What have I been up to since I left Berea?

Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to since I graduated from Berea College. This recap explains my transition from Berea to Lexington as well as my experiences in Lexington and Louisville.

Content warning: I do recap the Berea shooting and mention Breonna Taylor’s murder


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My Exciting New Project

517aaa887ea739bb2ced99f2cef3e355I started building the infrastructure for my new website this weekend. I’m very excited about the opportunity to work on something I find meaningful. Now that I’ve learned how to build wordpress sites, I want to use this project as an opportunity to work more on my graphic design skills, learn how to build an engaging online community and to really build a platform which helps people connect and build healthier ways to live. If you’re curious to know more check out my blog site at http://theneurotrust.wordpress.com/


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BC Alumni All-stars

Im famous

Yesterday, someone tagged one of my friends to let him know that he had made it onto the Berea College website, but when I clicked the banner to open the full page of the article, I was pleasantly surprised to find this. This picture was taken at Papaleno’s (our little hometown family-owned pizza palace) during Homecoming with pretty much some of the greatest Bereans that have ever lived. Mr. Eagle Scout to my right (Brian Easterday) is married to Leanna, directly to my left (who I used to work with but is now in the top 2% of sales for Mary Kay in only 2 years — which is a testament not only of her hard work but also of her tremendous character and her ability to make others feel valued and loved). I met Lydia Patton, on the far left while working in our service program CELTS (the Center for Excellence and learning through service). Lydia worked for Berea Buddies, a youth mentorship program and I worked for HEAL as an environmental service learning educator. The one thing I recall that we all had in common was that we all shared an incredible love for the outdoors. Lydia and Brian recurrently took on roles as counselors and facilitators at Confrontation Point ministries summer camp. I was pretty limited to what I could do because of my lack of transportation, so did a lot of hobby excursions into the college forests, or signed up for contemplative writing or primitive skills programs.

I even remember a day during mid terms when Brian got so antsy about not being able to go outside, that he broke down and set up a mini camping stove out in the middle of the quad and made himself a pot of raumen noodles while he slack lined. One of my favorite memories of this group was in the spring when they all decided to break their previous record of four hammocks stacked between two trees by stringing up 5 or more hammocks between the same two trees on the quad. Rumor has it they were able to achieve 7, but I wasn’t around to see that to confirm. But I have seen them do at least five.

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A Lil’ Southern Hospitality

You will never meet a nicer, more humble guy. :)

You will never meet a nicer, more humble and caring guy. 🙂


Leave it to Hsin-Ta Andre Tsai’s to make me the proudest (albeit saddest) host mom ever. Check him out decked out in all his graduation bling. — yep, I’m gonna be that person and brag about the fact that not only did he graduate with 2 degrees in 3 years, but also that he also got into Oxford.

I unexpectedly ended up as Andre’s host mom while I was still a student, because they had a shortage of host parents that year.  He was later reassigned after I graduated but we still would meet up and I’d give him advice when life got a little too heavy or check in on him during peak stress times to make sure that he was taking care of himself.

I’m definitely going to miss this guy!

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The Lil’ Insert That Could

Found this on the quad this morning while picking up trash on my way into work.

Found this on the quad this morning while picking up trash on my way into work.


Eep! They used my maps.  I redesigned this map from some old fundraising materials to reflect spaces that actually exist in this building. They inserted one of these into every single program (over 2000+) for the 2014 Commencement ceremony. How cool is that?! 🙂

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Modeling a Can Do Attitude

Graduation is just around the corner. It’s taking place in our facility and the pre-existing blue prints for the building are now long gone.

It’s a long story that involves people who aren’t here to defend themselves so I’m going to elect not to tell it.

So how does one accommodate the needs of the department who coordinates the event who may have been led to believe that I have those nonexistent maps in my possession?

I simply explained that although I did not have the requested documentation, that I’d be willing to see what I could come up with by modifying some renderings I found in a fundraising binder back when they expanded the building in 1994.

