Jiamin Jasmine Chen
Vancouver, BC, Canada
I am a part-time botanical illustrator and fine arts instructor.
Program and Degree:
Master of Landscape Architecture
Class of 2019
Why did you chose the CALS MLA program?
The program here at Cornell has taught me to pursue more rigorous design thinking, built a sensitivity to landscape materials and the technical skills required to both draw and ground my designs. Since the department is uniquely situated in CALS, I took courses in plant science that will definitely help me not only to identify most woody plants on the northeast but how to best cultivate the best site conditions for growing them. Those essential skills will be invaluable in practice.
What were you doing prior to the MLA degree program?
Prior to the MLA program, I was working as an associate in the landscape department at an architecture and engineering firm in Shanghai, China. I have also traveled to and lived in Malaysia and Burma for a few months before my first semester started to work on independent projects.
Why did you choose to pursue a CALS MLA degree?
I genuinely love the scope and medium of the landscape field. In my search for a career that is truly fulfilling, I have explored work from fine arts and geosciences to architecture design and eventually to landscape architecture. Once I find my calling, I want to obtain my accreditation and eventually my licensure. The MLA program here has a holistic curriculum with unique freedom to explore courses in the related field, so it greatly appealed to me.
What are the strengths of the CALS MLA degree program, in your opinion?
Having completed a very competitive, design-intensive program for my undergraduate degree, I was looking for a program more grounded in the sciences and horticulture. The studio culture here is very open and communal, a drastic contrast to most design programs. There are also great research opportunities with diverse topics here directed by faculty who are passionate about their respective domains.
What have been some of your most rewarding moments while in your program?
I was fortunate to have received a department travel fellowship to do a self-directed study of spiritual landscapes in Japan. That experience has definitely shaped my own aesthetics and approach to design. The travel fellowship is a sign that the department encourages students to take the initiative to explore topics and landscapes outside of its course scope.
What are your short term and long term career goals?
My short term goal is to work in a landscape architecture firm, hopefully here in the northeast. I hope to gain more insights into how landscapes operate here in the U.S. Over my time here I have discovered my passion for interpreting landscape narratives and phenomenology. My long term goal is to both advance in practice and to dedicate time to writing. Eventually, I hope to use my experience in practice as a platform to discuss broader landscape issues.
What courses stand out as most helpful for your specific career goals?
Courses that have spoken to my personal interests of landscape narration are theory courses that speculate and push the boundaries of landscapes as well as what the profession can be. Studio courses can also encourage the same kind of speculative venture. The most helpful course for me as a designer was my graduate thesis work. The one-on-one time spent with my advisors in preparation has proven to be the most effective time spent here in honing my skills as a designer.
What advice would you give to your younger self embarking on the journey of graduate school?
You will meet some truly amazing people here. Talk to everyone.
How has your MLA experience changed you, both personally and professionally?
Personally, the studio culture here has made me more open to talking to people from different backgrounds and to see landscapes from various cultural vantages. I have also learned how to manage my time better. Professionally, I am much more confident in my own abilities to design. I came to see that my contributions are useful and valued by the department and the communities that I work with. I have also discovered my sensitivities to landscape poetics and how influential it is on my designs. It is something that will stay with me well beyond the program.
What advice would you give an undergraduate student who is preparing to jump right into the MLA program?
Do take the initiative to reach out to faculty. Graduate studies are more self-directed, which lends itself well to more opportunities external to the mandatory coursework. Some of my best experiences came out of research and collaborative projects that are extracurricular in nature.
What do you like most about studio time?
I like long, uninterrupted work periods, so I tend to tune out my environment during studio time. But I can see that the studio here facilitates a collaborative environment for those who thrive through dialogue.
How have the faculty supported your educational goals?
There is a wide breadth of research opportunities that were made available to me by the faculty here. I was fortunate to work closely with three and get to know their vastly different, yet equally insightful, perspectives of landscapes. The faculty encouraged me to apply for a travel fellowship to Japan, which was a formative experience. They were very supportive of my curiosities and have presented valuable opportunities to fulfill them.