Umit Yilmaz, a professor in the College of Environment and Design, and his students blend theory, research and service to improve quality of life in communities in Georgia and around the world.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received a professional degree in architecture, a master’s degree in city planning and urban design and a Ph.D. in planning, all from Istanbul Technical University in Turkey. I am the Athletic Association Professor in Environmental Planning and Design.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2010 after teaching at Clemson University for 15 years. A number of qualities at this exciting university attracted me, but most specifically it was the opportunity to be involved in the further development of a new design-oriented planning program.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I have enjoyed every course that I have taught so far, but my favorite courses are studios—where theory, practice, service and research are synthesized. Studio courses provide a dynamic academic environment, allowing me, along with my students, to be more creative and to innovate.
What interests you about your field?
Planning and design are not only intellectually productive fields but are also applied. I enjoy the practical aspects of the field as well as the theory.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Last year, I was honored to give the commencement address at my alma mater in Istanbul as a UGA professor. Also, my students worked on a master plan last year for a Turkish town called Gurun, where I attended middle school. My students and I traveled to the town and were hosted by the municipality, conducted a land use survey, interviewed local people and visited their homes. This was both a highlight in my career and an extraordinary experience for my students.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I have never used the same course material twice. Every year, I redesign my teaching based on what I learned from research and insights over the previous academic year. The studios play an important role in rethinking course content and methodologies, as new issues and ideas continually emerge. This method of teaching and research creates a feedback loop that allows my courses to evolve.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Besides critical and independent scholarly thinking, I hope that my students also learn skills and practices that will help them to become leaders in their professions.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student studies for the joy and excitement of learning and discovery, not just to meet the requirements of a specific degree program.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I enjoy many places on North Campus, particularly the Founders Memorial Garden and Herty Field, but my favorite place is the Tanner Building where I teach.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Get together with friends, work in my woodshop and cultivate my vegetable garden. I also enjoy cooking, traveling and digital photography.
Community/civic involvement includes….
Working on local and international public service projects with students. Some of the recently completed service-learning projects include large-scale master planning for the towns of Erbaa and Gurun in Turkey; a small farm community neighborhood plan in Covington, Ga.; two large-scale land use plans for the Center for Community Preservation and Planning in Newton County, Ga., and a site and building design at the Wormsloe Plantation near Savannah as service to university. Currently we are involved with a vision plan for the area along the Atlanta Highway in Athens and just beginning work on another international service project in Oren, a historical town by the Aegean Sea.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I have favorite books and movies in different categories, but in general, my favorite book is “Nutuk” by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is about how the nation of Turkey was built after there was no hope left. I love movies and hope to make a documentary in the future about the ancient methods of agriculture that my grandparents practiced. Fellini and Woody Allen are probably my favorite directors, but if I had to choose just one movie, it would be “Babette’s Feast” by Gabriel Alex because I can see many parallels to my own experiences in this film.
Proudest moment at UGA?
I am proud to see the accomplishments of students and alumni from our new master of environmental planning and design program.
(Originally published Sept. 1, 2013)