Every day, Hawaiians can see landscape architect Michael Chu’s designs and creativity in the newest Lowe’s home improvement store, seven Costco locations, and – Chu’s favorite – the renovated Hawaii State Library.
In fact, Chu, a ’77 landscape architecture alumnus, drives past the historic library building almost every day. “I eyeball it every time I drive by, and it’s looking great,” he says. “It’s a constant reminder of the work I have accomplished, and it came out pretty damn good.”
Design aesthetics are not the only thing that Chu is proud of. As founder of the consulting firm LP&D Hawaii, he not only develops landscape designs but also consults in many of the related fields such as regulatory permits, traffic flow and environmental impacts – issues that traditionally don’t fall under the purview of landscape architecture.
“I’m like the utility player, a one-man shop,” the alumnus says. “I like landscape architecture not only for its ability to shape the environment but for its diversity to get involved in what appear to be unrelated fields. Landscape architecture is not just a matter of preparing a landscape but doing planning work as well.”
Reflecting on his career, Chu is grateful to Cal Poly Pomona for providing him an education, and he has made plans to give to future students the same opportunities he received. He and his wife, Yetta, have made a planned gift to support landscape architecture majors, with a preference to those from Hawaii. The Michael S. and Yetta L.C. Chu Endowed Scholarship will be awarded to upper-division students who demonstrate academic excellence and financial need.
“I’m grateful to Cal Poly Pomona. They accepted me as an out-of-state student, gave me a good education, allowed me to become licensed here in Hawaii as a professional landscape architecture,” says Chu, who is serving his second consecutive term on the Hawaii Board of Professional Engineers, Architects, Surveyors and Landscape Architects, a position appointed by the governor.
A veteran of the Army Rangers during the Vietnam War, Chu understands the significance of external support. “I’m grateful for the GI Bill. I wouldn’t have made it without the GI Bill.”
After high school, Chu volunteered for the draft and the Rangers in Vietnam. Wounded in action in 1969, he returned to Hawaii with the goal of working in design. Chu applied to every landscape architecture firm in Honolulu and was hired as an entry-level junior draftsman. There, he met several Cal Poly Pomona landscape architects, who, along with his boss, encouraged him to continue his education.
“The fact is that guys I met were all Cal Poly Pomona graduates,” he says. (About 20 landscape architecture graduates currently live in Hawaii.) “In my mind, Cal Poly Pomona was the place to go. And it still is.”
Michael Chu and Yetta packed their belongings into four suitcases and moved to Southern California in 1975. While he was in class, she worked at the campus cafeteria to support the couple. “In addition to the GI Bill, Yetta was instrumental and supported my out-of-state tuition,” he recalls. “We’re still together after 39 years!”
Chu admired many of his professors, especially Jere Stuart French, who served as the department’s first chair and advanced Chu to junior standing based on his portfolio. In his senior year, he won the Outstanding Student Design Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, an achievement that he proudly displays in his office.
Chu returned to Hawaii after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona in two years and opened his own firm in the early 1980s, offering a comprehensive set of skills and services. Branching out to other fields has brought Chu much success, and he encourages students to do the same.
“You don’t have to center your studies only in landscape architecture. Look at other areas where your education can be applied, like planning and entitlement,” he says. “Landscape architecture students should see how their skills interface and can assist in other fields.”
Cal Poly Pomona has embarked on a $150 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to ensure that a quality college education is within reach for future generations of students. The campaign will strengthen the university’s ability to provide a hands-on education, to prepare students for the changing demands of the workplace, and to increase research and scholarship opportunities. The fundraising campaign relies on the support of the entire campus community — from alumni to faculty and staff to friends of the university. For more information, visit http://campaign.cpp.edu/.
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