2016 BSLA - Liam Cleary: Service To The Country, Service To The Community

2016 BSLA - Liam Cleary: Service To The Country, Service To The Community

Liam Cleary wants to set the record straight. Being in a country that is predominantly desert, doesn’t mean it’s always hot.

He knows this from experience. Cleary, 34, of Lederach, served for seven years with the United States Army 82nd Airborne, achieving the rank of sergeant. His time in the Army included being part of the support service response and relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, a 16-month tour in Afghanistan and a year in Egypt.

“In Afghanistan, the war occurs in the mountains. When you are 7,000 feet up, it can get to be -20 degrees at night,” said Cleary, who will graduate with a B.S. in Landscape Architecture. “In Egypt, I experienced a 500-year storm where roads were simply wiped out, they were just gone. During my military experience, I saw a lot of the ways that the hand of man has negatively impacted the landscape.”

Having grown up on a small farm in Schwenksville, Cleary has a special bond with the world around him. After departing the military in fall 2011, he was back in the classroom by October of that year. It didn’t take long to discover his passion and land firmly in Temple’s Landscape Architecture program.

“I worked for a small landscape company for a time, which started my interest for designing landscapes. The Ambler Campus, with all of its gardens, has been an excellent learning environment,” he said. “The fact that it is a 4-year program, that there is so much value in the curriculum and the cost of tuition at Temple is incredibly reasonable made this the right place for me to continue crafting my skills. The size of the department guarantees you’ll receive personalized attention, the resources are top notch and the faculty are amazing.”

Cleary said Temple’s support structure for veterans returning to the classroom has also been exemplary.

“From the Temple Veterans Association to the bursar’s office to registration, there is a very strong support structure here. They do a good job of knowing how to help you maximize your benefits,” he said. “They are constantly reaching out to see if you need anything. For some of my veteran friends that do struggle, it’s vital; it can get them the assistance they need.”

According to Cleary, his landscape architecture studios have provided ample opportunity to work with real world clients on projects “that take reality completely into account.” Most recently he and his peers worked with “clients” from Bartram’s Garden, America’s first botanical garden.

“We were working in Bartram’s Green, the southern third portion of the property, which includes a constructed wetland, community farm and a trail system that is under construction,” he said. “We were tasked with designing options to help them move forward with a master plan. We met with people from Bartram’s seven or eight times; there was open communication and of lot of feedback on our designs to help adjust and improve them.”

Working with actually companies and organizations, Cleary said, provides “a much more authentic experience.” With his personal experience in design and construction he has also had the opportunity to mentor his peers. Cleary has been part of two teams of students that created multiple award-winning exhibits for the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2015 and 2016.

“Our projects aren’t ‘what if’ situations. You’re not designing in a vacuum,” he said. “They have very clear goals, parameters and deadlines that need to be met. There is a very welcome practicality to what we are learning.”

Throughout his time at Temple, Cleary has effectively balanced school, work and home with the constant support of his wife Elizabeth and son Vincent, who will turn two in May. Cleary is currently working part-time at KMS Design Group in Phoenixville while he completes his degree.

“In the military you learn to work with a large variety of people in some very extreme settings and I think that’s carried over into my degree program,” he said. “The settings certainly aren’t as extreme, but the diversity of students is excellent. You can’t help but learn something from everyone in the class.”

One of the greatest benefits from his military experience, Cleary said, “is my ability to work for extended periods of time.”

“Time management is essential to prioritize your assignments, work and personal life,” he said. “I pick when I need to sleep and make sure I see my wife and son every day.”

And while receiving his diploma is certainly an exciting prospect, he’s expecting another bundle of joy that has him smiling from ear to ear — baby number two arrives in July! He is also heading to a landscape design firm full-time after graduation, though he’s reticent to say the name of the firm out loud for fear of jinxing himself.

“One of the other things I want to do immediately is start preparing for (Landscape Architect) licensure. I’d also like to explore graduate school a few years down the road,” he said. “My Temple experience has truly been a whirlwind; I can’t believe it’s nearly done. The quality of work expected in the program has always been at a very high level, which I think has ultimately prepared me to be a successful practitioner of landscape architecture.” 

Article Written by Jim Duffy, MSEd Public Relations and Website Coordinator.   Temple University Ambler Administration Building 


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