Cause and Effect

He’s never forgotten the difference that a scholarship can make

  Don Brinkerhoff

“I had no limitations when I got my scholarship, so I’m not putting any limitations when I give,” Don Brinkerhoff says of his annual $10,000 gift.

Cal Poly Pomona alumnus Don Brinkerhoff (’52, ornamental horticulture) isn’t shy about acknowledging the role of serendipity in his career success. A chance encounter with a faculty member literally kept him in college.

As Brinkerhoff recounts the story, his family’s financial situation shifted while he was a student, and he needed to find a job or else suspend his studies. He “happened” to go to campus and “happened” to walk by the office of landscape design instructor Howard Boltz, who was just stepping outside. Hearing of Brinkerhoff’s difficulty, he arranged for several odd jobs on campus and a $1,000 scholarship from Sears, Roebuck and Company.

“Everybody in their career, almost without exception, runs into somebody who has no motivation, no axe to grind; they just simply want to help you,” Brinkerhoff says. The jobs and the unrestricted scholarship allowed him to finish his degree, and he went on to complete the landscape architecture licensing exam and found his own company, Lifescapes International.

“We Create Gardens People Love” is Lifescapes International’s ethos. It has developed outdoor recreation and hospitality environments around the world, including two of the highest profile locations in Southern California — The Grove and The Americana shopping centers. More than a dozen casino projects and 10 others in the Las Vegas metropolitan area bear Lifescapes International’s signature.

That’s not bad for a business that started in 1958, when Brinkerhoff took on part-time drafting work out of his house in North Hollywood. Today, Lifescapes International employs 46 people, with business ventures in China, Turkey, South Africa, Israel, Greece, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and throughout the United States.

Someone who has spent his career traveling the world and creating iconic places for clients such as Los Angeles real estate entrepreneur Rick Caruso and casino magnate Steve Wynn might want to step back and bask in his achievements, but not Brinkerhoff, who stays focused on the future.

“I’m not most proud of any one project,” Brinkerhoff says, adding, “The most important project is the one we’re just starting to work on that we haven’t figured out yet.”

Brinkerhoff also remains passionate about honoring the role of Howard Boltz in his academic success, so he created the annual $10,000 Don Brinkerhoff Landscape Architecture Scholarship Award, the largest scholarship in the history of the College of Environmental Design. Brinkerhoff’s motivation is simple: He believes that $10,000 is equivalent in today’s dollars to the $1,000 award that allowed him to continue his studies many decades ago.

The Don Brinkerhoff Landscape Architecture Scholarship Award is presented to a second- or third-year landscape architecture student with demonstrated need and ability as a self-starter, leader and team player. The scholarship is offered without restrictions, which means the recipient can use it in countless ways.

“I had no limitations when I got my scholarship,” Brinkerhoff says, “so I’m not putting any limitations when I give it.”

The 2013 honor went to Armando Silva, a transfer student from Cerritos College who was named the landscape architecture department’s outstanding sophomore in 2011 and is currently on the President’s Honor Roll. The previous, and first, recipient of the Brinkerhoff scholarship, George Kutnar, now works for Lifescapes International.

Brinkerhoff cannot predict how far the scholarship recipients will advance in their careers, but he’s certain they’ve been given the tools they need to succeed.

“They’re a blank page. It’s too soon to tell what their future is going to be like,” he says, but he knows one thing for sure: “Their education is much superior to the one I had.”

He has some simple, direct advice as well: “All you can o is get ready — one step at a time. Do the best you can and hope somebody notices.”

The College of Environmental Design is one of the most respected design and planning colleges in the nation, with rigorous and esteemed programs in each of its five majors that promote interdisciplinary approaches and sustainability.

Campaign goals for the college will support a comprehensive new facility for architecture and enhanced space for the college, endowed chairs in all of the majors, and programs that advance the student experience.

Michael Woo, Dean
(909) 869-2667

Carrie Geurts, Director of Development
(909) 869-4468