Landscape Architecture Students Work as Project Managers in Anchorage, Alaska for a Summer Internship
Two Landscape Architecture graduate students at the University of Oklahoma sought an internship in their field and ended up in Anchorage, Alaska. Alex Tyler and Fotis Kousiakis worked as Project Managers for Faltz Landscaping and Nursery during the summer of 2012. Tyler applied to four internships and was offered two jobs – one in Boston, MA and one in Anchorage, AK. He decided on Alaska because he felt it would offer him a richer experience and good skill set. A few months later Kousiakis joined Tyler in Alaska when another project manager position opened. It was quick process and actually, the day Kousiakis found out he got the job was also the day he graduated from OU and the next week he was in Alaska.
As soon as snow melts people are rearing to get their yards in order because of the shorter summers and limited time frame. “It’s very fast paced. You get thrown right into it,” Kousiakis said. Most of the projects and developments Tyler and Kousiakis worked were residential because it had a fast turnaround and they could work with more clients over the course of the summer.
Kousiakis described a typical day, including his functions and responsibilities. He spent time meeting with customers, doing estimates for new projects, giving quotes, taking measurements, and basic site analysis work. The other facet of his job was overseeing multiple crews in various stages of different landscape projects. In this aspect he did a lot of back and forth work: overseeing the site production by visiting the projects a couple of times every day, communicating with the client, doing initial and final walk-throughs, picking the materials, doing layout design, and documenting/photographing the progress at every stage.
As well the multiple learning opportunities it afford him, Kousiakis illustrated the satisfaction coming from a job well done. “The details make all the difference. That separates a good project from something the customer really loves,” he said. His favorite part was when a job was nearing its completion and the client could tell things were coming into place. “The last 25 percent when you start finishing up and putting everything into place, that’s the best part,” he said. “Seeing that satisfaction and having them refer you to other people and call up your boss and say we really enjoyed working for this guy.”
Tyler found the experience rewarding because it gave him the chance to handle responsibility and management. Sometimes it was surprising how fast-paced the actual interaction with customers and designing. It was different from graduate school in that you drew up designs quickly instead of having two weeks in graduate school. “You have one day to get this out to the client or they’ll go with someone else,” he said. “And some people were really impressed if I just got them a design quickly ‘Okay, we like your efficiency, we’ll go with you.’ That won some clients over.” People wanted to move fast and they were willing to pay to start the process right away. After seeing his design and approving it one client told Tyler, “When can you start? I’ll give you $10,000 if you start tomorrow.”
One of most enriching experiences for Kousiakis was the opportunity to shift his degree from the theoretical to the practical and gain a better understanding of the core of landscape architecture. “I think it provided me with a good level of diversity for my portfolio and resume,” he said. It also gave him the ability to hone his people skills as well because he dealt with clients and also oversaw personnel who worked with him on projects.
It was interesting to work in Alaska particularly because the environment was so different and sometimes that provided challenges. “I had to go and basically draw a bunch of landscapes with 6-8 feet of snow in some people’s backyard,” Tyler said. “And it’s funny because 3 weeks later I’d go out there with all the plants and all the hardwood decking to build and there’d be a tree in their backyard that I hadn’t seen before.”
When asked what was the best thing he learned from this internship Tyler said: “I will always carry bear spray. And if a moose is in my way while biking I’m not going to try and go around it, I’m going to stop and turn around.” But on a more serious note Tyler spoke of how the job helped develop positive traits. “One thing I really learned: be an advocate for yourself. Whatever you’re doing, have confidence in the work you do,” he said. And it was through his own experience and building upon the things he learned in the field that provided a better relationship with his boss and gave him the confidence to make suggestions or speak up.
Even though Tyler and Kousiakis typically spent the majority of their days working outside, they still found time after work to relax and have fun. Both students said they loved spending time outdoors because of the beautiful environment and often made the time to hike, rent four-wheelers, or bike. This internship gave them an opportunity to grow in their expertise and gain practical knowledge to apply elsewhere in career and college avenues.