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Ten Steps for a Successful Student Career Days

I teach in the Landscape Management program at Brigham Young University, and I have THE BEST job in the world! Really. For me, there is no better job than teaching students–students preparing to enter the Green Industry.In one week from this posting, 58 BYU students, four faculty and six professionals from our Grounds staff will board one 56-passenger bus plus one 12-passenger van plus one truck pulling a trailer. Destination: California. Purpose: The 33rd annual Student Career Days, hosted by Cal Poly Pomona and PLANET. Hey, does anybody out there know if there has ever been a larger group from one school??! While Career Days is technically only a 4-Day event, from my perspective it actually takes a full year of preparation in order to maximize success in a number of different areas–networking, competitions, team building, education, and yes–fun!. Here is my ten step program for having the most successful experience possible.

A few hours after taking 2nd Place overall SCD 2008

Step One: (This begins after or even during the closing award ceremony the previous year.) Appropriately coach the emotional students who are disappointed with the outcome of their competitions. The emotional intensity of serious competition can bring a very real sense of letdown during the awards ceremony. It is easy for students to forget at least temporarily that they probably have three internship offers, have made/strengthened new friendships and have actually had a great experience. Help them understand that disappointment is a part of life, that the future includes the realities that they won’t win every bid, that even the best companies are filled with imperfect people, and that even the best job on earth (see my first sentence above) has its bad days. Notice the photograph below. Disappointment is visible in several faces, even though the team placed 2nd overall! .

Because we attend church as a team later on Sunday, a lot of the emotional intensity is soon put into a proper perspective

It used to amaze me how students that underperformed in a competition one year would become some of our strongest competitors the following year. The spirit of determination and resolve to complete the hard work required for success is a powerful force in the making of a winner. Experiencing a degree of failure can ultimately contribute to even greater success.

Step Two: Many of our students have multiple internship or employment options to consider, and guess who they want to talk with to help with the decision-making? This lasts for about one month, and can easily consume 20 hours per week or more of my time following Career Days. These conversations are among the most rewarding I have, since through Career Days I know the students better and genuinely care about their success. As an educator, when students succeed, I succeed.

Career Days is like an Easter Egg HuntIn a way, coaching students in networking and the employment search is like helping my 4-year old grandson Blake find Easter eggs. Because Blake doesn’t know which of the plastic eggs has the best treats inside, he benefits by collecting as many eggs as possible. I can point in a direction to consider, but Blake has to do the work of picking up the egg and looking inside. Similarly, students need to talk with a lot of potential employers to mature in their understanding of what company and/or green industry segment provides the best fit.

Step Three. Find ways to remind students that their summer internship employment is not just about them. Every BYU student that follows will be viewed more positively or negatively as a direct result of his/her performance. In this same spirit, promote excellence by encouraging non-graduating students to prepare “exceptionally well” for one of the SCD competitions next year. Challenge students to set and achieve this and other worthwhile goals.

Step Four: Have a great Closing Social with the students. Our Landscape Management Club presidency totally runs this, so for me it is just a great opportunity to enjoy the highlights of the past school year. Encourage strong leadership in next year’s Presidency, whose members are elected during the closing social. The social includes a slide presentation with pictures of Career Days and all the other great activities during the year. Music that accompanies the slides should be a powerful reinforcment of the significance of life and the decisions we make. Go home and try not to get too emotional as I realize that, once again, the students that shared this season of their lives with me will soon be moving on. I thank God for my wife’s understanding embrace.

Step Five: Attend graduation, celebrate success with parents and families of our students. Share stories of the great times we had together–try not to cry too much in public.

Step Six: Work out all summer in order to keep up with the students that seem to get younger every year. Use the free stuff from Career Days.

Step Seven: Realize that the beginning of the school year is a time of great excitement and anticipation, and use this to maximize enthusiasm for Student Career Days. In the first couple of weeks of the school year, we send a blitz of e-mail messages and announce what Career Days is all about in all our classes. The Club Presidency plays a major role in this, as does our website: www.landscape.byu.edu

Every student who wants to attend Career Days is invited, but all complete an application and commit to excellence in fundraising, preparing for competitons, and networking. On the application the students indicate what they would like to compete in, and list reasons why they should be considered for a particular event. The selection of who gets to compete is made by the Landscape Management Club Presidency in consultation with faculty advisors. Usually we have so many students attend that not everyone can participate in a competition.

Career Days FundraiserStep Eight. We have to raise how much money this year???! The bread and butter of our fundraising effort comes from cleaning our football stadium after home games. The stadium seats 65,000 and fills up every game, but fortunately we only clean one fourth of the stands! With 50+ students, it takes about 3 1/2 hours to complete–rain, snow, cold, heat–whatever.

Now I know this isn’t exactly horticulture, but there are several benefits to this activity. Students get to know each other better, and that includes seniors and freshmen (who don’t take classes together). Students also get to know their professors and vice versa, and I never fail to remind them that their work performance in the stadium will be included in any recommendation I am asked to provide. Anybody willing to dive in and get the garbage cleaned up has demonstrated to me that they are capable of working in the (generally) much cleaner green industry.

Design/build fundraiserThis year we also completed a residential design-build project as a fundraiser. Students completed the design, installed an irrigation system, built a deck, and installed pavers and edging around the yard. Again, students gained valuable experience. Students were supervised by crew leaders who were practicing professionals or students that had a few years of experience.

Step Nine. Have fun along the way. Fun keeps us young. Enjoying life provides motivation to stay fit, eat right, and take care of ourselves. Last week I snow shoed with 16 students to the largest white fir tree on earth. It was high on a mountain and took four hous of hiking to reach. Of course, we are all busy during the day so we did the hike at night. Fortunately, our able guide (Max Darrington, BYU arborist extraordinaire) was able to lead us to the tree by 10:30 p.m., and I was home in time to teach my 8:30 a.m. class the next morning. Here we are just starting the hike.

We hike to the largest white fir tree on earth--SCD TrainingStep Ten: Logistics and Planning. I no longer can take any credit for this. The only thing I really planned during Career Days this year is a 100 meter race at 10 p.m. on Saturday night. You’re all invited. Anyone who beats me gets a free dinner on this professor.

When it comes to all the details that go into Career Days, I have to first thank my colleague Greg Jolley, RLA, who is orders of magnitude more organized than I will ever be. Thank you Jennifer Buck, Student Career Days Committee Chair, and Brett Lemke, Co-Chair. Thank you Anna Walraven, HCW. Thank you Fred Roth and your team at Cal Poly Pomona. Thank you Roy Peterman, Head of BYU Grounds, who along with your dedicated staff provide much of the “hands on” learning for our students. Thank you PLANET. (Oh gee Phil, you are starting to sound like a blabbering Oscar winner.) But seriously, our lives to a very significant degree are a reflection of all those wonderful people that we are privileged to know and work with. I am blessed to be associated with some of the finest people on earth.

Respectfully submitted,

Phil Allen, Ph.D., CLP

p.s. photo credits: Ryan Coburn, Amelia Anderson, Greg Jolley

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