STILLWATER – What do you get when you combine the creativity of a group of horticulture and landscape architecture students and the enthusiasm of third-graders? You get an award-winning design idea.
Horticulture and landscape architecture students at Oklahoma State University recently took top honors in the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge with their entry featuring the outdoor classroom and trail area of Stillwater’s Sangre Ridge Elementary School.
OSU placed first over Brigham Young University-Idaho, Hinds Community College and North Carolina State University.
Nick Nelson, assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, said 22 of his students, along with the third-graders, worked together for a month to design an outdoor learning environment that lets students learn from a natural space.
“This contest was designed as a way to encourage youth to unplug and experience the great outdoors,” Nelson said. “We told them they were the teachers since they were going to have to introduce us to the outdoor area and show us around. They loved being leaders and I think my students were surprised at how serious the third-graders were and how engaged they were in the whole process.”
Landscape architecture student Corey Branch said the thing that surprised him most about the elementary students was their creativity.
“It takes most landscape architecture students an entire day to place their thoughts into motion for a project, yet these children had their ideas and solutions almost instantly. It was amazing the design ability they had,” Branch said. “By trying to inspire the children, I was inspired by their creativity.”
Students’ ideas ranged from giant chocolate volcanoes and spaceships to creating animal habitat. The design eventually came down to creating an outdoor space that encourages people to get outside and interact with the environment in active and passive play. This concept allows all types of children and users to enjoy the space.
Sarah Major, a teacher at Sangre Ridge Elementary, said the third-graders participated so that if the design could be done soon, the students would be able to experience it.
“In class we were discussing career and job readiness, so this project fit in nicely with our careers unit,” Major said. “However, we also were able to use the project to show geometry, measurement, art and persuasion strategies. For instance, we talked about what the students included in their plans to persuade us to choose their plan over the other entries.”
One of the participating elementary students said she really liked talking with the college students and showing them around her school. Another student said he liked learning about different careers.
Joleen Royer, another third grade teacher at Sangre Ridge, said her students benefited from the project.
“It definitely opened their eyes to a new field of careers,” Royer said. “We were able to see some of our students really come out of their shell and start talking about outside jobs and how they are important.”
“Not only does Sangre Ridge Elementary benefit from having this design plan ready for when the time comes and funding is available to implement it, my students also benefit from participating in competitions such as this,” Nelson said.
Trisha Gedon is a communications specialist with Agricultural Communications Services.