Greta Mundt ’21: ‘Learning in the Landscape’

Featured on the Grecourt Gate July 22, 2019.

Greta Mundt ’21 is bringing her passion for the Smith landscape to a project aimed at creating learning goals for a new landscape plan—including how to make the college's response to climate change more visible.

When Greta Mundt ’21 thinks about the Smith landscape, she takes a broad view. “It’s everything that’s part of the experience you have outdoors here,” says the environmental science and policy major, while seated on a bench opposite the Lanning Fountain at one end of Burton Lawn. “It’s the fountain, the benches, the paths, the grass,” says Mundt, with a sweep of her hand. “Even the construction noise” from the nearby site of a new Neilson library is part of the experience.

Mundt brings her passion for the landscape to a Summer Research Fellowship Project linked to the creation of a new Smith Landscape Master Plan. Last updated in 1996, the plan provides guidelines and recommendations for preserving and managing the college landscape.

Mundt has spent weeks delving into Smith history, as well as education theory, to help develop learning goals she will present to the committee charged with developing a new landscape plan. Key among those goals will be highlighting the role of climate change in the campus environment—including “how we are working on solutions through environmentally responsible practices,” she says.

Tim Johnson—director of the Botanic Garden of Smith College and one of Mundt’s project advisors—says her work is already having an impact. “Greta took a really big complex challenge—how to maximize learning in the landscape for everyone from passive observers to deeply engaged researchers and scholars—and told us what we really need to do is approach landscape management like a course syllabus,” Johnson says. “That means having clear learning objectives that guide management and design, and that make Smith’s priorities and values visible to people, even as they just walk through our campus.”

Smith’s Director of Sustainability Dano Weisbord—another of Mundt’s advisors—says her project is an example of how student research can help effect real change on campus. “This work, born of Greta’s curiosity, will undoubtedly advance the thinking of the [Landscape Master Plan] committee and the college community,” he says.

On a recent informal tour of some of her favorite outdoor spots on campus, Mundt described how the college landscape can help foster learning. The Systematics Garden adjacent to the Lanning Fountain, for example, features groupings of different plant families with identifying signs. “This garden has been here since the 1890s,” notes Mundt. “It’s one of the most educationally focused gardens we have.” Across Elm Street on the other side of campus is Capen Garden, which Mundt views as a relatively unsung landscape learning resource. She likes to take fellow Quad residents there for the first time—not least because an iconic Leonard Baskin bird sculpture is now located at one end of the garden.

As for sharing lessons about climate change, Mundt says that goal can be accomplished by highlighting composting, energy-saving and other “mitigation” practices in use across the campus landscape.  “We want to explain the solutions we are pursuing so students can translate that to other spaces in their lives,” she adds.

Another aspect of Mundt’s research is identifying ways to make Smith’s natural environment more accessible to campus community members and visitors of all abilities. She hopes her summer project will offer a framework for viewing the college landscape as a tool for future learning—about Smith, as well as its environs. “Our institutional goals and values are baked into our landscape,” says Mundt, who hopes to pursue a career in a landscape-related field. “It’s good to recognize that we have this beautiful space and a lot of people working on it.”