On the road to reality
By Morgan Conklin
Imagine you are given money to own part of a landscape architecture company. You can hire employees, decide what jobs to compete for and determine the fate of your company. And, you are only 21 years old.
Though this may seem unrealistic, Purdue University landscape architecture students do that when they run a virtual office. LA 476: "Professional Practice of Landscape Architecture" is a requirement for students in this major. It allows them to relate to real-life experiences, said professor Rob Sovinski. "Students don't have to learn about running an office from reading a textbook," he said.
At the onset of the semester, students form groups to establish fictitious firms and are given a sum of money. Groups become large firms or small companies. Each week Sovinski posts jobs for competing firms, and students decide if they qualify for a given job. They then decide to hire new staff or adopt new technology to become a stronger competitor and win the job. All of these things cost money. But like real companies, the virtual firms can make money as well as lose it.
Sovinski enjoys watching how students manage the companies and compete against each other for jobs. Ruth Vanderlin, a senior in the College of Agriculture from Chesterton, Ind., said her favorite part was working with her team. "We actually had to decide as a firm what projects we wanted to bid on and why," she said. "It made us realize that there's more to running an office than just paying employees."
The popular opinion is that class is almost too positive of an experience. Vanderlin said students get wrapped up in what they are doing, and it is hard to step back from the project and realize that these are imaginary firms. Although the firms are imaginary, the experience is real.