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Behind the Scenes of LABash 2018 with Kara Swanick

April 5–7, 2018, Penn State Landscape Architecture will host the 48th annual student-run LABash conference, which brings together students and professionals to celebrate landscape architecture. LABash 2018 features an incredible line up of twenty-six speakers, plus workshops, and networking opportunities that are meant to expand student's professional skills, but more importantly, deepen the understanding of how each individual plays a role in impacting our world. In the words of the student executive director, Kara Swanick: “LABash is the unrivaled student-run conference of landscape architecture in North America. We are extremely pleased that this year's event is at Penn State, because we get to show off our fantastic students and program. I’m also really excited to foster a relationship between students and professionals from all over the country, and lots of parts of Canada as well.”

The theme this year is “Identify” which suggests that landscape architects shall remain conscious of the ideas, people, and experiences they encounter. The theme is represented by the logo which depicts the image of a leaf rubbing from the iconic American elm tree found across the Penn State campus. The logo design was created by Zoe Roane-Hopkins, another landscape architecture student who has a strong graphic design background.

"LABash is traditionally focused on the undergraduate student hosts and attendees," stated Kendall Mainzer, the strategy and planning manager for the department of Landscape Architecture at Penn State. "We raised the bar. We engaged professionals, academics, and graduate students without losing sight of the primary focus of LABash: to exchange knowledge and skills and inspire the students."

Kara Swanick and Planning LABash

Swanick is in her fourth year as a landscape architecture student, taking eighteen credits, and is the executive director of LABash 2018. “I always think of a book called, Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti. My brain must be – I don’t even know what, but I basically have so many things going on at once and I have to be able to switch gears and keep track.” She admits, “I drink a lot of coffee!”

There are three organizational committees: 1) Sponsorship and Outreach, directed by Tori Frydrych, 2) Entertainment, directed by Jeff Wertheim, and 3) Communications and Marketing, directed by Kara Swanick. “It is predominantly a student-run conference; the faculty advisors give us the room to organize it.” Swanick added, “While I am the overall director, we all work side by side in our respective branches and it’s really a system of checks and balances. We rely on each other, but we also give the space to do our own thing. We let each other know when the lines cross or when we need to know things from the other committees.” She reflects, “LABash 2018 wouldn’t have been possible without my reliable and trustworthy co-directors Tori and Jeff, all the volunteers, and the great faculty and staff, Eliza Pennypacker, Kendall Mainzer, Lisa DeRussel, and Jennifer Birkeland, as well as  who have supported us.”

Since her arrival to the Penn State Stuckeman School, Swanick has always been heavily involved in LASS (landscape architecture student society) and became the president of the society spring 2017. As an extension of that role, she was designated the executive directorship for LABash. “Having a leadership position is something I’ve always wanted to do. It is where I thrive. I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices, but I do them happily. I’ve always had a penchant for organizing and planning things, it has been a theme throughout my life. But this [experience] has been like no other and has really taught me how to roll with the punches and how to step up and take care of things that need to happen.”

We asked her how she chose to study landscape architecture at Penn State. “I was always a nerd for the environment and nature” she laughed. “I also liked drawing – art is really important to me. I later became interested in architecture.” When she heard about the major she realized the field brings all her interests together. “So I was like, ‘ok, I will give it a shot. It says here I have to take Soils 101 so this should be interesting!’ And here I am four years later. I can’t imagine doing anything different for my college experience.”  She concluded, “I know I’m in the right field, because when I talk about it I get really excited and I can keep talking about it. I’m passionate about it, and I know I’m here for a reason.”

When we asked her how this experience of organizing LABash has influenced her, she said, “there is no way this will negatively impact my future career and outlook on life. I’m excited to find ways to continue organizing things. It’s something I want to keep in my life. Whether its international conferences or birthday parties!” Next on her plate, she hopes to complete an internship over the summer and then is heading abroad to Bonn, Germany in August.  “I’m on track to graduate right when I get home.” This semester is technically her last on campus. “I’m not sure exactly what’s next down the road, but I am excited for whatever is coming my way.”

For more information about LABash, visit:

LABash Schedule

Thursday, April 5th

5pm: The official kickoff is at the State Theater.

The students in attendance will be welcomed by the host committee. The president of the American Society of Landscape Architecture, Gregory A. Miller, will speak followed by Mark Focht, is the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer at New York City Parks and Recreation, and a distinguished alumnus of Stuckeman School’s Landscape Architecture program.

Friday, April 6th

9am:  Breakfast and keynote lecture with Gina Ford in the Stuckeman Jury Space
Until noon: Lectures / Design Charrettes
12:30pm: Susannah Drake will givea  lunchtime keynote address at the Nittany Lion Inn.
5pm: Final keynote lecture by Ken Smith at Stuckeman Jury Space. 

(Between the keynote addresses there will be other lectures, workshops, and a sketch crawl.)

Saturday, April 7th

9am – 4pm: Lectures / Workshops
4pm: Closing Reception
5pm: Alumni and Professional Reception at the Nittany Lion Inn hosted by Eliza Pennypacker, head of Stuckeman School department of landscape architecture.

Kara Swanick
LaBash 2018 logo