Campus News - February 12, 2001

First MLA graduate paves way

by Carolyn Gonzales

All Maura Lewiecki wanted was to have her Master’s in Landscape Architecture (MLA) before she became a grandma. When she started on her quest to earn it in 1994, no such program existed at UNM. That wouldn’t stop her. After six years, she became the program’s first graduate and was a driving force behind creating, developing and establishing the program within the School of Architecture and Planning.

Lewiecki had both a bachelor’s and masters in psychology when she took a Continuing Education course on designing your own landscape.

“My husband and I were building a new house and I wanted to develop my own residential landscape. From there my interest grew,” says Lewiecki. She went on to become a master gardener through the county Cooperative Extension Service. “I’ve always worked with plants. Although I didn’t know at the time that it probably wasn’t legal, I used to go dig up plants in the mountains and bring them back and plant them at my house,” she says.

Wanting more, she interviewed with Architecture and Planning faculty members Stephen Schreiber and Paul Lusk who told her they would support her and allow her to be the MLA “guinea pig.”

“Even though I already had both a BA and MA, I retook some courses and took some physics, calculus and drawing,” she says. She also enrolled in Baker Morrow’s courses on landscape planning. The school offered a planning graduate degree program with an emphasis on landscape, but not a complete education in landscape architecture, she says.

“The program was good. The teaching was excellent, but I knew the MLA would make me marketable and prepare me for the formidable licensing exam,” she says.

Course by course, year by year Lewiecki pursued the degree. “My family thought I was never going to graduate,” she recalls, adding that she ended up with credits more than double the norm. In 1999, she became a grandma.

Architecture and Planning Dean Roger Schluntz went to the Commission on Higher Education on her behalf after she assisted with the necessary paperwork to make the case for the MLA at UNM.

Finally, in 2000, Lewiecki graduated and UNM had its MLA program. “I worked with the system, opening doors so that others may follow,” she says. She continues to recruit students to the program and is helping to see it becomes accredited.

Currently Lewiecki works for the landscape architectural firm Sites Southwest. The company’s principal architect is George Radnovich, past president of the New Mexico chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Lewiecki says he was very supportive and that he, and others in his field, are eager to hire the new landscape architects as soon as they graduate.

“As a landscape architect, I can help the world become a better place,” says Lewiecki.

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