For graduating senior Chandler Kennedie McLaurin, Landscape Architecture was love at first plant.

"I always knew I wanted to be involved in architecture. When I came to Temple, I discovered that Landscape Architecture would be the best fit for me as it combined art and science," said McLaurin, who will graduate with a degree in Landscape Architecture from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture this month. "I switched from Architecture to Landscape Architecture right after my sophomore year and I I've loved it ever since. I took my first horticulture class, learned the botanical names, common names, and characteristics of plants and I knew landscape architecture was home for me." 

Having grown up in Brooklyn, New York, McLaurin said it was easy to adapt to living in Philadelphia during her first two years at Temple. Coming to Temple Ambler for her Landscape Architecture and Horticulture classes, however, "I loved it even more."

"Just taking in the atmosphere of nature and being surrounded by plants, I think it's great. Our campus is an Arboretum — there's really no better place to learn about landscape Architecture," she said. "I think what makes Temple's Landscape Architecture program unique is definitely the hands-on learning experience. Taking horticulture classes and having (Ambler Arboretum Director) Kathy Salisbury as our teacher, every week we had different trees and plants that we were studying firsthand. We were able to interact with the plants and learn their characteristics and how to identify them."

As a visual learner, McLaurin said, "those experiences really helped me."

"Hands-on learning as a student, I believe, helps you be able to grasp things a lot quicker. If you're interacting with something, it becomes second nature, and that's really with anything, not just plants," she said. "With landscape architecture studios in general, being hands-on, learning how to design, you evolve as a person and a professional."

McLaurin and her fellow students in her junior year Landscape Architecture Design-Build studio took that firsthand experience to an entirely different level when they took their designs, built and exhibit and present it at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2023 to an audience of several hundred thousand visitors.

"From taking a design, which we planned in the fall of 2022, going through the design, the types of plants, the types of rocks, the different aspects of the exhibit, even down to the types of screws we would be using, it's such a meticulous, complex process — everything has to come together," she said. "To go through the design-build process was an incredible experience, and that's not an experience you're going to get at every school."

Temple's 2023 Flower Show exhibit, The Power of Nature — Plug Into It, was awarded an astounding six top honors, including a PHS Gold Medal, awarded to a major exhibit that receives 95 or more points out of 100 in the "criteria of design, horticulture, plantsmanship and educational value."

The 2023 exhibit, which explored the outdated and abandoned relics of power distribution systems as they are reclaimed by nature, was additionally awarded the Alfred M. Campbell Memorial Trophy; the Bulkley Medal of the Garden Club of America; the Pennsylvania Landscape Nursery Association Trophy; the Special Achievement Award of The Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, and the PHS Gardening for the Greater Good Award for the exhibit "that best exemplifies PHS's mission to activate horticulture and gardening as a force for the 'greater good' by advancing the health and well-being of the people and their environments."

"Creating the Flower Show exhibit teaches you new strengths — time management, organization, getting in there and using those tools and working with other people as a team. Those were the most important benefits to me," McLaurin said. "When I share that experience with different employers, it's an impressive part of my resumé — some of them have said they never had an opportunity to do something like that as a student. That skill set sets you apart from other landscape architecture students."

McLaurin hasn't limited her participation in the Ambler Campus community to just the classroom. She is currently the vice president of the Ambler Campus Student Life Board. At the recent Ambler Campus Student Engagement Banquet she was the recipient of a Golden Owl Award, presented to a graduating senior who has "displayed outstanding leadership and dedication to the Temple Ambler campus community through their participation in on-campus activities, organizations and community throughout their educational career."

"I love working together with (Ambler Student Life Board President) Josh Palackal coming up with different activities and things to do outside of the classroom — our advisor Krista (DeLone, Director of Student and Campus Life) is amazing," she said. "It was important to me to become a student leader at Temple because it was something I was always involved with — in high school they called me Mom Chandler because I cared about everyone and wanted to see them succeed. If I'm doing well, I want people around me doing well."

When you enter college, "you can get lost among 35,000 people trying to figure out their way, just like you are," McLaurin said.

"At Temple Ambler, I feel like I'm able to thrive and be a leader," she said. "You'll walk around campus and people know you, they say hello to you, they are invested in what you're involved with and what you are doing and that's pretty awesome."

According to McLaurin, one of the achievements she is most proud of during her time at Temple "is making that transition from Architecture to Landscape Architecture even though at the time I really didn't know what Landscape Architecture was or where it would lead me."

"I have found that I really like working with plants and I really like horticulture. To be able to take that and learn how to design with plants is something that I've found amazing," she said. "Taking Herbaceous Woody Plants and being in Planting Design with Kate Benisek (Assistant Professor of Instruction, Program Head of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture and Curriculum Coordinator of Graduate Landscape Architecture) it has been really incredible to take all of the skills we've learned in the past couple of years, put them all together for a project and sign, seal and deliver it before I graduate — it's something pretty magical."

McLaurin's Temple experience, she said, "has allowed me to fly and learn who I am as a person."

"I think I've evolved every day. Temple, to me, is the friends that I've had around me, great professors, and just having that hands-on experience at two very different campuses. I'm an Owl for life," she said.

Degree nearly in hand, McLaurin's next stop is as a landscape designer with a Landscape Architecture firm in Paoli-Malvern.

"I'll be working with smaller-scale residential projects and incorporate everything I've learned at Temple Ambler," she said. "For students just starting out, my advice would definitely get involved but also take the time to learn who you are as a person. If you stay focused and set your goals, anything is possible — I tell myself that every day!"