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Landscape architecture student looking to revitalize the modern backyard

Schreyer Honors Scholar and College of Arts and Architecture student Zoe Roane-Hopkins helped design a rain garden for the Governor's Residence in Harrisburg during a summer internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
March 30, 2018

Zoe Roane-Hopkins doesn’t like lawns.

At least not the conventional suburban lawn.

“People put tons of fertilizer on them, excessive amounts of water, and they’re just this dense mat of monoculture that doesn’t support life,” the Schreyer Honors Scholar and landscape architecture major said. “Mowing contributes to energy waste, fuel consumption, air and noise pollution — a lot of things that don’t need to happen if you just put some nice, native, pollinating plants in your yard.”

The fourth-year student from Camp Hill wants to help her fellow Pennsylvanians blend function, style and sustainability, all in their own backyards, and in the process discover the value of building relationships with the places in which they live. As part of her honors thesis, Roane-Hopkins is creating pamphlets, in both print and online form, that would give homeowners a variety of design templates that they could use to create more sustainable landscapes using species native to the area.

“I know that there are people out there who are interested in [sustainability], and could be interested in it, but the resources are not really readily available,” she said.

The idea, Roane-Hopkins said, is getting people to realize that many residential areas used to be home to wildlife, and by doing things as simple as adding some of those native plants or creating different layers of vegetation, that wildlife will return.

As part of the research she did for the project, Roane-Hopkins surveyed people to determine what sorts of plans they were most interested in. More showed a preference for pollinators than for edible plants, which she figured was the result of a desire to separate yard from garden. But that doesn’t always have to be the case.

“I think it’s a cool idea to integrate those two things into something that is functional and that is aesthetically pleasing,” she said.

Roane-Hopkins received some hands-on experience at integrating those two ideas this past summer, when she held an internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Facility Design and Construction from May to August. She designed and helped implement a rain garden at the governor’s mansion, choosing different plants depending on the amount of shade in certain areas.

Roane-Hopkins, who entered the Schreyer Honors College through the Gateway program as a sophomore in 2016, is a third-generation Scholar; her grandmother and aunt were also in the honors program at Penn State. She is also a member of the Penn State women’s gymnastics club, the Landscape Architecture Student Society, and the Ukulele Club.

She will study abroad in Germany this fall, but right now she is enjoying creating websites for her thesis and creating “something tangible.” Roane-Hopkins recently interviewed with a landscape architecture firm and told the interviewer about her project. She was told it would be good material that a firm might be able to use for outreach.

“That’s exactly what I want,” she said. “It’s cool to be able to do something that has influence in the real world.”

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