Yat Chan (SEBS ’20), major in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Sustainability and Green Technology, got her start a long way from the southern New Jersey township she calls home. A first-generation college student from an immigrant family, Yat grew up in Hong Kong but moved to South Jersey in 2012 with her family when she was 14 years old.
Yat’s road to the certainty that landscape architecture was the right major for her was a winding one, a circumstance that is not unusual for many undergraduates. Her doubts were many, her sense that she was not good enough was a source of worry. However, as she found success in the classroom and in the field, she thrived and began to feel at home.
At the time she enrolled in her major, she had no idea that the Rutgers undergraduate and graduate program in landscape architecture was the only such accredited program in New Jersey, a point of pride for the state’s flagship public university. What mattered to Yat was that she discovered that being a part of the RULA (Rutgers University Landscape Architecture) family gave her the sense of belonging and achievement that she yearned for.
Yat shares a first-person account, in the question and answer below, of her winding journey to finding her way to her grand passion and in so doing, affirming her own worth.
Q: Why Rutgers and the major you eventually chose?
A: I am going to graduate from SEBS with a bachelor of science majoring in Landscape Architecture, and minoring in Sustainability and Green Technology. I am also in the dual-degree landscape architecture program, so I still have one more year to go for my master’s degree. To be honest, the reason I choose Rutgers was that my brother and my sister all came to Rutgers, so I felt like I should just continue the family tradition. Rutgers was the only school I applied to.
Q: Family legacy does influence many students in their choice of college. What was your journey to Rutgers and SEBS like?
A: I went to Rutgers-Camden before for my freshman year majoring in Urban Studies, because I wanted to commute and save some money for my family, and they offered me a scholarship. At that point, I did not know what I would like to learn for the next four years. There are fields that I know I can be good at, but I am not interested in them. I knew that I do not want to study something that I would eventually get bored because I do not want to hate my job in the future. Therefore, I chose something that seems slightly interesting to me at first. It turned out that I did not hate it, but it was too theoretical for me. I like to draw and think, so I wanted to change my major. Therefore, because of that I came to the Rutgers –New Brunswick campus.
Q: Even after you decided to transfer to the New Brunswick campus you still had lots of uncertainty. How did you overcome that to choosing your major and eventually finding your passion?
A: When I was applying to transfer, I still did not know what I wanted to do exactly. I looked up a major and discovered Landscape Architecture. With my interest in nature and drawing, I applied to SEBS to study Landscape Architecture. For my first studio class, I had no clue what was I doing. Partly because I was in an unfamiliar major, and also my confusion towards the future, I got a B+. It was not bad, but coming from a Chinese immigrant family along with the uncertainty towards the future, it made me wonder does that mean I would not do great in this field. Therefore, I went to Prof. Holly Nelson (associate professor of professional practice and undergraduate landscape architecture program director), to see if I could do a presentation again to get a better grade. She said no but probably could see that I was slightly shaking because I was worried. She asked me this question, “Do you know that people who did not start off well usually end up being really good?” That really reassured me and I stayed in this major.
Q: Landscape Architecture seems to be more than just a major to you. Would you say it’s helped you to learn a lot about yourself and life?
A: Being in this major, I often felt that I was not as good as others. The language barrier always made me depreciate myself. Seeing my classmates having lots of opportunities, like internships, study abroad, awards, scholarships, sometimes made me wonder, “Am I good enough to be in this major?” Nonetheless, the longer I am in this major, the more I learn about how we should interact with one another. I used to think this major is just designing parks with plants. Now I know that there are many social conflicts that I now notice as a result of being part of this major. Landscape Architecture is a very caring major; it allows me to explore my creativity and also lead me to define my values. This major taught me how to empathize with others and understand their situation to create better designs for everyone. Even though we are different, there are why ways we are the same, and we should create spaces that we can all share respectfully. No culture is more important than another.
Q: In what ways do you think you were able to grow beyond the classroom?
A: Maybe my opportunities came late; thankfully they did not disappear. I got to study abroad in Germany, to learn about a different culture in the world. I got the Kevin Dorko Memorial Scholarship that was for a junior who ranked in the top third in the Landscape Architecture program. I got an internship in the Middlesex County Planning Office that allowed me to learn more about environmental planning. This Spring, I also got an ASLA Honor Award that recognizes my achievements and represents the highest honor for students from a professional society. I feel like these are all something I did not think I would achieve when I just came to this major knowing nothing. If Prof. Holly Nelson did not say what she did to me, I would not own these experiences, and I think they proved what she said.
Q: What comes next in your life?
A: With my graduating date coming soon, it made me think of what do I want to do with my degree. After getting my master’s degree, I want to work at a design firm near Philly. I hope to create designs that resonate with people’s needs and speak from their perspective. I want to empathize with them that their voices can be heard and they can enjoy their rights. In the end, I say thank you to Rutgers for introducing me to this wonderful major. I am really happy that I ended up in this big family called RULA.