Being named Olmsted Scholarship national finalist a rare feat for Ball State undergrad

Topics: College of Architecture and Planning, Scholarships

May 4, 2011

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Abigail Shemoel, ~~~11, is named a national finalist for the Frederick Law Olmsted Scholarship presented annually by the Landscape Architecture Foundation.

A year of firsts continues for Ball State and landscape architecture major Abigail Shemoel. Having already earned distinction in November as one of the university's first two Rhodes Scholarship finalists, Shemoel recently was named a finalist for the 2011 National Olmsted Scholarship from the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF). The only undergraduate nominee among this year's finalist field of six, she becomes just the second undergraduate student named a national finalist for the $25,000 award in the program's four-year history.

Honoring Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture and a designer of New York City's Central Park, the Olmsted Scholars Program recognizes and supports students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits. It is regarded widely as the premier national recognition for U.S. landscape architecture students, accepting annually just one nominee from each of the country's accredited landscape architecture programs to compete for one of a handful of national finalist spots.

This year, 40 students were suggested for the Olmsted program's top prize, won by a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Kate Tooke. Shemoel and her five fellow national finalists each receive $1,000 awards.

Environmental and social issues

Shemoel will receive her bachelor's degree in landscape architecture during summer 2011, after completing a final semester at Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, where the Kokomo, Ind., native is studying Brazilian concepts of sustainability and completing her thesis on strategies for improving informal settlements.

"Travel is a very important part of architecture and design, because to know what's good you need to be able to visit it and see it and experience it … which is another good thing about what I study," says Shemoel, noting that while a relatively new phenomenon in some societies, informal settlements in Brazil have existed for years.

"They have supermarkets, stores, bike repair shops and all kinds of things, good and strong and in the community that you can continue to grow. I've found that with landscape architecture, I'm much more able to address some of the environmental and social issues that most interest me."

Many of those same issues affecting informal innovation, urban development and housing delivery systems also form the basis of much of the research work done by Ball State College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) Dean Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, who reflected that "through its faculty and students our college has developed a substantial emphasis on the understanding of the so-called 'base of the pyramid'" or that portion of the world's population that survives individually on less than $2.50 a day. Also this semester, CAP hosted a National Science Foundation (NSF) workshop on extreme affordability, in which participants from around the world looked anew at fundamental ideas about materials and manufacturing and how the "usability" of various products is determined, especially in resource/infrastructure-poor environments.

"It is, therefore, not surprising," added Vasquez de Velasco, "to find students such as Abby who hold a deep commitment to understand and serve those at the base of the pyramid — more than half of the population of the world."

Her extensive international experience — studying the landscapes of Western Europe, interning in Argentina, and conducting research in Costa Rica — already have earned Shemoel a Udall Scholarship and shaped her understanding of the various relationships people share with the land. Recognizing the need to enhance this relationship, particularly where overpopulation and crowding threaten social and environmental wellbeing, she intends to complete a master's degree in urban development planning from University College London. Ultimately, she seeks to develop sustainable solutions to accommodate the growth of our cities through the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

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