Thursday, October 25, 2012

Greener Pastures

This blog has moved to

Come see the new blog, it is cool!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

MLA program starts tomorrow

I'm very excited to say that my program at the University of Pennsylvania starts tomorrow!  I've spent the past few days getting everything set up, including buying a bicycle and learning how to use the city's public transportation system.  I seem to be in a great location - this morning I biked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in about 15 minutes.  This is shaping up to be a fantastic experience.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Drawing Practice

A morning of drawing out on the back porch, drinking coffee and talking with Memaw.  Today life is good.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Get a $15,000 Scholarship

College is expensive, sometimes really expensive.  Fortunately for me, my costs of attending UT for my undergraduate was only about $8k, and most of that I probably could have avoided if I had been smarter with my money and lived frugally.  This low cost of college was due to my success in knocking off two years of college while serving in the Air Force, and then using the GI Bill while going to school as a civilian.

Unfortunately, the cost of attending the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school is on a whole other order of magnitude and my remaining GI bill will only cover a fraction.  The annual cost of tuition for a Master of Landscape Architecture degree at UPenn is over $43,000 - and the program lasts three years!  I was counting on receiving the Yellow Ribbon Program scholarship offered to veterans, which would have covered much more of my tuition.  Unfortunately I found out at the last minute that I did not receive it.

It would have been easy to simply lower my head and despair, but instead I took action.  With about two weeks remaining until the start of the semester, I contacted the other universities that I had been accepted to and informed them of my situation.  I asked if there was any possibility that I might still be admitted to their programs if things did not work out with Penn, either this year or next.  Within 24 hours, every school I contacted responded with an offer to admit me this year with no problems.

I let Penn know that I had other options, and included the responses from the other schools in my email.  Within a matter of hours, Penn increased my school scholarship by $15k, and also let me know that I would be eligible for a TA position in my second and third year ($2k per year).

If you're heading to college, you need to be ready to fight for your scholarships.  Once you have been accepted, you know that the school wants you and has chosen you over hundreds of other applicants.  And if you are accepted to multiple schools, then you have increased bargaining power.  For this reason, I would suggest that anyone applying to top schools also apply to some less prestigious schools, simply because the more schools you get into the more bargaining power you potentially have.  I don't know the minds of financial aid and admission department administrators, but I would imagine that they would appreciate individuals who show this level of tenacity in requesting scholarships - it speaks to one's character.  And it works!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This blog goes mobile

I got my first smartphone about a month ago, and I'm only now realizing just how powerful it is. Hopefully now that I've downloaded the blogger app for android I will be able to post more and create better content for this site.

This post, in fact, is coming from my android phone and I'm not even typing! I'm just talking to my phone and it's typing it all out for me. It's amazingly easy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Practicing Design at Work



The top pot is a running fountain that spills into the balls, which then spills into a lower basin.  The idea was to use the descending elements to create the impression of falling water, complementing the actual water falling out of the top pot.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Caladium Arcadium

Ah, Caladiums. Such a beautiful, almost prehistoric-looking plant, and a fantastic way to bring color into shady areas. They always make me imagine how great it would be to shrink myself down to 5 inches tall for a day.

a fresh batch of caladiums at the garden center I work at

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Get Accepted to a Top Landscape Architecture Program

