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Sometimes the destination is a new way of seeing things

MSU's landscape architecture students gain cultural insight and design inspiration through study abroad and a special endowment.

Nearly all landscape architecture students at Michigan State participate in study abroad, thanks to the foresight of dedicated faculty and the generosity of donors who wanted others to see the world. Legions of future Spartans will continue to choose MSU for its landscape architecture program not only because it includes a consummate study abroad experience but also because significant scholarship support is available to enable their participation. That’s the legacy of John (’53, Agriculture and Natural Resources), who died in 2011, and his wife, Patricia “Patti” Chipman, says Professor Warren Rauhe, director of MSU’s Landscape Architecture Program from 1995 to 2005.

Sharing Inspiration

Caring about others came naturally to John and Patti. After starting Chipman Landscaping in Kalamazoo, Michigan, they developed a line of fiberglass planters and benches as a way to provide year-round employment for their landscape staff.

By 1969 that simple idea had grown to become Landscape Forms, a company founded to provide high quality furnishings for public spaces. Today the business employs some 200 people and is the leading designer and manufacturer of furniture for outdoor environments in North America.

Their clients include municipalities, transit centers, educational institutions and familiar brand leaders such as Disney, American Airlines and Nike. The company headquarters and manufacturing facility remain in Kalamazoo, but sales offices are located throughout the world. Their products are well known for uniquely incorporating European influence.

“The products Landscape Forms produces are the absolute best in design and quality. They have no peer,” says Rauhe.

The success of the company was also due in large part to John’s leadership style that was ahead of its time in being open book and inclusive of all employees.

“Everybody there was part of the family,” Rauhe recalls. “If people looked hungry he’d go get food. He was humble but very capable and always prepared for any opportunity that came along. How many people do you know that have an Audi TT with a trailer hitch?”

Giving back to MSU was long a high priority for John and Patti. They first started an MSU scholarship endowment in 1986. Originally intending to provide support for landscape architecture students, the Chipmans refined the scope in 2000, amending the endowment to create the John and Patricia Chipman Endowed International Enrichment Program in Landscape Architecture, specifically to support students in study abroad.

“John always felt his travels abroad were a huge source of inspiration,” says Rauhe. “He and Patti wanted everyone to have this experience.”

The Chipmans committed additional support to their endowment through a bequest, which, when realized, will put the Chipman endowment well over $3 million. Patti’s current gifts support the program on an annual basis and add even more to the endowment. This support makes the program a reality now. Coupled with the success of MSU’s Common Investment Fund, which historically has exceeded the performance of peer universities that have endowments similar in size, the endowment has grown and will continue to increase, becoming a significant source of support that will enable students in perpetuity to participate in study abroad.

International Ingenuity

The MSU Landscape Architecture Study Abroad Program began small with a trip to Toronto in 1975. It grew to an official MSU Study Abroad Program within two years. Subsequent trips, which typically last eight weeks, have traversed the globe from Europe to Asia to Central America to Australia and New Zealand. Today, the breadth and depth of the program is one of the pillars that establishes MSU landscape architecture faculty and alumni as global leaders in international planning and design.

Early on, faculty integrated a study abroad experience into the landscape architecture core curriculum. Each spring, junior level students can fulfill 12 credit hours of their required courses through the program.

Vanessa Warren (’00, ANR) was a nontraditional landscape architecture student in the spring of 1999, before the Chipman Endowed International Enrichment program was available. Married and in her 30s, she carefully weighed the sacrifice the study abroad experience would have on her family economically and emotionally.

“After much consideration, my family and I felt the study abroad program was best for my understanding of design and my future career in the field,” she recalls. “It was the best decision I made in my academic career at MSU.”

She says she draws on the experience every day as she applies her knowledge of how history, culture and physical environment coalesce to create design in public spaces. But, she also values the experience for what she learned about herself as a leader.

“When we landed in a foreign country I became a surrogate mother to many of my classmates who were 15-18 years younger,” she says. “Often I was spearheading getting students to the proper destinations on time, fixing the plumbing in London, organizing a switch of trains in Norway, and pooling money together to wash our clothes at laundromats, or even finding laundromats for that matter. This switch in my life from dependent wife to independent professional was invaluable.”

The value she places on her study abroad experience is reflected in her ongoing support for it. During her service as a trustee for the Michigan Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, she made sure the Chipmans were recognized with the organization’s highest Honor Award.

Ready for Global Challenges

Employers look for students with cultural sensitivity and international travel experience, notes Scott Witter, professor and director of MSU’s Landscape Architecture Study Abroad Program.

Typically visiting multiple countries in a single trip, students in the program encounter famous historic planned and designed environments such as England’s Stonehenge, Italy’s Villa Lante and Spain’s Alhambra. They also explore the world’s most innovative contemporary environments such as the green community in Malmo, Sweden, and the central business districts at La Défense in Paris, France. They often go behind the scenes to interact with international researchers, planners and designers, gaining exclusive insider’s views to such places as the London offices of Zaha Hadid, the world-renowned architect behind MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

Throughout their study abroad experience, students receive extensive field instruction, collaborate on design and planning with their counterparts at international universities, and conduct their own human behavior studies. Far from the comfort zone of East Lansing, they are immersed in unfamiliar approaches to urban spaces, ecology, green technology, construction techniques, cultural practices and historic preservation. They hone their professional skills by developing visual notes and field sketches, all the while connecting their classroom learning with what they see around them.

Bob Ford (’75, ANR), principal of Landscape Architects & Planners, Inc. and president of the MSU Landscape Architecture Alumni and Advisory Board, sees firsthand the long-term impacts the study abroad program has for the MSU graduates his company hires.

“It opened their eyes and better prepares them to meet the global challenges facing the world today,” he says.

Michigan State has led the nation in study abroad participation among public universities for the last six years. Each year, close to 3,000 students participate in more than 275 programs taking place in some 60 countries around the world.

Thanks to John and Patti Chipman, there will always be a cadre of landscape architecture students among them.

For more information on making a gift to the College of Agriculture
and Natural Resources, contact Senior Director of Development Jody Ackerman at or call (517) 355-0284.