Faculty Focus: Julieta Sherk Wins Fulbright Award

Julieta Sherk seated in a patio. In the foreground: a statue of a medic aiding a wounded soldier.

Julieta Sherk led students in designing a remembrance wall and patio at the N.C. Association of Physician Assistants veterans memorial garden in Durham.

For NC State University’s Julieta Trevino Sherk, a recent visit to the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants Veteran Memorial Garden in Durham was a chance to both look back and think ahead.

While there on a rainy February morning, Sherk recalled practicing with a local landscape architecture firm to develop the gardens and grounds in 2005. Then, last spring, as an associate professor of horticultural science, she and her undergraduate landscape construction studio students worked to incorporate a remembrance wall and patio to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the physician assistant profession, which originated in North Carolina in 1967 when three former Navy hospital corpsmen completed studies at Duke University.

To plan the garden additions, students led workshops designed to allow stakeholders to share their ideas and hopes for the memorial garden. They then applied what they learned in those sessions to develop design proposals and construction plans, which were used by the community to raise funds.

Today, the peaceful memorial garden is nearly complete, and Sherk is looking forward to using some of the same evidence-based design and community development principles that guided her work with the studio class when she heads to Mexico next fall as a J. William Fulbright Global Scholar in Science and Technology.

Sherk’s prestigious Fulbright award will take her to Monterrey, Mexico. For nine months, she will work with university students to learn to value people’s differences within and beyond the design process and resolve conflicts while thinking critically and creatively as they tackle the complexities of design in a real-world context.

Right now, she has plans to do research and teach at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, where she’ll work with a noted community development expert. If a travel advisory to that area of Mexico becomes more stringent, she will adapt her study to work at another campus site in Mexico.

Sherk, who earned a master of landscape architecture degree from NC State in 1993, recently elaborated on her Fulbright plans and her passion for working with communities that lack access to improvement assistance methods and her commitment to make improved community development applicable to more people.

One of your passions is teaching. Can you say more about that?

In teaching landscape design, I need to tap into my ‘Renaissance’ capacities: I teach hand and digital graphics; site engineering; construction; plant identification; and planting design. My students have to understand the science and the art of landscape design.

The underlying passion that I bring to my classes – especially to my studio – is service learning through community-engaged design. I coordinate and execute a variety of community engagement projects with underserved communities that would ordinarily not be able to afford design services.

I would say that the hallmark of my teaching has been to try to understand how students learn and at the same time develop their skills to work with members of the community to assess and respond to the diverse communities’ unique needs. 

Why do you emphasize community-engaged design?

In my mind, to do landscape design well, you need to engage community input, to identify stakeholders and be truly attuned to their needs so that you empower the community to take the reins, find their own voice and make decisions about what they want in their landscapes. … This creates a win-win-win situation, because the community gets a service, the students get the training, and the process brings together people who wouldn’t ordinarily interact.

What do you hope comes out of your Fulbright experience in Mexico?

I hope to act as an ambassador representing NC State and promoting the appreciation of people’s differences within and beyond the design process and to help students in Monterrey learn how to resolve conflicts while thinking critically and creatively. I expect to advance and broadly share skills and knowledge learned about design methods that address complex challenges facing communities today.

I will examine how this type of design pedagogy influences my students’ transformational learning, as well as the development of their empathy toward the community. This work will also serve as a catalyst for participating communities to develop themselves and use the student-produced artifacts as leverage for their positive development.

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