Derek Suomi: Serving his country, serving his community

Derek Suomi will graduate with a degree in Landscape Architecture from Temple University.

Derek Suomi knows a little something about multitasking.

While serving for four years in the United States Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Virginia, keeping waterways clear of ships he also completed courses in landscape design and horticulture by taking classes at night at nearby Tidewater Community College.

Today, the tasks hit even closer to home. While diligently completing designs and documentation for his landscape architecture studio classes at Temple University Ambler he has an essential job to do at home as well — being a great Dad to three-month old Rowan.

“Being flexible is, I think, is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned while I’ve been at Temple. You set goals, prioritize and never forget your responsibilities to the people that depend on you most,” said Suomi, 31. “If you’re willing to learn, if you work hard and you are willing to be shaped, in part, by the knowledge and experience of other professionals you will get far in life. I never imaged I would have so many opportunities at graduation as I do.”

Suomi said his initial interest in landscape architecture came when he was working in the construction trades and had the opportunity to get hands-on with design and landscapes.

“That inspired me to move on and pursue my interests. I took courses in horticulture at a community college in Maine before moving to Washington, D.C., where I met several landscape architects,” he said. “That’s where I also met a Coast Guard recruiter. The military was an excellent experience that has, in turn, helped me defray the cost of my education.”

After four years in the Coast Guard, Suomi said he chose Temple on the strength and reputation of the Landscape Architecture program and Temple’s strong reputation of being “a very veteran-friendly school.”

“Temple made it very easy for me to transition back into the classroom. They streamlined the paperwork, helped with all financial concerns and have been welcoming and supportive ever since I arrived,” said Suomi, who was awarded “Veteran Student of the Year” at Temple University Ambler’s Student Leadership Awards Banquet in 2016. “Temple is also a location I wanted to be a part of. In Philadelphia, in the surrounding suburbs, there is a lot going on in terms of landscape architecture.”

According to Suomi, what sets Temple’s Landscape Architecture program apart is “an emphasis on the environment while also giving you a very solid technical background.”

“Horticulture and plants, of course, play a huge role in our profession. Coupled with that is a focus on the technical side of the profession,” said Suomi, who is Vice President of the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Association and American Society of Landscape Architects student president. “I have three engineering courses — stormwater, infrastructure, site grading and design — and I work on a lot of construction documentation. That’s something you usually learn in the professional world — we’re learning that now because our professors are practicing professionals.”

From helping to create a seven-time award-winning exhibit for the Philadelphia Flower Show — 2016’s After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace — to working with real world clients in his studios, Suomi said he has been provided unique educational opportunities that he might never have experienced elsewhere.

“One of the other things that sets Temple apart is the design-build aspect of our projects; it’s something unique to the program. We are taking these ideas and approaching them like we would a real world project. We learn a lot from our mistakes and it is helping us get ready for when we graduate in a way that other programs can’t,” he said. “Working with Greenberg Elementary School in Philadelphia during our senior studio, for example, you had to take a more realistic view. You have to take the local codes and zoning regulations into consideration; you have to accommodate the culture and context of the area. You’re forced to think more critically and more practically.”

Suomi said he believes the technical expertise and real world experience that he has amassed while at Temple helped him to reach his next stop after graduation. He has accepted a position with a large, multidisciplinary design firm, Kimley Horn, which was ranked #11 out of 100 by Fortune magazine, as the best company to work for in 2017.

“I am going to be a landscape architecture analyst working on all phases of the design profession, from conceptualization to construction documentation. At Kimley Horn, new hires are given a lot of responsibility. They are a 110-percent company; they expect 110-percent from you but you are rewarded for your hard work,” he said. “Leaving Temple, I had a lot that I could show a potential employer as far as what I could do and the talent I could bring to a firm. Now I’m ready to get to work!”