior year, once they have learned the relevant computer drafting and other technical skills required by most companies for an internship.
In a new development, beginning Summer 2011, the LA Professional Internship course (LA 345) is available online through Blackboard (Compass). Students are able to read about current issues in professional practice, share resources and communicate with each other as well as with Carol Emmerling-Dinovo, Assistant Head and Internship Director for the Department of Landscape Architecture. The online interface also allows students to submit written assignments and related course work from wherever their internship has taken them. Seventeen students are currently enrolled online.
To date, both the optional and required internship programs have been a great success. Students who have completed internships have gained a broader understanding of the dynamics of working within a group of interdisciplinary professionals, the nuances of working with the public, increased computer-aided drafting skills, and up-to-date knowledge in sustainable materials and green technologies. Below are a few examples of optional internships undertaken by BLA students in the summer of 2010:
- Anna Langenfeld (BLA 2011)—Horticulture Intern, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
- Allison Jacobson (BLA 2011)—Intern, Student Conservation Association (SCA) and Bureau of Land Management, California Desert District
- Daren Leonardi (BLA Dec. 2010)—Planning Intern, Champaign County Forest Preserve
- Miguel Ruiz (BLA 2011)—Landscape Architect Intern, USDA Forest Service: Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland
Jacobson, who spent eight months working in California for the Student Conservation Association and the Bureau of Land Management, recounts the duties of her internship:
My 4-person crew had the opportunity to travel a lot! At the end of the season we had worked in over 16 wilderness areas within the BLM's California Desert District. It was a great opportunity to be on a traveling crew because we got to work with many field offices and see a lot of the California desert.
While monitoring, we would drive along wilderness boundaries searching for incursions (where vehicles drive into the wilderness areas). The desert had a huge problem with vehicles driving off of designated routes. Vehicles are not allowed inside wilderness areas. We would record incursion points on a GPS unit and the BLM uses the information to determine where restoration needs to be done. We also went to previous restoration sites to see if the restoration had been successful. Over 50% of the restoration sites were still undisturbed; the others had been driven over.
We also completed restoration projects. Restoration was site-specific, but most projects involved blocking off an incursion, or discouraging future vehicle use. Rock work, raking, sweeping, and digging trenches were popular techniques to discourage use and disguise unwanted trails. We also planted vertical mulch to provide a place for seeds to collect and germinate. Vertical mulch is a collection of dead branches assembled to look like a bush.