The department agreed since the diagrams were going to be edited afterward by our college’s graphic designer and embedded into the graduation programs. So I clone stamped the images to update the drawings to reflect the spaces that actually exist within the building (which includes the challenging task of changing the location of our 1st floor service desk and adding a hallway to the 2nd floor). Then I added labels reflecting the handicap accessible areas, restrooms and emergency exits and main arena seating (a diagram which I compiled in Excel) and voila! An amateur cartographer was born.

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Grace in Grit goes Green

Here are some Practice Renderings of retreat center/ natural history museum I worked on during the Summer 2010

renderings-modern home front view clean

Building front view (clean): learning to use and blend colors from light to dark using copic watercolor markers

Because I had never worked with color before, I was very fortunate to get some really good advice from this comic artist named Ryan Liebe at the Art Store in Prescott. The people who worked at the store were incredibly friendly and helpful. Often they even let you try the products before you bought them.

renderings-modern home rear view clean

Building rear view (clean): learning to use and blend colors from light to dark using copic watercolor markers

In this rendering, I went a little heavy-handed at the baseline. The intent was to illustrate the effects of light entering the top right-hand corner of the page. I wanted to create the effect that a south-facing rear view would display at sunrise by positioning the sun toward the east from the south-facing view so that you could get the full effect of the building’s passive solar features.

I worked on these during Summer 2010 while I was in attendance at ECOSA Institute. Here are some of the preliminary stages I went through before I could construct these renderings in order to get the scale and dimensions right. It was here that I learned how to use tracing paper overlays and Google Sketchup.

renderings-modern home front view

Building front view ( landscape): experimenting with light, shadow & topography using copic watercolor markers

I really liked the lighting on this rendering for the home. I would have done some things differently with the landscape in retrospect to illustrate a better sense of perspective in this piece. I realize that I didn’t quite get the lines right in the foreground to create a definitive edge and height. Looking now, I probably should have added a thicker line to delineate the cliff edge and incorporated a more volumetric use of shading to convey the use of shadow. I also wonder whether it would have been wise to clarify the planar curves — which I’ve gotten much better at depicting since I’ve taken Calculus III.

renderings-modern home rear view

Building rear view ( landscape): experimenting with light, shadow & perspective using copic watercolor markers

This was my midday piece. With the spring sun hanging high overhead, I practiced incorporating the use of overlap, shading and lighting to create a better sense of perspective in the image; which was safe, but did not necessarily illustrate the degree of complexity I would have liked to depict within a desert landscape. But for my first attempts at rendering I didn’t think they were too bad.

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I’ve had a long journey, and I imagine it isn’t far from over. I think the craving for stability has made me afraid to uproot from the first place that I’ve ever lived that has felt safe enough to call home. I have a wonderful community here. But I think my craving for alignment with my sense of purpose is beginning to change that. I think that I definitely had it as a student, but as an employee, it’s hard to know how to inspire the young people in my charge to live their values when I have neglected to do so as well. If I don’t ever leave the nest and get out there to pursue my dream, I’m not exactly a reputable role model now am I? So I’m beginning to feel a bit of excitement about finding a program that’s a good fit — and in alignment with the kind of work I want to be involved in.

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Why be a landscape architect?

My 1st day in Prescott at the Granite Dells.  I arrived a week late because of finals, but still made a great group of friends.

My 1st day in Prescott at the Granite Dells. I arrived a week late because of finals, but still made a great group of friends.

When asked what my reasons were for deciding to study landscape architecture, I answered:

Reason No. 1: It aligns with many of my interests

Reason No. 2: It aligned with my goals for who I aspire to be as a person

Reason No. 3: It consistently boosts my dopamine levels. (While this explanation theoretically, would probably suffice, here are some other trends I picked up on which have also reaffirmed my reasons for making this choice).

But there are really a multitude of other considerations I made before choosing what to study, and after all was said and done, landscape architecture aligned with all of my personal goals and just kind of emerged as the best fit.

