Katie Finnigan working at a native plant nursery while serving with the Watershed Stewards Program

Prestigious Olmsted Scholarship Awarded to MLA Student Katie Finnigan

May 18, 2022

CU Denver Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) student Kathryn (Katie) Finnigan is the recipient of the 2022 Landscape Architecture Foundation’s (LAF) National Olmsted Scholar, the most prestigious award for landscape architecture students in North America.

The National Olmsted Scholar program offers a selected graduate and undergraduate student a large financial award, wide recognition, access to a network of growing leaders in Landscape Architecture, and unique opportunities to participate with LAF. This program selected students who showed exceptional leadership potential in driving sustainable design and societal benefits to positively impact our world.

Rendering of the Mosaic project by Katie Finnigan.
Mosaic is Finnigan’s final project from Nick Patin’s studio. This project was created through the lens of soundscape design and supports complexity zones in public spaces to address the different acoustic needs of users.      

Significance of Supportive Landscapes

With her prize, Finnigan plans to pursue community-engaged research to inform the development of a neuro-inclusive design kit. This kit will aid the design of acoustically and sensorially supportive landscapes.

“My firsthand experiences with neurodiverse challenges began as a dyslexic child with an autistic brother and an ADHD brother with undiagnosed sensory processing challenges. Although there have been many advances in neuro-inclusivity and awareness of neurodivergent conditions, there are still large gaps in supporting this underserved population within the built environment,” said Finnigan. “Both neurotypical and neurodiverse individuals benefit from outdoor spaces to breathe, connect with nature, and advance their mental and physical wellbeing. Frederick Law Olmsted himself called parks the “lungs of the city” because they are healthful places.”

Students in Lois Brink's class gathered beside their studio project at Crawford Elementary School.
Professor Lois Brink’s studio poses with their community-engaged design build project at Crawford Elementary, which incorporated various cultural textiles connected through a mural of a river to celebrate the diversity of the school.

Landscape Architecture as Public Service

Finnigan was born a natural observer of outdoor spaces. Originally from the San Francisco Bay area of California, she grew up exploring public spaces. Before joining the MLA program, Finnigan also worked in public service.

“Landscape Architecture was a clear path to advance in, as the capacity to serve the public good through the thoughtful design of shared public spaces is abundant,” said Finnigan. “Luckily, I grew up with accessible open spaces, natural streams, and patches of wilderness which taught me the benefits that outdoor environments have in establishing overall health and wellness.”

“My commitment to public service started when I was a teenager volunteering with disability and youth programs and continued through my BS in Environmental Planning and Management, and professional work with the National Park Service, AmeriCorps’ Watershed Stewards Program, environmental groups, and nonprofit organizations,” Finnigan continued. “Through the MLA program, I have had the opportunity to expand on my prior experience to weave together deep research, advocacy, and supportive designs that address social inequities, enhance climate resiliency, and benefit communities through design. Landscape architecture is truly where my passions, experience, and creative talents intersect.”

About the Master of Landscape Architecture at CU Denver

The College of Architecture and Planning offers a fully accredited Master of Landscape Architecture degree. The MLA program balances theory and practice and emphasizes design to support human well-being and environmental balance. Students engage with issues of social justice, sustainability, and environmental racism, and explore responses to these constructs through research and design. Learn more about the MLA.