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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

A panel discussion hosted by the Boston Society of Landscape Architects and moderated by Jack Ahern, FASLA, offered guidance to students entering the workforce. Image courtesy Timothy A. Schuler.

The graduating class of 2020 finds itself in limbo.

 

Even before the novel coronavirus sent the world into lockdown, Afrouz Rahmati planned to finish the final semester of her master’s in landscape architecture remotely. A third-year MLA candidate at the University of Maryland (UMD), Rahmati had an internship lined up at a nonprofit parks organization in Los Angeles, where her family lives. The plan was to spend the spring working on a regional-scale greenway project and finishing her thesis, which focuses on the intersection of landscape architecture and gerontology.

To work in the United States, however, Rahmati needed authorization for what’s known as pre-completion optional practical training (OPT). OPT allows international students to accept temporary employment in their fields of study. Rahmati grew up in Isfahan, Iran. She worked as an architect before emigrating to the United States in 2017, when she enrolled in the landscape architecture program at UMD.

By March 2020, Rahmati’s OPT authorization still had not arrived. By the time it did, the country was fully in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization that had offered Rahmati the internship—which she preferred to keep confidential—e-mailed to say that things were uncertain, but that she could maybe join them in the summer. She hasn’t heard from them since. Now she is applying to full-time positions, but is finding that most employers are also unresponsive. Rahmati worries about what will happen if she can’t find a job. Foreign students have just three months following graduation to secure employment in their fields of study and apply for post-completion OPT—a timeline that now feels alarmingly short. Rahmati says the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has yet to announce any changes or updates to the OPT program’s rules.

The transition from college or graduate school into a professional landscape architecture career is one of trepidation but also buoyant possibility. But for the graduating class of 2020, it’s as if a giant pause button has been hit. As cities remain under orders to shelter in place, firms of all sizes are halting the hiring process. Summer internships have been canceled. Recruiters have gone quiet. Students on the verge of graduating now find themselves in a kind of extended intermission, a limbo in which they can neither remain in the cozy world of their universities nor make the leap into professional practice. (more…)

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