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Finding architectural inspiration in nature

Outstanding graduate looks forward to applying biomimicry experience to architecture career

A headshot of Lisa Skiles smiling at the camera.

Lisa Knemeyer Skiles, a well-respected architect and an adjunct instructor at the University of Arkansas, earned her master's degree in biomimicry through ASU Online. She said she was particularly appreciative of the ability to continue as a working professional while pursuing her studies.

April 28, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Lisa Knemeyer Skiles has already found success in her career. She is a well-respected architect and serves as an adjunct instructor at the University of Arkansas.

She is also a lifelong learner. A few years ago, she decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. Skiles sought a program that could connect sustainability concepts to her undergraduate degrees and professional experience in business and architecture while still allowing her the flexibility to continue working full time. Biomimicry as a field of study crossed her path during her search for a graduate program, as did Arizona State University. Between the innovative subject matter, relevance to her background and the accessibility of a fully online program, it was the perfect fit. 

Skiles said that aside from the degree itself, ASU’s strong academic reputation and well-vetted online offerings influenced her decision to enroll. She was particularly appreciative of the ability to continue as a working professional while pursuing her studies. 

“I was a bit surprised that this was a field I knew little about compared to some other sustainability topics,” said Skiles. “Part of my ‘aha’ moment with choosing this program was the opportunity to cultivate a new type of knowledge within myself. I continue to be thankful for the realization that the biomimicry field was a great fit with my interests and skills.”

After receiving her Master of Science in biomimicry from the School of Complex Adaptive Systems within the College of Global Futures and ASU Online, Skiles looks forward to incorporating her biomimicry education into her architectural practice and into the university courses she teaches.

Read on to learn more about her experiences as an online graduate student.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

Answer: Two things. The first is I was surprised by the depth of connection I developed with classmates despite geographical distance. As a participant in an online community, this new perspective is one I hope to continue to cultivate as I expect to stay in touch with many classmates beyond graduation. I could not have predicted this outcome. As an immediate example, I reached out to a recent graduate and former classmate to serve on my capstone project advisory committee, a required element for the practicum course. I have enjoyed those meetings — highly productive given our shared biomimicry studies, past team experience and mutual architectural training.

The second is a change of perspective in my understanding of biological patterns and our own connection with nature. I have not only learned how to sustainably apply biomimicry thinking to address human challenges, but also deepened my abilities to promote authentic stewardship of our planet.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: This is a hard question. Each of my professors had a unique contribution to my experience, and each was important to the overall process. I would start with Dayna Baumeister, professor of practice and senior Global Futures scholar. Her tone of possibility and positivity are interwoven with the overarching lesson to be a part of and engage with nature to solve important challenges facing our planet. The other most important lesson relates to my first class, Biology Taught Functionally, taught by Professor Karen Allen. Here I first learned of the possibility of functional innovation based on emulating nature’s genius. I learned of deep biological principles to form the foundation of this methodology. I gained confidence in understanding biological patterns even as a nonbiologist. I now have the confidence to work on an interdisciplinary team of designers and biologists.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Power studying at my computer was a journey supported by living in the Ozark Mountains. It is amazing that I could pursue this education long distance and maintain the ability to easily step outside and into my own biome. Beyond screen time, my favorite spot to power study is in nature! For example, one of my electives was Biomimicry iSites in which we nature journaled, learning specific techniques, to deepen our own analytical and observation skills of patterns found in nature.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school? 

A: Enjoy the journey of learning and engage deeply. Connect with classmates and take care of those relationships as a part of your time with ASU.

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