May 2, 2012
For her fifth grade yearbook while she was attending elementary school in New York, Diana Fernandez was asked a question everyone is posed at one time or another — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It didn’t take her long to come up with an answer.
“I said I wanted to be President of the United States. As an immigrant, I know that can never happen, but I certainly set out to become president of everything I could from thereon out,” laughed Fernandez, who was born in a small village in the Dominican Republic before she and her family moved to the U.S. when she was 6-years-old. “I’ve always loved leading and managing and getting people excited about what excited me.”
Combining her leadership skills with a love of design and drawing, led her to discover architecture as a potential career while she was a freshman in high school.
“I definitely wanted to design spaces within the environment. I came to Temple as an architecture major but it didn’t quite fit the definition I had in my head — a professor suggested Landscape Architecture at the Ambler Campus and it’s been my passion ever since,” said Fernandez, 21, of Pennsauken, New Jersey. “In landscape architecture, you develop a family of classmates that are there with you all four years; the studio becomes a second home — everyone knows my name and they value the impact that I can make. You are learning the science and engineering behind everything, it prepares you so well for the workforce. I feel I could walk into any firm and be able to do anything.”
Between school, work, and family, Fernandez has become particularly adept at keeping many balls in the air without letting a single one drop. While completing her degree, she also works as an intern — and the first landscape architect — at Onion Flats, an innovative architecture firm in Philadelphia with a strong focus on green technology. She is a peer teacher for several professors for School of Environmental Design courses taught at Main Campus in both the Landscape Architecture and Community and Regional Planning programs. Fernandez has been the president of Temple’s Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Association (LAHA) for two years, helping to establish a new lecture series, developing community environmental programs and strongly supporting Temple University Ambler’s annual celebration of Earth Day, EarthFest. Her daughter Kayla has also become a regular and welcome visitor to the design studio.
“Kayla is an aspiring little landscape architect. She sees school as simply a thing you do and it’s been like that from the beginning,” she said. “The other day in studio, she took a site plan and actually developed it! She told me exactly what it was — ‘Over here is where the hippo goes. Here is the walkway to the giraffe.’”
Without a strong family support system, “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” said Fernandez, who is the first in her family to attend college and was voted Student Leader of the Year at Temple University Ambler in 2011.
“They have always pushed me to go further, to do my best. This is a huge thing for them to go through this experience as I do,” she said. “It’s all about being passionate about what you do no matter how hard something is to do — you do it well, you expand your skills and your personal knowledge base and in so doing you expand the profession. For me, everything informs and supports everything else — peer teaching helps in developing leadership skills which helps me with LAHA while my internship helps with what I am doing in class and what I’m doing in class helps at the firm.”
The design-build aspect of projects in the Landscape Architecture studios — the award-winning Écolibrium – French Traditions/Modern Interpretations, a 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show exhibit for which Fernandez was a team leader, for example — “is extremely demanding but also extremely rewarding,” she said.
“In studio, you really have to stop being a student — you can’t just ‘get by’ when you’re, for example, developing design concepts for the City of Philadelphia,” she said. “You are representing yourself, your department, and Temple as a whole.”