Parkland College students gearing up for Olympics

Parkland College students gearing up for Olympics

CHAMPAIGN – Kaizad Irani's landscape design students in China have set their sights on Olympic gold.

They're getting ready to work on the country's biggest production in centuries – Beijing 2008, the summer Olympics. Irani said landscaping companies are already recruiting his students at Beijing Vocational College of Agriculture so they'll have personnel with high-level design and installation skills to make them competitive for the massive project.

"Plans for parts of the Olympic complex are already in place, but our students will be working on parks in the Olympic Village and in other places all over the landscape there," said the Parkland College instructor, who returned to China for three weeks late last year after teaching a class with 65 students.

Parkland has had a formal relationship with the vocational college since 2002, and has sent teachers with accounting, computer science, English language and other specialties to teach there. Irani said the college asked specifically for him to teach landscape design so students would have an edge in the job market.

"They knew a link with an American college would make students more competitive, marketable," he said. "Their design systems are very strict. Where we come in is teaching the concept of thinking outside the box versus the textbook approach. We want to help them unleash their creative potential."

As an example he cited landscape water features.

"With Chinese designs, everything has to be viewed from a certain angle," Irani said. "I encourage them to make water features more accessible with seating and stepping stones and gazebos. You want to be close to the water."

Irani came to Beijing expecting to teach a beginning design class, but his students were more advanced so he changed the curriculum.

"Here I teach residential design but there, we studied public and urban design, large-scale planning and all the factors involved in regional planning," Irani said.

"It will be a mixture of construction," he said. "That's where international expertise comes into play. My students were very open and receptive to new ideas and creative problem solving."

His students will graduate in June. Irani said before he left, the college held its first job fair and potential employers and Olympics landscapers came to meet his students.

Bruce Henrikson, chairman of the business and agri-industries department, said the relationship with Beijing has been good for Parkland instructors and the students they teach, passing on their exposure to a totally different culture.

"The biggest benefit has been working with a college from another country, thinking college to college," said Henrikson, who visited Beijing last year. "They wanted to see a different approach to teaching. Theirs is lecture and hope they get it. There's very little interaction. We work at interaction."

Irani hopes to forge links between the Illinois nursery industry and landscapers in Beijing so Illinois growers can provide some plant material for the games, good practice, he said, for the 2016 Olympics if Mayor Richard Daley successfully brings them to Chicago.

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