Student Spotlight: Michael Dziennik

Some graduate students, especially those in more academic fields, never see their thesis projects advance beyond the theoretical stage.

For Michael Dziennik, however, what was born on paper quickly became a reality.

Working under the guidance of Prof. John Harrington, Dziennik designed a project to test plant species native to the Wisconsin prairie for their survivability in an urban, green-roof environment. Choosing species including the Gray Goldenrod, Western Sunflower, Rough Blazing Star and Prairie Smoke, Dziennik devised a plan that would place the plants in a 1,536-square-foot area on the third-floor green roof at the University Square building in downtown Madison.

“The hypothesis [was] that, based off the land that these plants naturally grow in, they all should survive and be good candidates for becoming green-roof species to choose from,” Dziennik said.

Then, last June, he put the plan into action.

“Luckily for me, we were able to get some funding and help from Agricol,” Dziennik said. “They gave us a reduced rate on all of the plants, which is what actually made the project more plausible – and actually go and be installed.

“With the help of other grad students and friends, we actually planted all the plants and actually got it in the ground and running. Normally, it’s a little plot [where] you would get to test a few plants, but I was able to get 1,024 plants planted up there.”

Dziennik said that, now halfway through the yearlong observation, a vast majority of the species are doing well. As for where the project could go from here? That looks promising, too.

“For me, I’m going to be the one who started the project and will pass the torch on to another student or even a person who, if they wanted it for a part-time career, could take it and further implement more plants … to create almost a seamless prairie up on the roof,” Dziennik said.

The project has been a rewarding experience for Dziennik, who said he has enjoyed it even more than he expected to at the outset.

“The one thing that has really surprised me is seeing the little change that can occur with just what I did,” Dziennik said. “When I was up there [the first time], the only insects I was seeing were hornets and grasshoppers. Today, after six months of it being up there, I’ve seen butterflies, honeybees, bumblebees, grasshoppers, dragonflies. I’ve already seen an increase in the insect populations. To me, it’s [evidence of] how little of a change can actually make a drastic output.”

Alumni in Action: Danielle Bilot

Essentially, Danielle Bilot’s latest project is about distilling a complex problem into something that is easier for the public to understand.

That, and food. It’s also about food.

“Food is definitely one of my passions – eating it or saving it,” Bilot (B.S., 2011) said. “Definitely my No. 1 pet peeve – I won’t lie – is if people mess with my food.

“The fact that bees are dying definitely messes with my food. It started as almost a slightly selfish reason to claim my plate. When I go to Chipotle, I want to be able to have the [guacamole] on my burrito if I want to, if I can afford to. I want to be able to go and pick apples in the fall; that’s one of my favorite things to do. Not only is food tied into our everyday health and wellbeing, it’s tied into our cultural experiences as well. I’m not willing to go a summer without all of the fruits and vegetables and everything that’s available to us.”

Out of that idea came BumbleFumble, a website aimed at educating the public about the plight of native bees.

“We see the face of the honey bee on almost everything. And that’s supposed to be, like, the poster child for bees. But in the U.S. alone, there are over 4,000 native bee species that, they don’t look like that – they are very, very different,” Bilot said. “So it’s totally a PR campaign for them, but it’s not giving them a new face. It’s giving them the face that they already have and (bringing) their diversity to the forefront.”

Much of the public does not make the distinction between honeybees – which were brought to North America in the 17th century by European settlers – and native species, such as the Carpenter bee or bumblebee. Because those natives, along with countless species of ground-nesting bees, do not make collectable amounts of honey, their contributions as pollinators are all too often overlooked.

“We should be angry about this,” Bilot said. “We should be angry about our food being messed with. We should be angry about very little being done … especially for urban areas.”

In some cases, Bilot argues, a solution can be as simple as plant choice. Nationally, the vast majority of urban areas – something like 90 percent, according to Bilot – have dedicated at least 10 percent of their land usage to parking lots. Swapping the shrubs used for screening in these areas for something more pollinator-friendly could go a long way.

