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Turf & Lawn Management students use bricks and mortar to build a legacy on the OTC campus

Not everyone can be a rocket scientist, or even an antiquities or French literature major. Someone has to make the grass grow and landscape the gardens at NASA and develop a better begonia. Or design and build the new patio garden behind the book store at Ozarks Technical College, designed and constructed by the student members of PLANET at OTC, the only chapter in Missouri and one of only a handful at two-year institutions nationally.

PLANET stands for Professional Landscape Network, which represents thousands of landscape and horticulture professionals – and college students. Terri Howard of Mt.Vernon designed the garden. She’s also chapter president of PLANET at OTC.

Terri Howard takes a break from work

Terri Howard takes a quick break from work on the patio garden behind the OTC Bookstore. Her capstone project was chosen for actual construction by the students, who were putting the last touches on it the day before graduation.

When OTC’s Turf and Landscape Management Class of 2012 walked across the stage during graduation, Howard and Rosa Aviles had a special reason to celebrate. Each student received a$1,000 scholarship awarded through PLANET Academic Excellence Foundation at the 2012 Career Days. Howard received the Gravely Landscape Maintenance Scholarship, presented to her by Bill Engler, Director of Sales for the Ariens Company. Ariens manufactures everything from grass trimmers and riding lawnmowers to edgers and snow blowers, sold in 35 countries.

Aviles received the PLANET Academic Excellence Foundation scholarship. PLANET is a merger between two organizations intended to improve training in an burgeoning industry that is growing despite the national economy. When it comes to soil, Springfield and the Ozarks may be on rocky ground, but in lawn and garden products, its per capita spending ranked third in the nation behind only Portland, Ore. and Spokane, Wash. Overall it’s a $35-$40 billion a year industry that is constantly evolving as more and more Americans embrace gardening, lawn care, safer pest control and more.

As department chair of the Industrial & Manufacturing Department Chair, Danelle Maxwell has seen the growth.

“Our graduates are currently employed in a variety of careers,” she says, “including grounds managers (for municipalities such as the City of Springfield and other surrounding towns, local college campuses, golf courses, ball fields, etc.), nursery/greenhouse sales, design-build landscape companies, lawn service technicians, urban forestry. Many of our students are entrepreneurs for their own landscaping and lawn care business.”

As well as access to the profession, PLANET helps give OTC students a chance to compete with students from around the country. More than once, they have finished just short of grabbing the top prize.
“One definite advantage is that you get connections with some big league people and companies,” says Howard. “It’s amazing the kind of people you meet in PLANET, especially if you attend the Green Industry Conference and Student Career Days.

Both Howard and Aviles completed internships at the Springfield Botanical Gardens to gain professional experience.

“Personally, I love volunteering,” adds Howard. “It makes me happy. But another huge benefit is gaining valuable work experience and leadership skills while performing community service.”

Rosa Aviles is vice-president of PLANET.

Rosa Aviles is vice-president of PLANET. She hopes to work for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board as a landscaper.

A native of Puerto Rico for whom English is a second language, Aviles is vice-president of PLANET.
“PLANET has given me insight about my career path and what is expected and what I want to do within this field,” she says. “It has also given me the chance to go the Green Industry Conference and meet several famous individuals within this field, which was beneficial for networking.”

“Being in PLANET has shown me how to work with others, how to stay up to date with knowledge, and have fun,” she says in between during a break from unloading pea gravel for the new patio garden. “I am more outgoing and personable than I was. Acting and singing are my natural talents, but now I see that I want to work with people. I like talking to them and handling customers.”

While Aviles likes the physical workout, Howard prefers management and landscape design:

“That’s actually why I took the Turf and Landscape Management path,” she says. “I knew I wanted to design outdoor living spaces, so maybe that will be in my future. The idea that I could be outside and work in an environment that I really enjoy is probably the best thing I could ever imagine.”

One of program goals is to make students aware of the latest innovations in environmental stewardship and sustainability. For employers and customers, it’s a conversation starter as customers and manufacturers look for strategies that embrace sustainability with a payback.

“We specifically have an Environmental stewardship class that examines how the turf and landscape industry impacts the earth’s resources,” says Maxwell. “The influences that we have on the natural world both locally and globally; how decisions are made regarding the management of these resources; and what factors influence these decisions.

“Every course we teach offers sustainable insight, including water quality, nutrient cycling, irrigation scheduling, fuel efficiency and carbon emissions, just to name a few.”
Another goal is increasing awareness of the regulatory side of horticulture treating plants with chemicals, including pest management and application.

“Our pest management course teaches plant health care strategies and integrated pest management, which relies on chemicals as a last resort method of control,” says Maxwell. “We take the approach of planting the “right plant in the right place” to reduce stress and thus the potential of insects and diseases. It also emphasizes safe application of chemicals according to the label instructions.

“The curriculum we teach is the material tested by the Missouri Department of Agriculture to receive an applicator’s license for Category 3 Ornamental and Turf applications. The license for these commercial applicators is good for three years and then they either retest or go through an approved training program.”

Rob Flatness, an instructor the the Lawn & Turf Management Program, supervised the project and helped in the construction.

“It never quite goes like you think it’s going to,” he says. “It’s not like the time lapse photography on ‘This Old House.’”

But it does has a very happy ending.

When Howard and Aviles walked the walk at graduation on a Thursday evening, Rosa had finally achieved two of her three personal goals. The first was to learn to drive and earn her license; the second was the graduate from OTC. The third was to get a job. Oh, and one more: On Friday night, she watched as her three children graduated from Missouri State University.

Now that is a job well done.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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