Shannon Sylte

Game Changer Shannon Sylte

A New Vision: Master’s student essay by Shannon Sylte

I was drawn to the School for Environment and Sustainability because of its diversity, academic rigor, and wealth of resources to help me achieve my goal of becoming a landscape architect. Upon entering the SEAS community, I was immersed in an environment of passionate and supportive faculty and master’s students.

The School for Environment and Sustainability has opened up opportunities that I didn’t know existed and motivated me to focus my academic experience on a subject I had never been exposed to: participatory design. As a first-year student in the Master’s of Landscape Architecture (MLA) program, I often found myself stuck when it came to public space design. I wanted to know what the current and future users of these spaces wanted instead of creating assumptions around their needs. My interests led me to join Dr. Mark Lindquist in the Landscape Informatics Lab to assist in the development of a game engine-based 3D visualization design software. The aim of this tool is to support collective decision-making around open space and green infrastructure design by utilizing visualization to communicate design decisions across diverse stakeholder groups.

Through my experience within the school and the extensive alumni network beyond Ann Arbor, I know that my career after graduate school will be immensely fulfilling and impactful.

Research with the Landscape Informatics Lab introduced me to cutting edge 3D modeling and digital tools that can enhance a designer’s analysis of the landscape and communication of design ideas. Learning how to use these tools was just the beginning of my academic research. The visualization software developed quickly during my first year working in the lab and I became deeply interested in understanding its application in real world community development and design settings.

The lab’s partnership with the Eastside Community Network in Detroit catalyzed my involvement in applying and analyzing the software. As a Graham Sustainability Institute Dow Master’s Fellow, I pitched a project to fellows from various schools throughout the university. The pitch centered upon further improving the visualization software and using it in a series of design workshops. Four other Master’s Fellows decided to support this project and so began the year-long project that would use the software to co-design green infrastructure on vacant lots on Detroit’s Eastside.

The Dow Master’s Fellowship project has evolved into a robust research initiative that includes social and technical components. The social piece of the project involves training residents to use the design software to enhance design outcomes by tapping into local expertise and empowering Detroiters to visualize and co-create open space and green infrastructure design. The technical side of the project involves incorporating environmental sensors to support air quality tracking. The hope is that these co-created designs will be implemented and the sensors will be able to track air quality improvements as a result of the installation over time.

My decision to attend SEAS has undoubtedly elevated my capacity to positively impact communities by approaching sustainability projects with an interdisciplinary foundation. Through my experience within the school and the extensive alumni network beyond Ann Arbor, I know that my career after graduate school will be immensely fulfilling and impactful to a broad array of sustainability initiatives.

At the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, we partner with communities to tackle real-world problems through research and hands-on fieldwork. Earn your master of landscape architecture degree from the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, where we’re working with communities to co-create green infrastructure.