A deeper insight into 'home'

114 diverse students explore Buffalo through UB class

On January 24, 2013

  • Soo Yeon Kwon and Tracy Nowak are two of 114 students who are learning the history of urban planning and local design history of the Buffalo-Niagara region in Exploring the Design of Buffalo Niagara. Adrien D'Angelo /// The Spectrum

Tracy Nowak is a 38-year-old Buffalo native. Soo Yeon Kwon is a 22-year-old student who hails from South Korea.

At first glance, they don't appear to have anything in common. However, through "Exploring the Design of Buffalo Niagara," an elective course offered during the spring semester, both of them will be undertaking a journey to better understand their current backyard.

The class aims to provide students with a better understanding of the Buffalo-Niagara region. Kerry Traynor, a clinical assistant professor in the department of urban and regional planning, teaches the class of 114 students. She covers topics of urban planning and local design history in the city and region. The class engages students from a myriad of majors from business to the sciences and attracts a surprisingly diverse crowd, according to Traynor.

Nowak and Kwon are two of these students.

"I live in Buffalo - born and raised here," said Nowak, a junior in the social science interdisciplinary degree program with a concentration in legal studies. "I want to know more about my city. I do know a lot, but if you love your city, you would like to project [it] to others."

She is also a mother of three.

Identifying herself as a "full-time mom" and "full-time student," Nowak busies herself with caring for her family and earning a degree. She likes to spend time by Lake Erie and the waterfront and tries to go camping with her family whenever she gets the chance.

The class allows her to learn more about the decline of Buffalo and the ways she could help develop the city, she said.

"I love cities," Nowak said. "I love my hometown. Knowing the city and knowing the design of it will be interesting for me."

Kwon agrees.

Kwon, an exchange student from Korea University and a senior environmental design major, is in her second semester at UB.

"I was not interested in the Buffalo area before I came, but now Buffalo is one of my places," Kwon said. "I have lived here for five months, and I will live here for four more months. I will miss Buffalo when I [leave]."

One of the objectives of the class is to help students understand, interact and engage with their living environment, according to Traynor.

"As opposed to just coming to school and leaving, you have an opportunity to learn where it is that we are," Traynor said.

She also said the class provides an opportunity for students to learn more about the "place that they call home, and how it came to be."

The class is good for students coming from all backgrounds, according to Kwon. The class "is not only for international students but also American students," she said. "If we get to know where we live, our scope of what we can see in our life will broaden."

 In order to facilitate a more engaging learning process or "enable active learning," as she puts it, Traynor came up with an interactive course outline. She includes required field trip assignments in addition to two exams.

One assignment includes taking a trip to Delaware Park and finding a way to get between Hoyt Lake and Mirror Lake without crossing Elmwood Avenue. Traynor said students get to understand how "people interact with space."

Nowak believes the field trips will be helpful to students. She also said they will prove useful for students who do not live in the city because they will be able to take what they learn and apply it to their respective hometowns.

Kwon, however, has some reservations.

"I like going to field trips, [but] I wish [to] have transportation," she said.

However, despite her qualms about traveling around the region without a car, Kwon also expressed her interest in Buffalo. She has already visited Delaware Park and found it relatable to her studies in environmental design. She said the area was worth studying because it is a scenic attraction designed by famous landscaper Frederick Law Olmstead.

As an international student, Kwon said she does not feel "that foreign." She attributes the manageable transition to UB having many international students.

Nowak believes Kwon's transition to life in America was made easier because Buffalo is the "City of Good Neighbors."

"When things get hard, the people are there to help," Nowak said. "We have a lot of nationalities, a lot of immigrants ... the people [are] what makes us who we are."

Nowak and Kwon's common interest in the region has brought them into the same classroom, where they will begin to learn more about a place they both call home.


Email: news@ubspectrum.com

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