Feb. 20, 2013
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Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award 2013


“Learn as much outside of the classroom as you do in it.”

Distinguished Ag Alumuni Award, Michael Emerson

Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

Michael Emerson (left) says Kent Schuette, a professor of landscape architecture, continues to be a big influence on his career. They are shown here in a preschool classroom in Purdue’s Hanley Hall. The building and surrounding grounds were designed by Emerson’s company, VOA Associates, an international design company based in Chicago.

Third in a series highlighting this year’s recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society and have exhibited high potential for professional growth. The series will continue each weekday leading up to March 1, when the nine honorees will receive their awards during a 3:30 pm. EST convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom. A 2:30 p.m. reception, open to the public, will precede the convocation.

Michael Emerson, B.S. ’88, as senior vice president of international design firm VOA Associates, has worked on diverse projects both far and near to his company’s Chicago headquarters.

Emerson’s design credits include Chicago’s Navy Pier; the city master plan for Su Qian, China; the University of Cincinnati’s Marriott Kingsgate Conference Center; the Cleveland Waterfront Master Plan; and the Jockey Club in Miami.

Closer to his campus home, Emerson was a project leader for Purdue’s Hanley Hall, which houses the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

“The career, contributions and impact of Michael Emerson are clearly on a steeply ascending track,” said his nominee, Robert J. Joly, head of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. “He fully deserves recognition by the College of Agriculture to acknowledge his outstanding achievements and to encourage future success in his ever-developing career.”

Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? I can’t think about Purdue University without thinking about Professor Kent Schuette. Kent is a clinical professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. In his courses, he creates a nurturing learning environment that fosters the development of boundless vision and innovation. Professor Schuette is remarkably gifted at teaching the advantageous skills to communicate ideas and concepts in the most convincing and effective manners. He challenges his students to follow their aspirations, and he is intuitive enough to recognize the strengths, skills and interests of his individual pupils and to provide them with the tools and life course-changing opportunities to develop them further. Professor Schuette, in collaboration with Professor Donald Molnar, former department chair, placed me in my original co-op position at Benjamin Thompson Associates in Cambridge, Mass. That had a profound effect on the path my career has taken and established professional relationships that I maintain to this day.

∙ What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I am most looking forward to speaking with the students, whether through project discussions or in more of a classroom setting. I always find the students to be so engaging and interested in learning about our day-to-day practice.

∙ Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? My father graduated from Purdue University officially in 1951, the same year he began law school at Indiana University. I am the youngest of four children. Two of my brothers hold degrees from Indiana University, and my remaining brother and I have degrees from Purdue. There was a delicate balance to be maintained in our household. Purdue was always presented to me by my parents as one of the best – if not the best – universities in the country. They were right.

∙ Where was your favorite place on campus to study? I preferred the Sweet Shop in the basement of the Memorial Union, but I never accomplished much there. I went deep into the stacks at Stewart Center when serious study was in order.

∙ What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? I miss the exuberant student reaction to the first warm days in the late winter and early summer, with stereo speakers blasting music from the front porch and Frisbee-playing on the Memorial Mall.

∙ Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? I was a good enough student at Purdue. It was obvious to my professors when I was truly interested in or inspired by the subject matter. Unfortunately, it was also obvious when I wasn’t.

∙ What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? Organic Chemistry was definitely the most difficult course I took at Purdue. I was frustrated by the limited palette of materials we had to work with, given that there are only 94 elements found in nature and the remaining 23 are radioactive. I had a hard time understanding what all the fuss was about all of these carbon-containing compounds. Aren’t we always trying to reduce our carbon footprint?

∙ What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? My brother, Mark, told me to learn as much outside of the classroom as I do in it.

∙ What is the best advice you have ever given? I think I’ve passed the advice from my brother on to at least a few dozen people, acting as if I had thought of it first: Learn as much outside of the classroom as you do in it.

Read about other 2013 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.



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