“My classes at Purdue
have changed completely how I’ve thought about things.”
It’s just one of those things. Sometimes it takes making the wrong choice before the right one can even be considered. Michael McCormick, a junior and Landscape Architect major, is very familiar with this experience. McCormick began his college career as a Civil Engineer major saying, “in high school I was adamant about doing engineering.” While taking summer classes after his first year in the program, McCormick realized that civil engineering was not for him. He thought engineering would give him a chance to show his creativity and allow him to participate in more hands-on projects, but unfortunately this was not the case. He decided to talk to Rob Sovinski, chair and professor of Landscape Architecture (LA), about transferring into the LA program. Although his engineering classes will only count as electives now, McCormick is glad he switched majors, professing that Landscape Architecture was “always in the back of my mind.”
As a child McCormick loved playing with Legos and Lincoln logs and laughingly admits to asking for mulch for Christmas when he was 7 years old—it was “kind of odd I guess,” McCormick says with a smile. He had to wait until spring for Santa to deliver his mulch, but once received McCormick wasted no time laying pavers on it to create a pathway for his playhouse. Instead of video games, McCormick had a 3D computer design program where he was able to fabricate the landscape around the game’s houses. McCormick’s fascination with improving his outdoor surroundings continued into middle school, and he began cutting grass as well as doing small landscape projects for neighbors. It was with these endeavors that McCormick realized he was more interested in designing the landscape rather than the actual installation.
When considering college McCormick had originally thought he would stay close to his hometown of Washington, Pennsylvania. After looking at several small schools within the area, McCormick was beginning to feel a little concerned that nothing had excited him yet; many people had told him that he would “know” when a college was right for him. He was hesitant at first, but when a friend who had graduated from Purdue’s engineering program encouraged him to look at the university, McCormick decided to visit. Upon arrival McCormick says, he “immediately fell in love” with the campus and thought “this is the place.” Even when he switched majors McCormick did not doubt that Purdue was the right school for him; he was encouraged by the high ranking of the university’s Landscape Architecture program. If McCormick had gone to a smaller school like he intended, he would have had to transfer once he realized that engineering was not for him.
Another reason why McCormick feels he was not mistaken in choosing Purdue is the opportunity to participate in the marching band. He learned the trumpet at an early age; in high school he switched to the baritone trumpet, which “looks like a trumpet on steroids,” McCormick jokes, though “many people mistake it for a small tuba.” Although he had always loved it, McCormick had given up the idea of being able to continue playing in band when he attended college. “It hadn’t really crossed my mind. I thought, oh, I’m not going to be doing band in college,” he says. But as he began to look more closely at the university, McCormick realized that because Purdue does not have a separate school of music it is much easier to become involved in the band programs. The marching band’s excellent reputation was also a big motivator. It won the Sudler trophy (a prestigious award given only once in a lifetime) in 1995, played by invitation before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing China, and participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade two years ago. Recently, the band has been invited to play in the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin Ireland. When asked if it is difficult to balance marching band (he is also section leader) with school, McCormick responds, “It is, though, it’s interesting that my GPA has been higher in the fall when I’m in band than in the spring when I have more time. I think marching band helps with time management.”
McCormick enjoys the hands-on opportunities he has at Purdue. He joined the Boiler Green Initiative Club his first year into the LA program. The club works hand in hand with the university sustainability office. They concentrate on improving energy use, sustainability on campus, energy reduction, and good environmental practice; the club helped develop a rain garden by the residence halls. McCormick has also had the opportunity to participate in the three and a half week study abroad program, In the English Landscape, offered every other year in May. He recommends taking the LA 166 history class before attending the study abroad. It’s “almost an extension” of the course, which creates a deeper appreciation of the architecture, making it extremely beneficial before going abroad, McCormick clarifies. It’s also an excellent way to immerse yourself in the culture and “a nice taste of what England was all about.” For fun McCormick brought a Purdue flag with him, and the class took pictures with it whenever they could.
Growing up in an industrial area, only about 30 miles from Pittsburgh, had a huge impact on McCormick and what he would like to do with his degree in Landscape Architecture. Urban design is his forte and he dreams of revitalizing areas that are run down and
working on “projects that have the greatest positive impact on society.” Looking back McCormick says, “initially Landscape Architecture is probably what I should have gotten into from the get go my freshman year, but my misconception was that what Landscape Architect’s did was what I would find in engineering.” McCormick is grateful he realized sooner rather than later that he wanted to switch majors. “My classes at Purdue have changed completely how I’ve thought about things. As a Landscape Architect your brain really never shuts off…that’s what’s great about it,” McCormick says with enthusiasm. His keen eye and creativity will serve him well when he participates in the required Cooperative Education Program (coop), a 9-15 month internship for 4th year LA students, next semester.
McCormick plans to learn all he can in the program and is currently enjoying working on a variety of innovative projects in his classes. He will graduate in the spring of 2015, and at this point in time is not entirely sure if he will attend graduate school. No matter what he decides, McCormick has found his niche in Landscape Architecture and will never regret making the choice to switch majors. He hopes to help “improve public spaces” and anticipates the day when his creativity will look back at him in a city landscape renewed.
Written by Erin Lane