Student Design Charrette Inspired Olsson Career

As a graduate student at the University of Kansas, Hannah Kroll was looking for hands-on professional planning experience before graduation. She was thrilled to land an internship with Olsson Studio in Kansas City and for the opportunity to participate in the January 2020 Student Design Charrette.

The three-day Student Design Charrette hosted by Olsson Studio invited landscape architecture, planning, and design students to participate in a mock design charrette to gain valuable real-world industry experience. The cohort of exceptional students applied to visit with community leaders, work together, present concepts and designs, and get feedback from professionals at Olsson Studio. 

Hannah is aware most students don’t have the unique opportunity to collaborate with professionals and leave with scanned designs they can include in their portfolio. She knew the charrette would be an invaluable experience and help her stand out as graduation approached in May 2020. Still, she couldn’t have predicted the collaborative work environment and her positive encounters with Olsson Studio staff would leave a lasting impression. 

“My first introduction to the office was at the student design charrette and any nerves I had going in quickly went away,” Hannah said. “The environment we got to work in with (Olsson Studio) staff was really incredible. It was so apparent on the first day of the charrette; the relationships that were here, the teamwork, and the way they interacted with students stuck with me.”

That summer Hannah was offered the full-time assistant planner position at Olsson Studio. She said being a part of the charrette influenced her decision to accept and join the team.

“The biggest draw to me was the environment and that’s not something you can make up,” Hannah said. “At the charrette, I felt supported and challenged appropriately, and it was an environment I could see myself in. My favorite part about my job at the studio is still the people I get to work with and learn from every day.”

When Olsson Studio decided to host another Student Design Charrette in January 2022, Hannah was eager to help lead the event and bring her perspective as a previous student.

“It was really awesome to be a part of it from the other end,” Hannah said. “It was extremely rewarding to use my perspective as a former student to give back this year and help provide valuable professional experiences to students. I remember talking with staff who are now great mentors to me, so it was cool talking to current planning students not only about the charrette, but about their careers.”

This year Olsson Studio selected nine students to work with Riverside, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City, to design a new defined downtown area. The students visited the site, met with city staff and community leaders, and worked to develop ideas that could be incorporated into future Riverside plans and projects.

“It was such an exciting event,” said Riverside Mayor Kathy Rose. “To have these students bring their knowledge and a fresh perspective, as the young people we hope to attract to our community, was so beneficial. There were so many ideas and concepts that we would like to explore further as our city continues to grow and develop.”

Olsson staff provided feedback and support to the students before they presented final concepts to community stakeholders at Riverside City Hall. In addition to Mayor Rose, the other stakeholders are named below:

  • Mike Duffy, Riverside community development director
  • Brian Koral, Riverside city administrator
  • Sarah Wagner, Riverside city planner
  • Travis Hoover, Riverside city Engineer
  • Matt Brooks, real estate manager/sales leasebacks for QuikTrip
  • Michael Soler, Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission and president/managing director/senior consultant at Executive Workforce
  • Al Bowman, Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission
  • Frank Biondo, Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission
  • Darren Hennen, Olsson’s Kansas City Northland office leader
  • Kurt Rotering, Olsson team leader for KC Traffic/Technology
  • Ken Boone, Olsson industry expert with the Olsson Studio

Senior planning student from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Hannah Haake, said she was proud of the innovative ideas and drawings she and the students generated for the City of Riverside, and enjoyed her experience at the Student Design Charrette.

“Collaborating with Olsson was beneficial because it gave me a professional’s perspective and helped me gain knowledge and skills from the professional side of planning,” she said. “It gave me more confidence entering my final semester in school and I’m grateful for Olsson’s involvement with the education of future professionals.”

Olsson Studio considers student applicants in landscape architecture or planning programs for the design charette, accepting a maximum of 10 participants from the following universities: Iowa State University, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Olsson Studio team leader Korey Schulz oversees the design charrettes and hopes to see the number of applicants for future charrettes continue to grow. The student charrette is set up like how Olsson Studio engages with clients on projects using design charrettes.

“We want to help students get that three-day intensive opportunity to get in front of a client and to draw and interact with them,” Korey said. “This shows students what it really looks like to work with clients and get experience they normally wouldn’t. Students can take that experience and use it in their career moving forward.”

Olsson Studio assistant landscape designer Taylor Goetzinger communicated with Riverside for several months in preparation for the charrette and coordinated with the students and staff involved. She foresees more exciting community partnerships for the event in the future.

“We think of the charrette as a great way for students to get real-world experience in a professional setting, and an opportunity for them to get to know Olsson Studio,” Taylor said. “I don’t see a ton of firms that do this type of thing, so it is a really unique idea. I think the students got a lot out of this and we even got a lot of questions about jobs and interviews after the fact.”

Hannah Kroll
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