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Background: Sue’s early training and family background in horticulture provide her with a fundamental connection to the earth and things that grow in it. Work experience over many years in this area has given her a breadth of knowledge, skills and amazing experiences, including several years managing the historically significant cemeteries and gardeners of the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Normandie, France. Her passion for plants and motivation to share this led her into teaching, first in the UK and then on her return to New Zealand. Motivated by experience working for the War Graves Commission she completed a landscape design qualification and returned to teaching in order to inspire others. This has led to post-grad and masters qualifications in education and a research focus on children and youth environments. She believes strongly that academic pursuit should be linked to practical experience and knowledge. She is also committed to environmental education and encouraging environmentally sustainable practices.
Sue strives to offer students a wealth of experiences and learning in which she is the facilitator rather than the director. She embraces the Living Curriculum pedagogy that Unitec has recently introduced because it focuses on experiential learning and student autonomy. Through a variety of information sessions including fieldtrips, seminars, practicals, tutorials and workshops she encourages students to experiment and experience. By maintaining close industry links through her teaching, professional development, research and consultancy she is able to link students into the profession of landscape architecture or garden design that they have chosen.
Her overseas travel, as well as that within New Zealand, provides further opportunities to enthuse and engage students and others in the rich world of plants, gardens, urban and rural landscapes, playscapes, history and culture. Sue regularly gives public seminars on these topics and for the past thirteen years has run the successful Scala Seminar Series for the Departments of Landscape Architecture and Architecture.
Since being awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2005 for travel to the USA to study children’s gardens, Sue has been actively researching in the area of children and youth environments. With increasing awareness of children’s rights, coupled with growing global concern at overstructuring of children’s lives and their increasing isolation from natural systems, with consequent wellness and biophobia issues, this is a topic of great interest to landscape and architecture students.
Sue has supervised a number of student research projects in this area and within her teaching she encourages students to grapple with the unique challenges and rewards of this type of design – whether it be playgrounds, skate parks, schools, kindergartens, urban spaces or parks and botanical gardens. Sue consulted on the design and interpretation of the children’s gardens at the Auckland Botanic Garden in 2004-2005 and advised on phase two of the garden in 2009-2010. She has also done other children’s environments consulting and advisory work for schools, landscape architects and local councils.
Her particular focus is on encouraging participation of children and youth in the design of their environments and this was a central theme in her Masters thesis, as well as the topic she has taken to many conferences and written a number of academic papers on. A short podcast presentation by Sue on shared democracy of primary school students with adults, from her Masters research project can be viewed by pasting the link provided in her research outputs for Change 'because of' or change 'in spite of'? Motivations versus barriers in a New Zealand school design example. The full Masters thesis can be accessed from The University of Waikato Research Commons website by entering the thesis title from her research outputs section.
A related aspect of Sue’s research is her interest in education for sustainability (EfS). Her Masters thesis was grounded in EfS and she is an active member of the Unitec Sustainability Strategy Team and the Sustainability Research sub-committee. She is currently lead researcher on a collaborative project to survey sustainability values among Unitec staff and students. She is also a committee member of the Auckland Branch of the NZ Association of Environmental Education and has actively participated in the previous two national NZAEE conferences (held biennially).