Ball State University alumnus Chenyuan Gu opted to study more than 6,000 miles from his home—a small island near Shanghai, China—but he was able to connect his final project in the Master of Landscape Architecture program back to the region where he’s from.
Chen’s creative project, aimed at improving the lives of Xiamen Village residents through ecotourism, was the recipient of Outstanding Creative Project for the 2015-2016 school year.
Chen targeted Xiamen Village, located near the Tea Valley National Park in Zhoushan Island, because some basic facilities of the park are located in the village–a visitors’ center, parking and a restaurant.
“So every time I went to the park, I would come by the village. And I mainly [talked] to people in charge of the National Park for the whole project,” he wrote in an email.
Chen is part of a younger generation of Chinese experiencing rapid urbanization of many areas of the country, he said. He wanted to use his education as a landscape architecture student to bring a healthy, active and eco-friendly lifestyle to those residents—mostly elderly and children—who remain in rural areas, in the hopes of reducing loneliness and isolation.
This examination of issues related to urbanization could have a strong impact in the field, said Simon Bussiere, Chen’s advisor on the project and a former professor in the program.
“Chen is a wonderful student, and his work is a critical contribution to the field, particularly in light of the ecological and cultural impacts China is facing due to rapid urbanization and subsequent development pressures,” he said in an email.
Chen’s project specifically introduces ecotourism to an area of Tea Valley National Park. The goal was to create sustainable economic development in a way that conserves the natural environment and cultural heritage of the area. Chen also involved local residents, communities and other stakeholders in developing the ecotourism process.
But the most important aspect Chen learned from the project was not related to the village or ecotourism–it was the process for conducting research. Not only were his advisor and advisory committee members helpful, but also his classmates and Geri Strecker, an assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Planning, who assisted Chen with his writing.
“Writing such a long paper would be my biggest challenge as an international student,” Chen said. “So I am very happy that CAP [has] Geri to help students with their writing. In my last semester, I would talk to Geri [about] my project every week and figure out which is the best way to express my idea.”
Chen said he has also improved his English-speaking abilities throughout his time at Ball State. He will take these skills, paired with his Ball State graduate education, as he continues his education at Harvard University’s School of Design.