“Most of those plants aren’t good for water filtration,” Bilot said. “They’re not beneficial to pollinators. They’re at least overused, if not semi-invasive, just because they’re go-to plants that they can easily hedge and move on. If we had to train our maintenance staff for 20 minutes, just basically at pruning instead of hedging, this isn’t going to cost any additional dollars. [There is] barely any increase in maintenance, because you want them to go to flower, you want them to go to seed so that the pollinators keep coming back.”

That’s the sort of education-based change Bilot is hoping for with BumbleFumble. But she has also been educating in other ways, including giving a TEDx talk in Denver and participating in a webinar with the University of Virginia. She will also be giving a guest lecture at the UW on November 8.

“I really, really, really like the Department of Landscape Architecture, especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” said Bilot, who received a master’s from the University of Oregon in 2013. “Those instructors are there because they want to be, and they want to educate the next set of design minds. It’s not an easy task, just the whole process of being a professor there or being tenured or anything is just so difficult. They are there because of their students, and it’s beyond admirable.”

As for BumbleFumble, Bilot has big plans for the future. Right now, though, it’s about educating people and inspiring change.

“I hope that this works,” she said. “I hope that people access it and feel compelled to do something about this as well.

“If we want to not change our life drastically, which is what would happen if we lose bees, then we need to do something about it. Don’t just identify with your brick or concrete block you basically live in or work in every day. Identify with nature, and realize how connected that we really are. They can survive without us, but we can’t survive without them.”


LABash 2014

by Elyse Eastman

UW-Madison will be hosting this academic year’s LABash, an annual conference for students in Landscape Architecture.  The conference will be held March 27th through 29nd and will feature a variety of lectures, workshops, charrettes, and social events.  It is a great opportunity for the Landscape Architecture Department to showcase current student work and celebrate the success of the program.  It is recognized as a great networking event for students in the United States and Canada and provides an opportunity for attendees to learn about different landscape architecture programs throughout the country. 


The history of the conference dates back to 1970, when the first LABash was held at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.  Students from Guelph started the event to provide landscape architecture students, as well as students from similar fields, an opportunity to network with other students and professionals in the field, observe other programs, and celebrate landscape architecture.

Since then, the event continued at a different school annually.  A handful of students from UW-Madison’s Landscape Architecture Department has been attending the conference every year for at least the past several years.  UW-Madison’s attendees of LABash 2012 won in the bid to host the conference in 2014.  The last time LABash came to Madison was in 2000, and the current students are thrilled to host it for the third time.


The theme for this year’s event, “naturally designed,” plays on the environmental tradition of the Landscape Architecture program here at Madison.  The UW-Madison’s Landscape Architecture Department offers a program that focuses on ecology as a foundation for deLabash20143sign and encourages naturalistic and restorative ideals.  Moreover, the theme reflects the physical setting of the school, being situated at the core of Madison’s urban setting while still containing a variety of natural areas.  The students look forward to showcasing the environmental work being done in Madison, as well as showcasing what it means to be a student at the UW-Madison.  In addition, the planning committee is looking into ways to market the Landscape Architecture program to the student body on campus, for example by showcasing displays and the products of workshops in various locations around campus.  Part of the planning includes coordinating social events each night of the conference.  The planning committee is currently looking into holding an event at the Madison Children’s Museum, as well as a couple other venues on/near campus.


The students hope to receive support from UW alumni in a variety of ways.  Several students from the planning committee will be hosting an alumni mixer in celebration of this event.  The mixer is tentatively scheduled for March 27, 2014.  Location and details about the alumni mixer will be released within the coming months, and donations toward LABash will be encouraged.   However, donations can be sent at any time prior to the event.  If you would like to support the department and the students who are planning this event at this time, please email for more information.  Last, a list of alumni as potential speakers and workshop hosts has been compiled for the event and anticipated to be set soon.

If you would like more information about the conference, please check online at  Updates will be made frequently as more information becomes available in the coming months.