Abigail Long: Landscaping Her Future
Photo provided by Abigail Long

Landscape Architecture recent graduate Abigail Long isn't someone who's not willing to get her hands dirty. She's not one to just wait around for something to come to her either.

"I want the hands-on experience. For me personally, I think that's how I learn the best — diving in there and figuring out how to do it," said Long, 30, a transfer student who returned to the classroom in 2015 after working several years in the restaurant industry. "You can be told how to do something, but it's not really until you're in a situation where you need to grapple with it that you fully understand the concepts. That's been one of the biggest benefits of coming to Temple, getting the chance at the Ambler Campus to try out so many different things in real-world situations."

Long discovered Temple Ambler "by coming here one day just to visit the gardens."

"I knew that if I was going to go back to school, I wanted to be here. It's a beautiful space. I knew that I wanted do something with my career in terms of helping the environment in some way but I wasn't sure quite what that looked like or what careers even existed in those fields," said Long who, through hard work and diligence, has an incredible 3.98 GPA. "I grew up working in a restaurant in my hometown of Gettysburg. I actually started there as a bus girl and worked my way up to management. I realized that it wasn't something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, even though it was good for me then — it taught me a lot of people, managerial and leadership skills."

Rather than diving right in, Long said she took a few classes before joining the Landscape Architecture program, offered at Temple by the Tyler School of Art and Architecture.

"I took a Sustainable Design course with (Assistant Professor of Instruction of Landscape Architecture) Kate Benisek and she introduced me to Landscape Architecture," she said. "It was seeing projects that the current students were working on that made realized what a worthwhile and interesting career path it could be."

Those first steps back into the classroom, however, were not without a hefty dose of trepidation, said Long, who had previously majored in education at another institution.

"From the beginning, making the decision to go back to school, that was a huge transformation. I was definitely nervous; it had been a few years since I was in a classroom setting," she said. "One thing I was particularly nervous about was giving presentations but being in the Landscape Architecture program and being in the studio environment really helped with my transition back into the classroom. You have a lot of access to the professors and you're also given these exercises every week called pin-ups — I almost think of it like exposure therapy. Every week, you get up in front of the class and present your work so eventually it becomes second nature."

Talking with her academic advisor also helped with the transition back to school, Long said.

"I knew I wanted to come back to school and I wanted to go to Temple Ambler. I had a general sense of what I wanted to do (and what I didn't want to do) but I didn't quite know how to get there," she said. "From the very beginning my advisor helped me to take a few classes to get my feet wet a little bit and eventually helped me choose my major."

In 2020, Long was part of the team of students and faculty who presented Temple's Gold Medal award-winning Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit Course of Action: A Radical Tack for Suburban Tracts.

"The design-build component of the Junior Studio really was a great experience. I will admit it was hard at times — there are so many things required that you're not really sure that you can do, so many different parts and roles to undertake — but it's all worth it," she said.  "We designed the exhibit, we sourced the exhibit, we built the exhibit. We dismantled and built it again at the Convention Center and staffed the exhibit during Flower Show week."

As a landscape architecture major, Long has taken a keen interest in the plant-side of her career choice, working hands-on in the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University.

"My first year I worked with two senior students and they helped train me to take care of all of the different gardens in the Arboretum — the Formal Garden, the Native Garden, the Winter Garden — anything from weeding to leaf removal to planting plants," she said. "I also helped out with the weekly volunteers. During the winter one year, I got to do a survey of the trees on campus, updating a database of trees looking at their height and their growth to see any changes from one year to the next."

Working in the gardens as a landscape architecture student has huge benefits, Long said.

"I'd recommend it to any student, especially any student that has never been in the industry before and isn't quite sure how to break into it. You'll learn a lot about garden management and you'll learn a lot about plants, which is one of the best things about coming to Temple Ambler," she said. "You have access to all of the plants on campus. You're working with professional horticulturists that have come from all over; well-respected professionals who you can learn a lot from."

While at Temple, she has also had opportunity to explore the profession at other arboreta and green industry businesses. She has worked at the Morris Arboretum and interned at Stoney Bank Nurseries (founded by Temple Ambler alumni) with their landscape architecture office.

"During the pandemic, I started connecting with people in my community doing some garden designs and garden work for people locally — socially distanced and following all recommended guidelines while still getting some hands-on experience. "Just like any other facet of life, it's been challenging. Temple — the professors, the faculty, the staff — have done a tremendous job to provide the best academic experience to us as they can and the Information Technology Department has provided us with access to all of the programs, files and software we need. We have studio courses where we meet a little over 10 hours each week and we're doing it entirely virtually this semester. One of the benefits is you have ways to connect like Zoom — for desk critiques, it's one-on-one uninterrupted time where they can see your work."

Graduating in May 2021, Long said she is taking this year "to get exposed to as many different landscape architecture firms as I possibly can just to see the differences among them and to see which one speaks to me so I can decide which direction I want to go."

"I'm prioritizing firms focused on inclusive and ecological design," she said. "I'm being fairly picky; I want to work somewhere that has the same goals that I do and prioritizes the same things that I do so."

Long said her focus on ecology and inclusive design stems from a "realization that landscape architecture has the power to effect lasting change within a community."

