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College of Environment and Design

CED Hosts Experience UGA Tenth Grade Field Trips

Athens, Ga – For the first time since the spring of 2020, CED hosted two field trips for 300 tenth graders from local high schools to showcase landscape architecture and environmental design through the “Experience UGA” program. The Experience UGA program is a partnership between the Clarke County School District (CCSD) and the UGA Office of Service Learning which aims to bring every PreK-12 student to UGAʼs campus every year for a curricular-based field trip. This year, we welcomed students from Clarke Central High school on November 14th and from Cedar Shoals High School on November 16th 

Students arrive at Jackson Street Building

The field trips were a culmination of a month of planning. Most current CED students had not been exposed to Experience UGA due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of all school district excursions. Therefore Jennifer Lewis, CED outreach director and Experience UGA lead, worked with Georgia Students for Landscape Architecture officers to plan the event.  A new crop of CED students were recruited to learn how the trips were developed in past years and the creative twists that made them successful.  

A core tenant of design-thinking was used to develop the field trips: Empathize with the User.  In other words, Think Like a Tenth Grader! Several universal truths were used in designing the field trips. First, fifteen and sixteen-year-olds are most interested in being with friends and have a new sense of independence that comes with learning to drive, so they prefer being allowed to self-divide into groups. Also, they enjoy being outside, do not enjoy being lectured to, and thrive with a little competition, so learning is best when it is interactive and fun. Most importantly, teenagers would rather hear from college students than adults or teachers, therefore CED students, not professors, would lead the trips.  

Using these guiding principles, three modules were developed that highlighted the best aspects of landscape architecture studies – studio life and creative problem-solving in a team, hand graphics and improving outdoor spaces, and plant communities and campus design.  

students participate in hand drawn graphics module

The high schoolers toured the Jackson Street Building undergraduate landscape architecture studios and saw projects in progress, learned about the LEED features of the building, and participated in a team design challenge to build the tallest, free-standing balloon tower. In the fourth floor study room of the Main Library, they used the whiteboard-lined walls to learn hand-graphics and redesigned an under-utilized part of their own high school campus.  (Water slides and food trucks were popular additions!)   On a walking tour of UGA’s north campus, the sophomores learned about plants, architecture, campus quad design, and UGA traditions. A series of skits staged around north campus added an element of fun, such as mock football tryouts on Herty Field and J. R. R. Tolkien’s wizard, Gandalf the Grey, proclaiming, “You shall not pass!”, a play on the UGA tradition of not walking through the UGA Arch until you’ve earned your diploma. 

Experience UGA on campus

Throughout the visit, the tenth graders engaged with our CED student volunteers and asked what college life was like. Our students bragged on CED and expressed appreciation for finding a major they loved that blended science and art – and a career that most knew nothing about before coming to college.  

Two CED students in particular, Michael Niedzwiecki-Castile and Treasa McHugh, were extra enthusiastic about leading the field trips this year. Now first year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture students, both participated in CED’s Experience UGA field trips when they were in the tenth grade at Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central, respectively. Both recalled learning how to draw and redesigning their high school’s courtyard to be their favorite and most memorable activity.  

students on campus

Reflecting on the field trip he took in 2019, Niedzwiecki-Castile says, “[it] 100% caused me to want to pursue Landscape Architecture… the field trip definitely opened my eyes to how quality the [landscape architecture] program is and how much the faculty and students alike care about fostering a group of qualified and talented individuals.”.  

McHugh noted how the field trip “planted the seed” in her mind to pursue a degree in Landscape Architecture. She also reflected on the value of the volunteering experience, encouraging other CED students to participate in future Experience UGA field trips, “because it helps them get in touch with the community that surrounds our school.” She says, “I think that it is really easy for UGA students not hailing from Athens to go their whole college experience without really getting to know the town or its residents, so opportunities to bridge the connection between the town and the school – like these field trips – are so valuable.” 

students build baloon towers

The Experience UGA trips achieved the goal of exposing high schoolers to college and the field of landscape architecture through a thoughtfully tailored experience. Likewise, the field trips were a success in terms of offering an opportunity for current CED students to give back to their community. In a post-field trip feedback survey, our volunteers shared how much they enjoyed designing their modules, seeing the tenth graders get involved in and inspired by our activities, and meeting other CED students in different years that they would not normally get to see or talk to. There was also universal sadness when the Cedar Shoals trip was cut short after a small fire at the high school necessitated all the students being dismissed for the day! volunteers help students

Experience UGA trip lead, Jennifer Lewis, says, “These trips wouldn't have been possible without our wonderful student volunteers, the Experience UGA staff and Ambassadors from the UGA Office of Service-Learning, and the generous funding we received from the UGA Parents Leadership Council. We owe a huge ‘Thank you!’ to everyone who dedicated time and energy to make these trips an experience to remember!”    

To learn more about the Experience UGA program campus-wide, see 

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