Professor Jon Rodiek is out to make Earth a better place, one open space at a time.
To that end, for almost 30 years he has been dedicated to improving the discipline of landscape architecture by bringing relevant scientific information into the arena where design decisions are made. “I advocate linking research to practice as a means of improving the human-made landscape,” he notes.
Recognized as a superb teacher and mentor, Rodiek is a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning and coordinator of its masters of landscape architecture program.
Teaching, mentoring students through hands-on projects
After receiving his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, Rodiek began his university teaching career studying elk in the Arizona mountains, investigating how such features of their habitat as soil and vegetation affected their lifecycle.
“The evidence in these scientific studies was based on tracking data gathered from elk wearing radio collars,” he explains. “We would lure them into a cage baited with a salt block, wrap a T-shirt over their eyes and place the collars around their necks. Although the work was invaluable to the elk, at least we did not have to tranquilize them.”
Now, Rodiek teaches design studios for all Texas A&M senior undergraduate landscape architecture majors and supervises special and final projects for graduate students. “I see myself as the ‘fat coach’ on the sidelines,” he quips. “I mentor the best students, helping them with real-world planning projects for actual clients.
“Our student project groups don’t compete with commercial contractors. Rather, we meet with stakeholders and offer them ideas about how they can achieve their landscape planning goals. Then it’s up to them to acquire the land, secure funding and hire landscape professionals to convert our suggestions to concrete plans.”
Many of his students’ projects stem from Rodiek’s contacts an independent contractor, for which he uses evidence-based information and case study precedents to guide his designs. All the fees he receives for these projects and for speaking engagements, plus a portion of his summer salary, is plowed back into a special account to fund scholarships and field trips for students. Rodiek has also earmarked part of such funds to endow a $100,000 scholarship in the names of his late parents, Elizabeth and Edmund Rodiek.
“I’ve been building the endowment fund for 10 years,” Rodiek explains, “and I’m within $9,000 dollars of my goal. I’ll use the interest on the endowment money to fund $1,000 scholarships to help students defray educational expenses.”
Projects that Rodiek and his students work on – some 15 in the last 10 years -- focus on parks, the Texas A&M campus, highway corridors, downtown urban residences and wildlife habitat. For example, Rodiek’s students recently submitted a plan to the small Texas town of Yoakum, providing drawings that showed the town how to revitalize its dying town square. Then the town secured a $950,000 cost-sharing grant from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission to put bring the plan to reality.
“Another recent project focused on protecting an open space in Spring, Texas, from urban sprawl,” Rodiek says. “Groups of two students worked on this two-phase project. First, each group produced a comprehensive master plan for the property. In phase two, the teams created design details to implement the plan. The client selected the final designs to be included in the approved plan.”
Student Bret Elder has been working with Rodiek on yet another project, researching what native Texas plants can be put into wetlands here and has come up with a list of the 14 plants most readily available in wetland nurseries that will grow in the state’s wetlands.
“This sounds like a small thing,” Rodiek notes, “but it has taken lots of time and research on the student’s part, and it will be a tremendous service to landscape architects. They will have a ready reference for how to plant wetlands.”
Conducting internationally acclaimed research
Rodiek’s research focuses on open space and landscape planning. He has written over 29 major manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals and is a leading voice in the field of landscape planning research. He has conducted precedent-setting work in developing design and planning techniques for mined land reclamation, wildlife habitat protection, wetland identification and arid land planning. He is also a sought-after authority on wetland classification and interpretation and the assessment and evaluation of landscape and wildlife habituate.
In addition to his own projects, he serves as editor-in-chief of the international peer-reviewed journal Landscape and Urban Planning, headquartered at Texas A&M.
“Landscape and Urban Planning is concerned with conceptual, scientific and design approaches to land use,” he says. “By emphasizing ecological understanding and a multidisciplinary approach to analysis and planning and design, it attempts to draw attention to the interrelated nature of problems posed by nature and human use of land.”
Receiving recognition, awards
Rodiek’s dedication to teaching has been recognized with a Texas A&M Distinguished Teaching Award in Teaching, which he received in 1996, and an Association of Former Students Distinguished Service Award in 2006. Those that benefit most from his extraordinary skill – his students – say his dedication to teaching landscape architecture is surpassed only by his commitment to his students. And his colleagues appreciate him, too. One of them, in nominating Rodiek for this award, noted he has a “boundless store of energy, exuberance and compassion that he brings to his teaching and yet at the same time he is equally demanding, challenging and thoughtfully critical toward his students.”
Rodiek also has been recognized by his peers in the profession. In 2004, he was the first recipient of the Fábos Medal. The medal honors the legacy of landscape architecture pioneer Julius Gy.Fábos, the principal developer of the Metropolitan Landscape Planning System for landscape assessment and planning. This award recognized Rodiek’s achievement as an international leader in the field.
Rodiek has amassed an impressive list of such awards and accolades, including being made a fellow in the American Society of Landscape architects; receiving the Award of Distinction from the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, a National Team Leadership Ward from the Professional Division of the American Association of University Administrators, and a U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit; and being named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Massachusetts.
Practicing what he teaches
One of Rodiek’s personal interests concerns attracting native animals into urban and suburban backyards by planning the “right” ornamental plants.
“The people at Traditions golf course have helped me – and my students -- out with this project,” he says. “They have let us use a small area of about one acre to experiment with vegetation. This area will attract wild birds, mammals, and insects like dragonflies and butterflies.”
Rodiek also has worked with the National Wildlife Federation on a project to “invite wildlife into your home,” and he practices what he preaches – and teaches-- turning his own backyard into a miniature wildlife habitat.
“It’s simply a matter of planting the right vegetation, making a place where wildlife can find food and a place to rest and reproduce, for example, nesting boxes for song birds and owls” he says, noting that he has attracted owls, hawks, possum, raccoons, squirrels, turtles and seven species of butterflies. “Now, my wife and I love to sit and watch the wildlife show right in our own backyard.”
Some of this material appeared previously in publications of the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University.