Invisible threads run from an office in Building A5 on the Weihenstephan campus, across the University of Applied Sciences, the country and Europe. They form the network in which Stefanie Gruber, who prefers to be called Steffi, moves, which she helped to create. The 49-year-old has been working at the HSWT for twelve years, nine of them as a course assistant in the International Master of Landscape Architecture (IMLA) at the Landscape Architecture department. Before that, the landscape architect had gained experience in the industry for more than a decade. Then, she says, "I wanted to change my perspective. It appealed to me to work with students and to deal with current topics in teaching and research".
The landscape architect with many perspectives
Among other things, Steffi Gruber supervises the IMLA students and takes care of the preparation and follow-up of study projects. She exchanges information with partner universities and practice partners and plans the semester with professors and teaching staff. She also provides teaching support: "I find it exciting to contribute my practical experience and give young people something to learn. It's wonderful for me that in my professional life, I've already been able to experience both sides, the practice in landscape architecture offices as well as teaching and research."
Steffi Gruber often accompanies open space planning study projects and supervises exercises on her favourite topic, the use of plants. Plants and nature are meaningful to her, even in her free time. With the practised eye of a landscape architect, she gets everything she can out of the 2 m2 balcony of her Munich flat with perennials, herbs and vegetables. When the plants have been taken care of, she likes to head out into nature on her bike or in running shoes.
She builds networks, not least as one of the people responsible for the internationalisation of the department and as its alumni manager. "It's important to me to stay in touch with former students," she says. She meets many of them year after year at the "Landscape Architecture Day", which she helps organise. She is also in contact with the University of Applied Sciences, where she graduated: The University of Applied Sciences Nürtingen-Geislingen is HSWT's cooperation partner at IMLA. "So I'm partly in contact with my former profs again, and I'm also back on campus from time to time," says Steffi Gruber.
What she particularly likes about her job is the social aspect, building and maintaining connections: "I simply enjoy working with people, whether students, professors, colleagues, also from other departments and, for example, the International Office, or external people. And I really appreciate that this happens at eye level."
Steffi Gruber's cooperation is transnational. After all, the IMLA degree programme is designed for international students. At first, she had to get used to speaking English professionally. "That was quite a challenge. I first had to grow into it. Through courses at the language centre of the University of Applied Sciences, I was able to brush up my language skills well. I'm happy to continue taking advantage of these offers to improve my English." Steffi Gruber finds the intercultural aspects of working with international students and partners particularly exciting. "Sometimes there are misunderstandings because different habits and customs come together. As an assistant, you have to get involved from time to time. For me, the solution is to talk to each other."
Under normal circumstances, the job also takes Steffi Gruber to other countries, for example, through study projects or on the occasion of the annual 'LE:NOTRE Landscape Forum', where she expands her contacts. "The many international projects and contacts are important to me and a great motivation," she emphasises. She particularly remembers the Landscape Forum in 2017, which took place in Weihenstephan, and she organised with her colleagues. "At this large, multi-day international conference, many contacts were made that are still very valuable today for IMLA and the University of Applied Sciences, but also for me personally. Mainly in professional terms, of course, but also on a friendly level."
It is not surprising that the social network is also effective to Steffi Gruber in her private life: "Doing something with friends and family is very high on my list of priorities." She is involved as a language partner at Bellevue di Monaco, a residential and cultural centre for refugees and all interested Munich residents. She is also a social animal when it comes to sports. When there is no pandemic, the Munich resident, by choice, plays volleyball in the recreational league. The social networks, she spans them not only from the office.