Yekang Ko Receives 2024 CELA Award for Excellence in Service Learning

The Department of Landscape Architecture in the School of Architecture & Environment has reason to celebrate the 2024 Annual Award Winners announcement from the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA). Associate Professor and Interim-Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Landscape Architecture, Yekang Ko, was one of only thirteen award winners, and one of two from the department to be picked from a competitive list of 56 applicants. Awardees are recognized by peers and the community for their demonstrated excellence in the areas of teaching, research, creativity, and design innovation. Ko earned the Excellence in Service Learning - Senior award for her inspirational work with students and the community. Ko was recognized by her peers and school leadership for her innate ability to link service learning to positive, educational outcomes. 

Opportunity Village work by students in the tree nursery.

"What stands out most prominently to me is Professor Ko's exceptional skill in translating service learning into concrete, practical, and academic achievements," wrote Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and previous Department Head, Liska Chan, in her recommendation letter. "This encompasses actual design-build projects at Opportunity Village Eugene and Everyone Village; securing job opportunities for students via community partnerships such as the City of Eugene Public Works, State of Oregon Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program, and Everyone Village; facilitating presentations in CELA conferences and ASLA webinars; acquiring grants from foundations, non-profits, and federal agencies; and contributing to scholarly publications around her community projects in South Korea, Taiwan, and Eugene. Such tangible and impactful results from her service-learning approach are both rare and extraordinary."

Chan further asserted that Ko's award-winning work and service-minded focus helped innovate and raise the department's profile within the landscape architecture community. As schools and colleges reconnect with their communities to create one-of-a-kind educational experiences that dually give students real-world experience while positively impacting others, Ko's work has helped the school firmly entrench itself as a service learning expert and compassionate educator thanks to her involvement in the local community through her pedagogy and organizations such as Landscape For Humanity and Association of Pacific Rim Universities

"Upon joining our department, Professor Ko swiftly integrated into the Eugene community, eagerly incorporating service-learning projects into her curriculum in both studio and subject area courses," explained Chan. "Her dedication to hands-on learning and community engagement has immensely benefited our students, providing them the opportunity to tackle real-world challenges in sustainability and environmental justice."

Ko's recommendation was further reinforced by statements provided by a student, state employee, and community member who were positively impacted by her classes and their stellar work. 

Participating in [Ko'] Design for Climate Action class was a transformative journey that seamlessly bridged the gap between academic knowledge and real-world application. The projects undertaken during the course were not mere theoretical exercises; they were tangible solutions grounded in facts and informed by the pressing realities of our community at Everyone Village.

Taking a leadership role in these projects significantly boosted my confidence as a landscape designer. It provided me with a sense of agency to contribute meaningfully to the community and, in turn, receive valuable insights and support for my learning. The reciprocity inherent in our interactions fostered a genuine connection between academic pursuit and community service, leading to personal and professional growth.

[Ko's] instrumental role in securing funding from the Homeless Garden Project stands as a testament to your commitment to providing extended learning opportunities beyond the classroom. This funding not only facilitated my participation in a knowledge-sharing initiative but also laid the groundwork for my master's project. The connections forged during this period, including those with key funders, played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of my academic and professional journey.

Rosie Yerke        
MLA '23        
Garden Grant Lead        
Everyone Village

Our plan had been largely borrowed from an existing plan from another Oregon town, and was extremely broad and expansive in its scope, as well as somewhat generic. Ms. Kos class worked closely with [our organization] Sustainable Silverton to dive into the six focal areas of our Energy Plan: Buildings and Energy; Urban Natural Resources; Land Use and Transportation; Food and Agriculture; Consumption and Waste; and Community Wellbeing. The class was broken into groups, each tackling one of the focus areas. The goal was to evaluate the multitude of recommendations within the plan, in order to customize the recommendations to our unique city, as well as to identify the three top recommendations within each focus area that would provide the highest value to Silverton. 

Ms. Ko provided outstanding leadership to the process. Sustainable Silverton members were welcomed into the classroom for a working session with the students. We discussed [our] existing plan and responded to studentsquestions. I was impressed with Ms. Kos ability to constructively guide her students. The students utilized place-specific metrics and factors, and drew from case studies in other towns with similarities to ours. Students reached out to us with further questions as they worked, drafts were circulated, and feedback incorporated. In the end, we had our supplemental report: Climate Action Recommendations for the City of Silverton [an outcome from the University of Oregon's Sustainable City Year Program]. 

Elyce Hues        
Board Member        
Sustainable Silverton

Professor Ko’s community tree nursery project at Opportunity Village Eugene has been a particular highlight. After thorough discussions with numerous City of Eugene staff and community partners, including Friends of Trees, OSU Extension Service, and local nurseries/tree care providers, we unanimously regarded the project as well-planned, viable, and robust. It promises to address several critical challenges facing our community and nation.

Aligned with the City of Eugene’s mission to optimize the urban forest's social, economic, and environmental benefits through adaptive management and community engagement, Professor Ko and her students have been instrumental in advancing this agency's goals. We have supported their initiatives through consultations, material acquisitions, donations, and various follow-up supports. Now, in my role with the State of Oregon Urban and Community Forestry Program, I am exploring further avenues to replicate her approach statewide.

Professor Ko's work adeptly addresses complex, interrelated issues such as homelessness, chronic poverty, community fragmentation, and environmental justice. Her innovative and cost-effective strategies are commendable and pioneering in their holistic approach.

Scott Altenhoff        
Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program Manager        
Department of Forestry        

Ko is scheduled to be honored by CELA at an Awards Dinner and Reception at the annual CELA Conference on March 22 at 7 pm alongside the other faculty and student awardees. 

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