sealPurdue News

December 13, 2002

Purdue landscape seniors tackle real city problems

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University seniors in the School of Agriculture recently utilized a unique mode of transportation to help them segue into future careers.

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Each fall semester, seniors in the landscape architecture program complete a service-learning project in Chicago. This semester, the students developed plans to revitalize Chicago's Central Michigan Avenue, a two-mile stretch of the city's most prime real estate that has been a victim of urban decay over the past two decades.

Course instructor Kim Wilson added a slight twist to the project. Student teams were asked to incorporate a Segway personal transport system into their project design.

The Segway looks like a miniature chariot powered by an electric motor and is capable of generating speeds of 12 miles per hour. The driver controls speed and direction simply by leaning either forward or back.

The student projects will be on display through Jan. 25 in Chicago at the John David Mooney foundation's third-floor gallery, 114 West Kinzie Ave. The effort is sponsored by the foundation, the Central Michigan Avenue Association and Purdue.

Wilson points out that the annual projects offer insight and vision to real-world problems. Casey Collins, a senior from Lafayette, said that requires students to think differently.

"During our one-year internships (the program requires students to work professionally for a year prior to graduation), we had to think 'inside the box' because there were so many parameters that restricted us – things like cost, local political restrictions and regulations – those sorts of things," Collins said. "But with this project, back in the classroom, we are encouraged to think 'outside the box.' Nothing is out-of-bounds."

Not that the students spent all that much time in the classroom this semester.

Wilson escorted the students on field trips to Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Louisville so they could see what problems other Midwest cities face.

"As cities become more and more populated, the 3,500-pound automobile is unrealistic to move people around," Wilson said. "Especially the last mile, the short distance between business meetings or to lunch."

That's where the Segway comes in.

Developed at a cost of $100 million, the Segway relies on gyrostabilizers, minuscule motors and tilt sensors that mimic the human body's ability to balance and propel itself forward and back. Inventor Dean Kamen hopes it will revolutionize the transportation industry in major cities like Chicago.

"The Segway is really what made this project unique," Wilson said. "I think the students did a great job of grasping the new technology and making it a part of their projects."

Students in the class Landscape Architecture 416 made their final presentations Dec. 5 in Chicago not only in front of the other 25 students in the class, but also to a jury of six critics consisting of professional landscape architects, architects, planners, artists and transportation engineers and academics, who asked questions and critiqued each presentation.

"We realize this is the culmination of all of our work at Purdue, but what we learn from the critique of our presentation is valuable itself," said Rebecca Growney, of Chicago. "This isn't something everybody at Purdue gets to experience."

A juror for the projects, the Rev. Richard S. Bullene, assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame's School of Architecture, was impressed by the professionalism of each presentation.

"What they are showing and what they are saying fit together very nicely," he said. "Doing the design is one thing, but you have to be able to sell it, and that is something completely different. You have to do that through the presentation phase, and these students did an excellent job."

Wilson puts the class members in teams so they can evenly share the large workload the class requires and to see how they pull together and work as a team.

"This program is not just trying to build landscape architects, but whole people," Wilson said. "It's important they learn to work together with people who have strengths in different areas."

Writer: Tom Campbell, (765) 494-8084

Source: Kim Wilson, (765) 494-1308;

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Purdue senior Bob Graves zips around a Chicago art gallery on a Segway vehicle. Senior landscape architecture students incorporated the two-wheeler into their service-learning project, revitalizing a section of downtown Chicago. (Purdue Agricultural Communications photo/Tom Campbell)

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