AMES, Iowa — The American Society of Landscape Architects has named an Iowa State University student project as the Community Service Award of Excellence winner in the 2023 ASLA Student Awards. Thirty student projects were selected for awards from 372 entries in eight categories.

The winning community service project, “Rooted in Resiliency: Empowering Vulnerable Youth Through Trauma-Informed Design” — a youth shelter and recovery center — was designed by an interdisciplinary team of students in a spring 2022 elective studio taught by Julie Stevens, associate professor of landscape architecture. The team was honored at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis in October.  

All members of the team graduated from Iowa State in May 2022. They include Cheyenne Gebhart, who received a bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary design; Hailey Holder, who received a master of landscape architecture; Jordyn Kloss, Daniela Paez and Josh Pollastrini, who received a bachelor of landscape architecture; Grace Pollack and Elijah Williams, who received a bachelor of fine arts in interior design; and Johanna (Sieja) Roszhart and Tara Tilstra, who received a master of architecture.

“This is heart-heavy work. These students put their heart and soul into this project and this highly competitive award is validation of that,” Stevens said.

This is the third time students from one of Stevens’ courses have received this award.

Rooted in Resiliency

Created in conjunction with RDG Planning and Design, “Rooted in Resiliency” is a design for a youth shelter and recovery center for YSS, an organization that serves youth who are in substance abuse treatment, need emergency shelter and/or are in crisis. The Iowa State students spent two semesters building relationships with these young people and the staff who work with them, considering their needs as the team developed conceptual designs for the 54-acre YSS campus.

Their project uses biophilic design to help the youth regulate their emotions through interaction with nature. It includes two therapy yurts, family cabins for visits, dorms for youth, transition-aged housing, a pasture, a prairie, a greenhouse, a sensory garden and many other facilities

“We put a lot of work into understanding what the youth may have gone through to get to where they are today,” said Kloss, who now works for Wright Outdoor Solutions in Des Moines. “We considered what outside factors might overstimulate them and how the final design can be purposeful to help them in the long run.”

By spending time with YSS youth and staff, the student team learned their ideal spaces would reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, have protected vantage points and help them become emotionally connected to nature. The younger YSS children were encouraged to design their dream rooms. The Iowa State team drew from all of these ideas to develop their award-winning project.

“We were interacting with these youth at probably the hardest time in their lives and we didn’t take that lightly,” said Williams, who now works as an equity and belonging associate for the City of Des Moines. “In every conversation we could truly feel how the way we designed this space could affect their futures and those that would come after them.”

Additionally, the group researched adverse childhood experiences, risk and protective factors, trauma-informed environmental design and psychological development to further influence the layout of their conceptual campus plan. Those topics helped the student team gain perspective and gather data for their final design goals of building a youth recovery center that promotes executive function and positive relationship building, creates agency, allows access to nature and helps the YSS youth regulate their emotions.

Reshaping the process

“This entire project was a great lesson in patience and adaptability. We didn’t spend as much time on the design portion of the project as we did on the research,” Kloss said. “We learned how to take time with the research and truly understand who we we’re designing for.”

The ASLA awards jury noted the Iowa State student group “fully immersed themselves into their studies, activities and deliverables, which gave a feeling of authenticity and genuine care to their project.”

“The work and hours that went into this project were of immense value to me, and I hope to the youth and staff we interacted with during the semester,” said Tilstra, who now works as an architectural designer for ISG in Des Moines. “What we learned and experienced was eye opening and has affected the way I approach projects in my professional career.”


Julie Stevens, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture,
Jordyn Kloss, 2022 BLA Graduate, Landscape Architecture,
Tara Tilstra, 2022 MArch Graduate, Architecture,
Elijah Williams, 2022 BFA Graduate, Interior Design,
Lauren Johnson, College of Design Communications Specialist,