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College of Environment and Design

International Double Dawg Sophia Zhang Finds Success in Service-Learning

CED Students at Bowman Park

When Guangzhao(Sophia) Zhang first arrived at the College of Environment and Design, the university lifestyle came as no surprise. As an international Double Dawg from Beijing Forestry University, Zhang was already equipped with the skills to succeed at a major institution like the University of Georgia.

But what set her experience apart from others was her success in a challenging and unfamiliar course, “Landscape Studio Engagement.”

Spearheaded by CED associate professor Katherine Melcher, “Landscape Studio Engagement” is a service-learning course that helps students learn through community engagement. Service-learning courses at UGA allow students to solve real-world problems outside of a regular classroom setting, and in this case, Melcher’s class connected students to communities in need of landscape design solutions.

Bowman Park Renderings

The process of engaging in service-learning was something Zhang had never experienced before. Collaborating with community members and working with a project team consisting of other landscape architecture students proved challenging at times, she said. Her teammates included fellow landscape architecture students Elizabeth Crimmins, Kayla Joiner, and Andrew Petersen.

“We needed to understand what people truly wanted for their town, for their community,” said Zhang. “But sometimes those interactions — or the community engagement — was complicated and was a challenge.”

In the studio class, Zhang and her teammates were tasked with preparing a master plan for the revitalization of Bowman Park, a small park in disrepair in Bowman, South Carolina. Bowman residents were concerned about pedestrian safety, the state of the park’s playground equipment and the danger associated with falling tree limbs, so they called upon the College of Environment and Design for guidance.

“[The community] was very enthusiastic about how to create a better park to build a brighter future for Bowman,” said Zhang. “I was deeply moved by their passion and their dedication to the park and to Bowman.”

Zhang and her classmates wanted to understand the community’s vision for Bowman Park, so they designed interactive activities that directly engaged the community. Ideas for inspiration boards, online surveys and student participation worksheets came to fruition in the small town of Bowman, and Zhang said she was thrilled by the community’s involvement in each activity.

“I think it was a success on many different levels,” said Zhang. “We got lots of positive feedback.”

Bowman Park Renderings

Zhang’s favorite activity was the image inspiration board, which took place at an informal cookout. Community members used sticky notes and colorful dots to select their favorite landscape designs from a selection of categorized photos. And students from a local elementary school were tasked with drawing their “dream park,” which allowed Zhang and her classmates to view landscape design from a child’s perspective.

At the conclusion of the community engagement activities, Zhang and her classmates synthesized feedback into categories to identify the most talked-about ideas. Then, they created four master plan concepts that were presented at the Bowman town council meeting in December 2021.

“We developed a very comprehensive proposal,” said Zhang, “including the master plan renderings, the cost estimate and detailed designs to give guidance to the Bowman community.”

The project wrapped up one of Zhang’s more challenging and unfamiliar semesters, as she learned to navigate a new country and class formats. But the project continues to prove its success.

In March 2023, Zhang submitted the Bowman Park project for an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). More recently, she learned the project had been selected.

“I think our UGA CED provides a great platform, or stage, for students to participate in various projects,” she said, “and I think the studio class is a great place to learn because it will make us better prepared for our future.”


Learn more about the Bowman Park project here.

Bowman Park Master Plan Rendering

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