The Off-Campus Program
The Off-Campus Program is the undergraduate centerpiece or “capstone” experience for students enrolled in ESF’s Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree program, and one of the most unique educational opportunities within the State University of New York. Each student in the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Program is required to participate. Since 1970, over 1600 students have studied in over 50 different countries and around the United States.The off-campus program is centered on the idea of an “experiential studio.” It is quite different, however, from most studio- or laboratory-based programs that teach using example and participation. Prior to the off-campus semester, students identify a particular design-related study topic, then develop plans to leave the traditional university setting and travel to locations that are uniquely suited to the topic. Students see and experience exemplary works of landscape architecture in the best locations in the world. At the same time, students learn from experiencing unfamiliar places, cultures and languages, and gain an insight into the natural and cultural environment—a sense of place that is unattainable in the campus classroom. Finally, students learn lessons about themselves and American culture that are equally valuable as landscape architects and as citizens in a larger society.
Studies may take any of several forms—they may be relatively independent, focusing on a particular student’s interests and aspirations (self-described study); they may be directed by a faculty member’s interests or research (faculty-described study); or they may be more applied and directed by a local group or organization on site, similar to an internship arrangement (work study). Each off-campus group is coordinated and advised by a participating faculty member, and assisted by an on-site consultant (usually a local alumna or alumnus, landscape architect, or university professor). Each student spends a full, 15-week semester “off-campus” pursuing the study, earning 15 credit hours. Typically the off-campus study is undertaken during the fall semester of the fifth year.
LSA 424: Fall Semester, Senior Year – A one credit hour course developed to assist in the identification and research of specific landscape architectural topics and the potential locations to best experience and analyze exemplary designs. Study topics and locations are selected, groups of 4-7 students are formed to study at each location, and an appropriate faculty advisor is assigned to each group.
LSA 425: Spring Semester, Senior Year – A three credit hour course developed to assist in the preparation of a detailed project proposal. Students research, in detail, the history and state-of-the-art design within the chosen topic area, as well as the general design qualities of potential study sites at the chosen location. Methodologies are developed for selecting study sites and for the inventory,analysis, and assessment of the chosen site(s), and communication techniques are developed for final presentation of findings. In addition, the advising professor works closely with the group to develop realistic goals and objectives, and to assist in preparing their logistics, scheduling, and budget for the off-campus semester.
LSA 460: Summer or Fall Semester, 5th Year – A sixteen (16) credit hour course in which students spend a minimum of 14 weeks off-campus, on location, executing the proposed study. Students prepare an extensive written Project/Study Report summarizing their findings; write weekly letters to their faculty advisors; keep a daily sketchbook/ journal of design relevant impressions; keep a procedural log of the conduct of their main study; and conduct a variety of structured field studies. Each group is visited during the 5th week of the study by their faculty advisor to review work in progress and help guide the students toward the successful completion of their studies.
LSA 461: Spring Semester, 5th Year – A one credit hour seminar devoted to individual presentations and critique. Content focuses on individual projects undertaken as a component of LSA 460.
Students cover their own costs for the Off-Campus Program, which generally range from about 30% less than a typical semester in Syracuse for projects in LatinAmerican or Eastern European countries, to as much as 30% more in some countries in northern Europe or on the Asian/Pacific rim. Locations over the past several years have included Mexico, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, The Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, New Zealand Japan, Chile, Brazil, and a variety of locations within the United States. Most projects have been relatively independent, but several students have also worked as interns with public agencies such as the National Park Service or NGO’s such as the Nature Conservancy.
Sustainable Futures Studio in Costa Rica
The sustainable futures studio is an Off-Campus Program offered during the summer in cooperation with the Monteverde Institute in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Students who have completed at least their junior year with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better may apply to participate in the program as a means to satisfy the Off-Campus Program requirement. Sustainable Futures is a studio internship through which participating students undertake a range of service-learning projects in community design and planning for existing rural communities and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) in the Monteverde region. The internship work focuses on sustainable design and development and includes a multidisciplinary design studio with architects, landscape architects, and urban planners; lecture and seminar components include sustainable design, ecotourism, and local culture and ecology; intensive Spanish language training is also included. The studio is co-sponsored by SUNY-ESF, SUNY Buffalo, the University of Maryland, and the University of Illinois.