Are you interested in pursuing a career in landscape architecture but don't think you have what it takes to gain acceptance to a top-ranked Landscape Architecture program? Do you feel limited by your age, academic background, professional experience, or mastery of certain software or artistic skills? Are you unsure of how to go about creating that all-important application design portfolio or scoring well on the GRE?
If you have answered 'yes' to any of these questions, then you have come to the right place. In the following articles I will go into detail on how I gained acceptance to three top-ranked Master of Landscape Architecture programs despite an unimpressive academic background and virtually no experience in design. I will explain how, with hard work, patience, and dedication, you can overcome limiting beliefs and turn perceived weaknesses into strengths that application review boards will love. Bottom line – by applying the information provided in the following articles you can vastly improve your chances of gaining acceptance to a top-ranked Landscape Architecture program.
A Little About Me
I was raised in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, a place so overrun with concrete and asphalt that few residents even know what type of natural landscape their city was built upon. I did not fall in love with nature at an early age - as far as I could tell there was no nature to interact with. In high school I was a mediocre student, and though I was interested in architecture I did not believe that I had the grades necessary to gain acceptance to my choice school, the University of Texas (or any good school, for that matter.) Instead of settling with a subpar college, I decided that after high school graduation I would enlist in the U.S. Air Force and become a fighter pilot like my grandfather.
Long story short, I ended up becoming a Korean linguist in the Air Force instead of a fighter pilot. Within this role I was placed in a wide variety of challenging situations and given responsibilities that I had never anticipated. By the time my six-year enlistment drew to a close, I had gained a unique skillset and perspective on life, but I had also realized that I needed to pursue what I was truly passionate about – design. I applied to the University of Texas as a Liberal Arts student majoring in Asian Studies because it was in line with my experiences in Asia and military training. However, I had a plan to transfer into the architecture department as soon as possible.
I worked hard in my first few semesters at UT. I had a high GPA and things looked good to transfer into the architecture department. However, after consulting with Larry Speck, a respected faculty member and former dean of the architecture department, I decided that it was in my best interest to finish out the remainder of my undergraduate degree as an Asian Studies major and then apply to a Master of Architecture program after graduation. While completing my Liberal Arts degree I changed my minor from Physics to Architecture to get a solid foundation and to learn as much as I could, but in the end the most important thing I learned was that I was not destined to be an building architect – I was destined to be a landscape architect.
Unfortunately, I was still a bit uncertain of where to focus my energies at this point in my life, and I was not especially interested in my chosen major of Far East Asian Studies. This led to my GPA falling to only mediocre levels; by the time I graduated I had an overall GPA of 3.4 and an upper-division GPA of 3.0. Not bad, but certainly not competitive as compared to the 3.8+ averages of those applying to top-ranked Master of Landscape Architecture programs. When I took the GRE I scored in the 56 percentile in math and the 72 percentile in writing. I had also tried getting a job as an intern at two landscape architecture firms, but the principals of both firms said essentially the same thing: “We like you, but you just don’t have anything to prove you could be valuable to us.”
So in the year after graduating college I worked two customer service jobs for low pay and thought anxiously about how my life was not on the trajectory I wanted it to be. I knew that there was no other option but to take matters into my own hands and to do whatever was necessary to change my reality. I rented a small one-bedroom apartment to isolate myself from distractions, and each day I came home from my 9-5 to work relentlessly on my graduate school application. I ended up applying to three schools – the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, and the University of Pennsylvania. I was accepted to all three schools.
Stay tuned for the follow up article – How to Focus Your Energy When Developing Your Application.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Design Skills at Work

I like to use sweeping motions when setting up displays.

Cool Video Series About Plants

How to Grow a Planet is a fantastic BBC video series that teaches about the role plants have played in shaping our planet and evolution. I am finding it a great companion a book I'm currently reading, Up By Roots by James Urban.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Easy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

When you're broke and preparing for grad school, you have to get creative with food to eat decently.


  • 1 block cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 pint cottage cheese
  • 1 small container cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small box frozen broccoli
  • 1 bag elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil the elbow macaroni until al dente. While that is boiling, shred the block of cheese and cut up the cherry tomatoes. Put the broccoli in a strainer and pour water over it to thaw it. Mix the cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, tomatoes, and broccoli in a large pan or casserole dish. Strain the pasta when it's done and mix it in with the other ingredients. Bake in oven for 15 minutes. Take it out and enjoy yo self.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Design Skills at Work

A pottery display I set up at the garden center I work at. Those are sword ferns in the pots and Japanese Maple trees in the background. The taller brown and green ribbed pots are running fountains.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Accepted to PennDesign

Yesterday I confirmed my acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania's three-year Master of Landscape Architecture program.  I travelled to Philadelphia last week and attended Penn's open house, and was very impressed by the faculty and organization of the program.  Although I am sad at the prospect of leaving my beloved Austin, I am excited to study under the likes of James Corner, Laurie Olin, Anuradha Mathur, and others.  Arriving at this point has been one of the great journeys and challenges of my life, and has involved more than a little stress, anxiety, and sacrifice.  It is my intention to revamp this website in order to better document my future experiences in landscape architecture, and I am also working on a video series entitled "Gaining Acceptance to Top MLA Programs".

"The best is yet to come." - Sinatra

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Plant with UT Colors

Goldfish Plant (Columnea Gloriosa)

I purchased this plant yesterday from The Great Outdoors as a gift for a teacher who wrote me a recommendation letter.  I like the rich coloring and shape of the small leaves, and it should do well both inside and outside.


Light: A brightly lit spot away from direct sun is just right (near bright east or south window).

Temperature: 55 to 85F. Can tolerate 50 degrees without damage.

Water: The Goldfish plant likes to be kept moist but can get a little dry between waterings in winter. Leaves enjoy frequent misting if possible. 

Humidity: High to very high.  (I am going to place a tray of pebbles and water under the pot to increase humidity in Austin's dry climate.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Accepted to UT

Yesterday I was very happy to receive notification that I was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin's landscape architecture program.  This has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I took quite a few risks to make it happen.  There are few "accomplishments" in my life that I can say I am truly proud of, but my acceptance to UT is one of those few.  After another day of working at the nursery and garden center my hands are stuck with thorns, my arms are scratched and sunburned, my back is tired - and my heart is content.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Suspense is Killing Me

Arrgghh!!  I wish the 13th would hurry up and get here so that I can find out whether or not I was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.  I turned in a good design portfolio and I think my recommendation letters were decent, but my undergrad GPA and GRE scores weren't that great.  Also, PennDesign's statement of purpose only allowed 500 words, which is too bad because I felt like the statement of purpose was a real strength in my applications to A&M and UT.