Other Key indicators include:

  • I love to explore: This keeps me interested in not just artifacts, but also helps me investigate the stories behind my discoveries and how they are replicated through the processes of formation and deconstruction).
  • I also love the outdoors: Call it a vitamin D boost, connection to nature, sense of investigation and adventure, but being stuck behind a desk makes me feel as if I’m wasting my gifts and my best years.
  • I have an obsession with categorization, systems thinking & integrated process: Plant identification, morphology, and natural history are some of the themes we touched upon in natural sciences that I regret not making the time to work with; so this would be my chance. If you’ve ever seen me navigate social media, I noticed that most of what I do is sort and catalog. Sometimes it’s clothing, jewelry, quotes, landscape images, site layouts, patterns, etc. It’s like my neural pathways have been deeply patterned to make and assemble connections, and while that would have made me an awesome engineer, I couldn’t find a branch of engineering well developed enough to experiment more upon my interests in bio-remdiation and land management. Landscape architecture is the closest field I could find that integrates design and applied science in a creative and methodical manner to solve the challenges of creating healthier communities and healthy environments. Environmental engineers in the US typically end up having to choose between working for extraction industries or for the local government. I think an MLA could open up a lot of doors for me so that I can help people in places that really need it (in both the ecologic and anthropomorphic sense).
  • My professor, Dr. Smithson once said to me that “poor soils make poor people,” and I was surprised to discover how true that really is in certain communities: I really like the trend that has emerged in sustainability that place more of an emphasis of working with at-risk communities to make them sustainable and resilient. After studying how the impact of commercial exploitation affected the nation of Liberia, I realize how important it is to understand the culture and the history of a place before making interventions if you ever hope to build enough trust from the community to be allowed to do meaningful work there. Without trust, it’s hard to sell the idea of why the work you are doing is important or to secure buy-in, which is important when you’re trying to convince someone why preserving or changing something would be to everyone’s benefit.
  • I connect best with people who have a natural curiosity, who have a holistic understanding of healthy environments and who still possess a highly developed sense of constructive play: what can I say, I like interesting people. I feel like a jerk sometimes because I get bored spending time around people without worthwhile interests. Consequently, I’ve had to devote my first two years to the study of nonverbal gestures and body language so that freshmen don’t realize I’ve lost interest when they start talking about how trashed they got over the weekend, who stole who’s boyfriend, or get worked up rehashing world of war craft missions. And if Jim Rohn is correct and we really are “the sum of the 5 people we spend the most time with,” then I need a new top 5 stat!
  • I feel better when I’m kinesthetically involved in my work; perhaps this is related to learning style, but “involve me and I learn.” I’m all about hands on learning when the process involves growing, shaping & building to enable meaningful understanding.
  • It helps me stay fit: Being fit of mind, physically fit & spiritually nourished is incredibly important to me.
  • I strongly believe in harmony, growth & balance. A little Buddhist of me; I know. But after growing up without it in my home enviroment and having to learn how to obtain it the hard way, I don’t know how people manage to survive without these values. I suppose this makes me very blessed to have stumbled upon and I love being involved in projects that serve as incubators for elegant design and solutions that embrace these concepts. I especially appreciate work that uses nature’s processes to regenerate environments that were initially imbalanced or disruptive (e.g. bio-remediation, buy local campaigns, permaculture, etc).
  • Nature & creativity remind me how resilient and resourceful life is: There’s something very comforting in working with one’s hands or working with nature that reminds me how miraculous it is that all things (and people) have the capacity to heal.
  • It’s work I love; nature operates in symbiosis with, yet autonomous from the changing attitudes of people. Like data it may not always be predictable, but if you’re present and paying attention, you can always find illuminating trends. Additionally, I have grown to love my outdoor work and I believe this course of study will allow me to reconnect with the kinds of work that I really love, not just work that I stick around for because people believe I’m the only one good at it.
  • And most importantly… Have you SEEN a stunning landscape recently? If the answer is no, then it’s been too long and you need to get outdoors more. Conservation isn’t just about the preservation of landscapes so that we have those spaces in tact; the outdoors are meant to be appreciated. Everything that reignites us, re-energizes and supports our existence here on earth is derived from something in nature. Statistically, our very existence here as human beings on earth is a miracle and I believe it is the highest honor that a person could have than to take up the work of nurturing our environment (albeit internal or outward) and harnessing it in a regenerative way to sustain life, cultivate the best quality natural resources, and responsibly facilitate the healing and growing sense of connection toward our resources and among people. These are the fundamental indicators we attribute when we assess good stewardship.
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