Pounding the pavement will make these ISU students better landscape architects

ISU landscape architecture students and ICIW offenders learn useful lessons during an ongoing project at the new prison grounds in Mitchellville. Video by Dave Olson.

AMES, Iowa -- It's summertime and the learning is easy. But the work is hard for nine Iowa State University landscape architecture students who are finishing their internship project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville. For them, pounding the pavement has taken on a whole new meaning.

Working 10-hour days for the past six weeks, they've dug paths, excavated dirt, hauled sand, poured concrete, moved limestone blocks, built brick walls and pounded pavers to form a patio, walkways, benches and walls.

Under the guidance of Assistant Professor Julie Stevens, the students have designed and (almost) built a restorative outdoor environment for correctional officers and staff to decompress from their stressful jobs. Working with teams of offenders, the students constructed a patio, landscaped the employee entrance and created a memorial garden adjacent to the new ICIW administration building. The 30-by-40 foot tiered patio will be used for small group meetings, breaks and shift changes.

They've also planted about 250 trees — $20,000 worth — donated by Trees Forever. Many will provide shade and windbreaks for the acre of outdoor classrooms, which Stevens' students designed and built last summer.

"It's been a blast and a huge learning experience," said Cedar Falls senior Austin Javellana, who led the pavement-pounding effort.

Their on-site labor will make them better landscape architects in the workforce, says Stevens. Her students experienced the dynamic process of translating their design-on-paper to a tangible, physical space. They've learned designs aren't absolute, materials don't work as expected, deliveries aren't always on time, equipment breaks down and rain happens.

"They're problem solving constantly while on-site," Stevens said.

Stevens and ISU's Department of Landscape Architecture have been working with ICIW since 2011. They were asked to provide landscaping ideas for the state's $68 million construction project for ICIW. The request turned into an ongoing design-build project for Stevens and her students. Upcoming projects include a community park outside the security perimeter tied into local bike trails, a new kitchen garden and production greenhouse to replace those wiped out by the construction project, and Stevens' favorite project, a mother-child garden. The projects are funded through grants and donations.