"There are so many things to consider within landscape architecture that, for me, if ecology and the people that are using this space are the central focus, I don't really know what the point of it is," she said. "We're given these skills that we try to cultivate. Using them for the good of everyone is what it's all about."

Eventually, she said, she may explore graduate school and teaching.

"I love the plant side of landscape architecture and I also love the people side of it. That's the great thing about landscape architecture — there are so many different aspects to it," she said. "I love native plants in particular and helping people select plants that they may not know about initially that could benefit not only themselves but other aspects of their backyard and home landscapes."

As a student, Long has also become an integral part of the campus community. She has been a member of the Ambler Campus chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for four years and co-president of the organization in 2019 and 2020.

"Being involved in ASLA, it gives you a great opportunity to see what professionals are doing in landscape architecture and horticulture. You're going to conferences, you're listening to lectures, your exposure to professionals is significant, which is a really great aspect of it," she said. "In 2019, the PA-DEL ASLA regional chapter sent me to the national ASLA conference in San Diego, which was an incredible experience. My involvement has also helped me in learning leadership skills and honing that aspect of my professional development."

Long's dedication to her craft hasn't gone unnoticed. She was recently named the undergraduate 2021 National Olmsted Scholar. As the undergraduate scholar in this highly competitive program, she also received a $15,000 prize.

"I am ecstatic! Being selected as the National Olmsted Scholar is a tremendous honor. I know how competitive the program is, and to say I was shocked to learn this great news is an understatement. I honestly couldn't have done it without the community at Temple Ambler," Long said. "I am incredibly grateful for the Temple Landscape Architecture faculty that nominated me for this award and especially thankful that Rob Kuper, Dr. Lolly Tai, Kathy Salisbury, and Baldev Lamba all took the time and effort to contribute to my Olmsted submission."

Being selected for this award, Long said, "is a sign to keep pushing forward, to continue to learn, and to continue to look for more opportunities of how I can be of use in landscape architecture to create a better world." 

Named for Frederick Law Olmsted, the Landscape Architecture Foundation's (LAF) 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," according to the LAF.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, Long used volunteering opportunities to create healthy and thriving outdoor spaces in which children could learn and play.

"I'm currently volunteering with the Green Schoolyard Squad. Within a crisis like the pandemic, the Green Schoolyard Squad helps schools create outdoor classrooms," said Long, 30, who returned to the classroom in 2015 after working several years in the restaurant industry. "Each year, the Temple Landscape Architecture faculty selects one student to be their school's Olmsted nominee. For the Olmsted Scholars program, you pitch a project based on what you would do with the winning funds."

Long said she would like to develop accessible outdoor classroom design models for use by policymakers, school districts, and educators. With resources to guide garden establishment from development to maintenance, along with specific planting palettes for various typologies, she seeks to cultivate environments that will nurture the next group of leaders who will eventually take care of our communities and earth.

"My project was developing planting palettes that could be implemented within these outdoor classrooms," she said. "Within the planting palettes, they would raise awareness of specific employment opportunities, like 'What is a landscape architect?' 'What is a horticulturist?'"

Long said she is continuing to work at TEND Landscape — a firm owned by Julie Snell, who has been a department adjunct professor and Lisa McDonald Hanes.

"I'm also about to start a new project with Green Schoolyards of America. We are working on an outdoor classroom in Delaware that will serve as a place for students to have nature-based learning and play in as well as serve as a green space for the surrounding community," she said. "I'm looking forward to meeting with Green Schoolyards of America mid-summer to start working on the details of my Olmsted project. Very excited to get started on that!" 

She recently won a PA-DEL ASLA Merit Award for her fall 2020 studio project.

"This award, I'd say, was really life affirming to me," she said. "The judges don't know who you are, they don't have any perceived notions of you or your work one way or the other, they are just looking at the quality of your work. Receiving this award is a true honor."

Long received the award in the "general design category" for a "reimagining of Temple University Main Campus."

"The project was called Temple Terra. Essentially, I created like an outdoor learning environment for students that was informed by changes brought on by the pandemic," she said. "It reimagines the public space in front of Charles Library. The idea was to design spaces outside that provide a nice learning environment without sacrificing anything from the learning experience by being outside."

Looking back at the beginning of this journey, as a non-traditional student who was relatively new to the area, "coming back to school was a little nerve wracking."

"Temple Ambler really helped me cultivate a community of people, which was really nice to grow into and grow with. Being able to work on campus and in the Greenhouse, just utilizing those skills and building upon that every year, has really set me up in a good place," she said. "I drastically changed industries when I made the decision to come back to school, but I feel confident in the choices I've made."

Long's Temple experience, she said, "has been one of growth, one of challenge and one of a lot of perseverance."

"From the person I was when I first started to the person I am now, there has been drastic change and transformation, which I think is really good. Going back to school, doing a lot of the work that I've done, it's given me the confidence for whatever comes next," she said. "At Temple Ambler you get a small school feel — the beautiful gardens in the Arboretum, the small class sizes — while you also get the Temple name. You are part of something while making connections to a terrific community."

For other's who might be intimidated by the process of returning to school full-time, Long suggests taking a few classes "to see what's right for you."

"Make an informed decision about what you want from your degree. Find out as much as you can about the potential career that you want to get into," she said. "Don't be intimidated about getting back into a classroom. You'll find your way and there are people to help you along the way. It will happen; before you know it, you're finishing your degree!"