Dr. Lolly Tai: MVP in the Classroom

Dr. Lolly Tai was celebrated by Provost JoAnne Epps and Temple Athletics for her “outstanding contributions to the University.”

Say it loud and proud — the Temple Owls are the American Athletic Conference Champions! There is no question the #22-ranked Owls have had an amazing football season. Students, faculty and staff will definitely be cheering them on at the Military Bowl against Wake Forest on December 27!

Earlier this season, the Cherry and White cheered on a different sort of Temple hero when she hit the field at the Linc. The Owls may have blown out Cincinnati with a 34-14 win, but Dr. Lolly Tai, Professor of Landscape Architecture and former Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, was the MVP that day!

Dr. Tai was celebrated by Provost JoAnne Epps and Temple Athletics for her “outstanding contributions to the University.”

“I have to admit it is pretty amazing to be recognized for making a difference at Temple through teaching, research, service and leadership. It meant a lot to me,” she said. “Sometimes you feel like a little fish in a very big pond. There are so many great faculty at Temple who are making an impact across a wide spectrum of disciplines; to be one of the six honored this season at the Owls home games was a huge honor.”

Seeing herself on the stadium jumbotron was not an experience she ever expected to have, Tai said.

“I went down to the field toward the end of the third quarter. There was so much going on — the roar from the crowd, the Temple marching band, the Diamond Gems, the other team’s cheerleaders — it was almost overwhelming,” she said. “I was fortunate to have a number of colleagues and my students in the stands waving and cheering. And there it was, up on the jumbotron. Hooter gave me a hug. I couldn’t stop smiling.”

The best part, however, came when she was heading back to the stands, Dr. Tai said.

“I was making my way back to my seat and the marching band was to my right. They started yelling ‘MVP!’ MVP!’” she said. “That was so sweet and such a nice surprise. It was an extraordinary day.”

The tradition of honoring faculty at football games — begun several years ago — is an opportunity for the University to recognize individuals who have played a significant role in the enrichment of student experiences at Temple.

Dr. Tai was recognized for her many years of leadership, teaching and scholarly contributions to Temple and the field. “(Dr. Tai’s) leadership in developing innovative applied learning curricular features has set Temple's program in Landscape Architecture apart from all the others in the nation,” according to the honor.

“What I try to instill in our students is a love for the discipline. I want them to study landscape architecture in a way that they can use their individual talents most effectively within the profession,” she said. “Within the classroom, they might not be working with a budget, but you want them to have a sense of time and place. Landscape architecture is a competitive market; we have to instill a sense of professionalism and attention to detail in everything that they do — design, graphics, oral, written and visual communication.”

Temple’s Landscape Architecture program has been very successful in preparing students for the rigors of the profession, said Dr. Tai.

“Last year, all of our graduating students went on to find jobs within the field,” said Tai, who currently teaches graduate and undergraduate landscape architecture courses, including the capstone studio. “Our faculty are able to provide our students a lot of one-on-one instruction. It’s a program with a lot of unique features — the close integration with horticulture, which provides a strong education in plants, and the design-build studio, which places such a strong emphasis on hands-on learning, among them.”

Combined with a diversity of projects within a variety of environments — from suburban wetlands to urban cemeteries — and dedicated faculty with years of experience in the field “our students are ready to hit the ground running when they graduate.”

Dr. Tai’s senior landscape architecture studio also provides another unique feature to the mix. At the end of their projects — which traditionally include a real world “client” — the students complie and publish hardback copies of their work.

For the project “Asphalt to Green Space: Clara Barton Eco-Schoolyard,” the completed published work included an executive summary of the students’ work, inventory and analysis, individual master plans and a final master plan. The more than 360-page “Mount Moriah: Restoring A Historic Cemetery” book included a history of the 300-acre, 1800s-era cemetery, site inventory and analysis, design and reflections on the project.

“These published books have proven very helpful to our clients. They are able to use this comprehensive information, these very detailed design plans, to further their goals,” Dr. Tai said. “In some cases, they’ve been able to utilize this information to secure large project grants to help their vision for these sites become reality.”      

A licensed Landscape Architect who had many years of prior practicing professional and teaching experience, Dr. Tai joined Temple University in 2002 as Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. As chair of the department, she significantly increased the visibility and stature of the program.

In 2006, she was appointed Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Academic Services for the former Ambler College (comprised of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, Department of Planning and Community Development — both departments are now part of the Division of Architecture and Environmental Design in the Tyler School of Art). In this capacity, she served in leadership roles that contributed substantially to shaping the University’s 2020 Master Plan. She was also co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Task Force.

Dr. Tai has been consistently active in research, focusing most recently on designing for children and connecting them to the natural environment.  Her latest book, The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design, published by Temple University Press, will be available in early 2017. She was also the lead author of Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, published by McGraw-Hill.

“The notion of a disconnect between children and nature has become more and more prevalent. According to the United Nations, 54 percent of the population lives in urban areas; that will climb to 66 percent by 2050,” she said. “There is definitely an urgent need to design with kids in mind to get them outside engaged with nature, benefiting from it and becoming good stewards of the environment.”

Dr. Tai is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, recipient of the Bradford Williams Medal from the American Society of Landscape Architects and recipient of the Award of Distinction from the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture. She holds a Bachelors of Landscape Architecture from Cornell University, a Masters of Landscape Architecture from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from Heriot-Watt University, Scotland.

“There are so many possibilities for recent landscape architecture graduates, from firms large and small to public agencies, parks and recreation, engineering firms, restoration and monitoring agencies, geographic information systems and more,” she said. “Our students develop so many skills — design, organization, critical thinking — that are applicable, and sought after, in every field. You have to love it, you have to be passionate about it — if you are, you will make great things happen.”

Photo by Betsy Leebron Tutelman.