It's not the end of the world if I don't get into UPenn.  I've already been accepted to A&M and I feel confident that I'll be accepted to UT.  It would just be cool to go to an Ivy League school with a prestigious MLA program.  Hopefully work at the nursery and my new vegetable garden project will help assuage my college acceptance anxiety.

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Week at a Garden Center

It has now been one week since I began working at a plant nursery, and my body is tired.  Tired, and happy.  My job involves a lot of manual labor, moving heavy objects and carrying countless bags of soil, but the weather has been pleasant so far and the work is fun in its own way.  My days are filled with activities that might seem terrible to other people but I find them interesting and enjoyable - at least for now.  Planting a flower bed, learning to drive a forklift, sucking up fountain sludge with a high powered shopvac, drilling holes in ceramic pots, converting a boombox and speakers to a planter display, etc.  And above all, I have been learning a lot about plants by observing and asking questions.

It seems that my decision to pursue this job was a very good one, it's only too bad that I didn't start working with plants earlier in life.  I remind myself, however, that it is a waste of time and a hindrance to progress to dwell on the past, and also that my current passion will help me advance quickly.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Getting a Job at a Garden Nursery

Yesterday I began my first day at The Great Outdoors, a fantastic locally-owned nursery in Austin.   I took this job to learn about more about growing, selling, and installing plants, and to add to my resumé as a landscape architect. There is no doubt that this job will involve tough manual labor out in the sun and rain, but working with plants is something that I've wanted to do for a long time. I actually attempted to get a nursery job last year, but missed the hiring season due to my own ignorance. This year I was much smarter about it, and for anyone attempting to get a job at a nursery I would offer these points of advice:

  1.  Craft a decent resumé. This should be a no-brainer for any job-seeker, but I feel I should mention it because these jobs can be more competitive than you might think. I used a resumé template with green font that came with MS Word for Mac to create a very snazzy looking resumé.  (The green font looks more professional than it sounds.)

  2. Know the hiring season. Selling plants is a season-driven business, and employees are typically hired in groups before the growing season begins. In Austin this hiring season is mid-January to mid-February.

  3. Know your local plants. Nurseries and garden centers like to see that you have some very basic knowledge of plants, and that you are somewhat familiar with the species commonly sold in your area. I was asked multiple times about this stuff, and studied up to make myself a more competitive applicant. Some universal questions you should know the answers to include:

      • what are the primary soil nutrients that plants need?
      • what is the difference between an annual and a perennial?
      • what are some plant species you commonly find in gardens in your area?
      • what are common pests in your area?
      • what can you add to soil to adjust pH balance? - etc.

  4. Follow up! After you've turned in your application with an attached resumé, wait about a week and then call to follow up. Say something to the effect of, "Hi, I applied to XYZ Nursery last week and am just following up. Is there a convenient time I might come by and introduce myself to the hiring manager and offer a written resumé?" Note that this means you'll be giving them your resumé twice, which is good.

  5. Arrive early.  If you're offered an interview, plan to get there at least thirty minutes early to ensure that you don't get held up by traffic.  Sounds like another no-brainer, but consider this - I arrived at my interview early.  Of the two other people that were supposed to interview with me, one didn't show up and the other was 10 minutes late.  Guess who got offered a job.

  6. Talk about what you can do for them.  Although you might have your own motives for working at a nursery or garden center, understand and convey during your interview that you are there to make the company money.  The nursery is not a school to teach you about plants or to let you frolic amongst the roses all day.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Huge News!

I haven't been keeping up with this blog much in the past few months, primarily because I have been going through a time of great transition, risk, and uncertainty.  I originally began posting as a way to document my road to becoming an architect, but with the recent situation I feared that I would not succeed in my attempt and therefore had no business writing a blog about it.  Sure, the blog might still serve purpose as a source of "what not to do," but that would not be fun to write.  Yesterday I received notification that I was accepted to the Master of Landscape Architecture program at Texas A&M University, and now feel that I can (and should) resume my postings.

This news marks the beginning of a new chapter in my life, a point at which I have turned off the well-traveled road and found myself walking deeper into a mysterious wood; Nothing is certain except the I knowledge that I am just where I need to be. Stay tuned and I will explain how a guy with an atypical background and relatively low undergraduate GPA succeeded in being accepted to one of the top-ranked landscape architecture programs in the country.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost