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Profile: Michael Fleischacker, RLA, LEED AP, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Delaware Valley University
Profile Interview by Michelle Thompson for LASN


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Michael Fleischacker, landscape architect and department chair at Delaware Valley University, left the corporate world to follow his dream of working in academia. It's a decision he's never regretted. "Some people refer to landscape architecture as a generalist industry," he says. "Obviously we have our own unique skills and specializations, but landscape architects have a great deal of knowledge in many areas. It really is by nature a multidisciplinary profession."


Having always wanted to work in academia, Fleischacker jumped at the opportunity, a move that would ultimately yield tremendous opportunities for both him and the school.

"Literally, within 30 days I went from being the vice president of a 70-person firm to standing in front of a class of 10 students," recalls Fleischacker. "When you have a passion for something and you want to pursue something, you have to make that leap of faith.

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The Kent Place Residence: Fleischacker and his team helped redesign this sprawling double-acre lot in Summit, N.J. He says working in landscape architecture allows him to pursue his two greatest passions: art and the outdoors.


"Things have worked out great for me," he says.

They've worked out well for the Doylestown, Pennsylvania, university, too. Since joining DelVal, Fleischacker has rewritten its curriculum numerous times, and positioned the school to launch a landscape architecture program. In 2012, under Fleischacker's leadership, the school began offering a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture.

"I've been working with students, faculty and alumni to position the program to become accredited and recognized by the industry," reports Fleischacker, who is today chair and associate professor of DelVal's Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Science. "That's been really rewarding for me."

Last spring, DelVal received full, initial accreditation from the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board.

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St. Stephens School in Rome Charlesworth Fleischacker (CF) Landscape Architects, co-led by Michael Fleischacker, did the master plan for the historic St. Stephens High School campus in Rome, giving him the opportunity to work closely with Italian landscape architect Nancy Leszczynsk. Fleischacker thinks of his private practice as a "working hospital," where students can have a chance to gain firsthand experience.


Where the Environment Meets the Arts
Fleischacker's path to becoming a landscape architect began when he was a boy growing up in the Upper Midwest, a region known for its national parks, Great Lakes and diverse wildlife. In such a nature-rich environment, Fleischacker quickly developed a love and respect for the outdoors. Meanwhile, he began gaining an appreciation for the arts through his grandfather, a syndicated newspaper cartoon artist.

Eventually, his fondness for the arts and love of nature collided.

"The two came together when I was taking a career interest exam at one of the local schools in Minnesota," says Fleischacker. "After I took the exam, landscape architecture popped to the top of the list. I'd never heard of it before and when I started looking into it further, I realized my two passions of art and nature actually came together in landscape architecture.

"I never looked back."

In 1995, Fleischacker graduated from North Dakota State University with a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture. He later earned his master's degree in landscape architecture from Ball State University, where he specialized in urban and regional planning.

When Fleischacker was presented with an opportunity to work at DelVal, he was reminded of his university days at North Dakota State. Both universities have smaller class sizes, and are located in small towns.

The sense of nostalgia Fleischacker felt made it a little easier to accept a position with DelVal.

"The campus itself just felt right," he says. "Being able to link it to my undergraduate days and the positive experience I had there really made me feel like Delaware Valley University was going to be a great fit for me."

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Delaware Valley University Rain Garden Fleischacker loves giving his students firsthand learning experiences, "from a blank sheet of paper all the way through to implementation." He launched a design challenge for a campus rain garden and worked with winner Geo Thomas to create design documents. The students conducted soil testing and found clay down to a 5' depth. That required installing water infiltration tubes to reach the more permeable subsoil. The rain garden design combats flooding and erosion, and includes a small bridge dividing an upper and a lower basin. The garden filters water from the Ulman Hall downspouts and from the school's central quad. The project won a community greening award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Fleischacker's students have also gained design experience by working on the student center courtyard, the arboretum learning gardens and selecting plants for streetscapes and the vernal pools.


The Best of Both Worlds
Though there were sacrifices in joining the academic world - the pay is notoriously lower, and hours can be longer - joining DelVal was a decision Fleischacker has never regretted.

Besides, he never fully left the corporate world. He continues to practice landscape architecture as a managing partner of Charlesworth Fleischacker Landscape Architects LLC in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

His work there has included garden and urban design, campus and community planning, ecological restoration and real estate planning. He's an expert in regenerative strategy, and his work focuses on creating sustainable living systems.

Fleischacker thinks of his private practice as a "working hospital," where students can have a chance to gain firsthand experience.

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Reclaimed quarry Fleischacker loves working on mixed-use developments, such as this 80-acre abandoned New Jersey quarry that was set to become grounds for new homes, businesses, schools and landscapes. In transforming this barren site the words of Fleischacker's mentor and former professor Thomas Schurch at North Dakota State University came to mind: "Places are for people and they should be meaningful. The world is one big living system and branches into countless subsystems, all linked in one way or another."


When opportunities present themselves, he'll bring students to the firm to put together CAD drawings, attend site visits and help out with digital graphics. Sometimes, students are offered short-term or summer work at Charlesworth Fleischacker Landscape Architects LLC.

"It gives them first-hand office experience and a little extra money," says Fleischacker. "And it gives us some relief from tasks that we would otherwise have had to found time to do ourselves."

He describes himself as a professor with a true love for teaching and the academic world. He says he strives to engage students while providing them with a meaningful learning experience.

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Sweet Desserts Outdoor Cafe: CF Landscape Architects helped bring some personality to this Reading, Penn., eatery with a living green screens and edible plantings. Fleischacker relates that he went from being the vice president of a 70-person firm to standing in front of a class of 10 students. "When you have a passion for something and you want to pursue something, you have to make that leap of faith," he said.


"For me it's always been about engaging people in the ideation process. It's this idea of, 'How do you engage a student in the classroom in a way that they're part of the learning process, rather than standing in front of them and spewing out information to them?'" he explains.

"Whether it's a lecture course or a design studio, I always take that approach in trying to engage the students in a way that they take ownership of and pride in their education."

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About

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Michael Fleischacker, RLA, LEED AP, Associate Professor, Delaware Valley University

Undergrad Department Chair: Landscape Architecture and Environmental Science
Grad Dept: Policy Studies (M.A.)
Co-Director: Regenerative Land Institute

Education
BS, Environmental Design, North Dakota State University
BLA, North Dakota State University
MLA, Ball State University

Firm History
Managing Partner: Charlesworth Fleischacker Landscape Architects, LLC, New Hope, Pa. (March 2010 to present)
VP of Operations: Back to Nature, Oldwick, NJ (Jan. 2002-Aug. 2009)
Milone and MacBroom, Inc. (June 2000-Feb. 2002)

Volunteer Work
Advisory Committee Member (March 2014 to present)
-Pennsylavnia Horticultural Society
-Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

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Delaware Valley University is an independent, nonprofit university located in Doylestown, Pa. (pop. 8,280). Founded in 1896 as an agricultural college, DelVal is a small interdisciplinary college (1,807 students, student/faculty ratio of 15:1) offering 25 undergraduate majors in the natural sciences, business and humanities, along with 6 masters programs. Delaware Valley University was named "Best College in the Northeast" by the Princeton Review (2011-2015).



As seen in LASN magazine, February 2018.






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