Sungkyung Lee, an assistant professor in the College of Environment and Design, enjoys service-learning projects where students work on landscape design with community partners in need of resources and support.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I have a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree from Dong-A University in South Korea and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, I am an assistant professor in the College of Environment and Design (CED) and teach landscape design studios and graphic communication courses at the University of Georgia.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2009. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because the landscape architecture programs at the CED are nationally recognized and the college provides great support for faculty research. However, what made the decision easier for me was the collegial atmosphere within the college. When I visited Athens for my job interview, I instantly felt connected to the place and the people in the CED. A sense of belonging is something I highly value as I have moved a lot and lived in many different parts of world.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I enjoy teaching service-learning landscape design projects in LAND 4912 Sustainability in Design and LAND 6040 Community and Place. Students gain professional experience as well as personal development by working on a real project with community partners in need of resources and support. This benefits me as well, because it gives me the opportunity to learn about particular local contexts and issues by listening to community members.
What interests you about your field?
I was first drawn to the design aspect of landscape architecture, especially the idea that I can manipulate the environment to induce positive benefits for people. Over time, I have realized that there is a huge gap between how designers envision a space to function and how most people actually use and experience the space in their everyday lives. This is a challenge of the profession and is a very difficult one to fix because it requires a change in designers’ attitude guarded by “expert knowledge.” Reducing the gap between experts and general users has been one of my core research and teaching agendas.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I vividly remember the last day of my first semester teaching at UGA; another was when my students from LAND 4912 Sustainability in Design planted blueberry shrubs in Tanyard Community garden last year. We have been working on this service-learning project over two semesters now and will continue this fall. Making a real change in the community and being part of the transformation is definitely a highlight.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?
My research focuses on the interaction between the social and environmental to better understand how human socio-cultural activities influence the physical landscape, determine landscape uses and place values, and alter natural ecosystems. Understanding the landscape interconnectedness is crucial to create ecologically and socially sustainable environments. This personal value is reflected in my community-based teaching approach in which students understand a landscape through a variety of interconnected natural and particular human-dominated cultural systems.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I wish that my classroom experience helps my students to become flexible designers who are open to constructive criticism not only from an instructor but also from their own peers; to be sensible designers who think beyond a site boundary and consider actual users and particular neighborhood contexts; to be creative yet practical in use of plants, materials and construction techniques, and to respect the existing ecosystem and cultural integrity of the region.
Describe your ideal student.
An ideal student would be one who is willing to explore various ideas, self-motived to develop an original concept or approach to design and research, and determined to develop cogent arguments around final design proposals and research findings.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I enjoy taking a walk around the North Campus.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
My pet project at home is re-landscaping my front yard so that hopefully one day I don’t need to mow or water it at all. So far, to reduce the amount of lawn area, I used perennial ground covers, planted fruit bearing trees and shrubs, and built a stone patio.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am currently working with the Athens Permaculture, Athens Land Trust, and other local activists to develop community gardens in historic African American neighborhoods; I also enjoy exchanging plants and gardening ideas with my neighbors, Kathy and Don, and strive to make our neighborhood corner beautiful.
My favorite book is Non-possession, a book written by a famous Korean Buddhist monk, Beop Jeong. Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore is my favorite movie.
Proudest moment at UGA?
It has to be the day when my first graduate student, Lara Browning, successfully defended her master’s thesis.