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Making the Future Brighter!

Swinks_Earlier this year, Distinguished Alumnus Rodney L. Swink, FASLA, [‘77 MLA] and his wife, Juanita Shearer-Swink, FASLA, established the Rodney Swink and Juanita Shearer-Swink Landscape Architecture Graduate Student Endowment. The endowment supports unrestricted funding for students pursuing a master’s level degree or higher in Landscape Architecture (LA) here at the College of Design. The Swinks have a passion for giving back and believe this gift is an important way to help cultivate successful future landscape architects. “We would have done this sooner if we could have afforded it,” says Swink. “Juanita and I have been thinking about this for a long time. We always thought that it would be great to give back. We’ve done some giving in the past, and it was just a matter of time before we had the means to do something substantial.”

When pressed about the goal for this endowment, Swink did not hesitate. “There is a need in our LA program for support. Specifically, we need to expand our ability to attract and retain students. Our competitors have really good scholarship opportunities, so when prospective students are looking, they see what type of scholarships are available, and this endowment will hopefully make a difference. “The Swinks created the endowment to encourage under-represented students to come to the College of Design.” My concern is that each year, the University admissions requirements for GPA has risen. I worry about the students who are on the edge who don’t meet this GPA standard. I hope we don’t get too far ahead trying only to attract the ‘brightest of the bright,’ but look at these underserved students and give them a chance. We need to remember this and make a plan so that we don’t overlook these students. They really are ‘diamonds in the rough.’”

Rodney is an alumnus with an undergraduate degree in Economics and a master’s in Landscape Architecture and was an NC State Fellow, the precursor to the Caldwell Program. Not the average alumnus, Rodney has participated in or currently works as a member of numerous boards and committees within the University system, including the College of Design Leaders’ Council, Landscape Architecture Advisory Board, vice chair for the JC Raulston Arboretum Board of Advisors, and he was also the 2004 recipient of the College’s “Wings on Wings” award. To say that Rodney is committed to the success of the University is an understatement.

Most everyone characterizes Rodney as someone who is committed to his work and a great mentor who is always willing to encourage students. A former national president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, he possesses great leadership and a passion for realizing the potential and responsibility of landscape architects in society. Asked about his passion, he states, “A great question and I’ve never thought about it. I’ve just been active in stuff, and it just seems like the appropriate thing to do. I am a fortunate guy. I would feel remiss not sharing that with other people.” And he does share. As a faculty member here at the College, Rodney inspired students and opened a dialogue with them about what it means to be a landscape architect and the responsibilities it encompasses. “As landscape architects, we have training that allows us to intervene and support social justice, social equity, and community improvements. I think this is part of our responsibility. Back when I was working here with Randy Hester, FASLA, CFELA, [’69 BLA] who has always been a ‘populist designer’ – a designer of the people – he had a great understanding as to what this meant, and this just makes sense to me. To be able to work with those that may not have the voice or the understanding of the system. To intervene on their behalf, to be the voice of the system for them,” he candidly states.

Rodney and Juanita are motivated by their passion for the landscape architecture profession and feel confident that their gift will make a difference not only to students but to the success of the College. “I do hope that others will be inspired to do something to support the program. ‘If Rodney and Juanita can do this, perhaps we can too.’ It doesn’t have to be a full-fledge scholarship – it can be any level of commitment – but any support is helpful. Let’s make it better.”   

This article is reprinted from Designlife magazine, Fall 2015 issue.


At the College of Design, our goal is to provide an opportunity for all students to live a Designlife! Every gift is important to the future of design education and has an impact on the College’s most important mission: teaching students to design for life. For more information contact Jaclyn Hage at jaclyn_hage@ncsu.edu.

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