New Kid on the Block: Career College’s First Time at NCLC - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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New Kid on the Block: Career College’s First Time at NCLC

Photo: NALP/Philippe Nobile Photography

Alamance Community College (ACC), located in Graham, North Carolina, has participated in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC) for at least the past 20 years and even hosted the event in 2018. Yet this year was notable as their sister school, Alamance Community College – Career College, competed as a separate entity during the 47th NCLC.

The Career College provides education and training to adult individuals with cognitive, intellectual disabilities. The two-year certificate program helps students develop employability skills with four different tracks: greenhouse/nursery, medical, pet care and automotive.

Photo: NALP/Philippe Nobile Photography

“We call it career college because we’re trying to expose students to different career possibilities,” says Laura Miller, an instructor at the Career College.

While at the community college, there are individual courses on propagation, sales and marketing, and soil science, the Career College combines the most practical aspects of all those classes. For instance, in preparation for their spring plant sale, Miller’s students handle the propagation and care for the plants in the greenhouse and then market the plants for the sale.

Previously, three students from the Career College competed in the landscape plant installation event when ACC hosted NCLC in 2018. However, they did not participate in the rest of NCLC. The school had the opportunity to compete in 2022 at North Carolina State University, but Miller herself was competing and knew she couldn’t handle competing and being an advisor at the same time.

This year the Career College brought five students to compete independently from ACC.

Photo: Laura Miller

“We were really happy to be there,” Miller says. “The Career Fair was so awesome for them. If we had been dead last, just going to the career fair, and seeing all that was out there, that was huge. My biggest motivator was getting them to the career fair. I just wanted them to see what’s out there, what’s beyond Alamance County.”

Tony Galeana Avila, a first-year student with the Career College, says his favorite part of the event was meeting new people and going to the career fair.

In preparation for the competition, Miller’s students attended a training day hosted at Bland Landscaping and ACC hosted four study days as well. Miller says they could not have done it without ACC helping them out.

Miller says it was a very different world returning to NCLC as an advisor after competing herself.

Photo: Laura Miller

“It was one of the most special weeks of my life because I got to see it through their eyes,” Miller says. “Even the opening ceremony, they were blown away with the whole Tuskegee cheer. I was just so thankful. I didn’t feel like they were treated any differently and that’s a good thing.”

All the students say they felt welcomed, and Miller noted other schools taking pictures with them and exchanging names.

“I thought for one second that it’s going to be a lot of loud people, a bunch of different colleges from different states and schools,” says Jaylyn Roberson, a first-year student. “My prediction was right. It was a lot of people.”

There was a discussion of whether the Career College students should receive any special accommodations. Ultimately, they decided not to, and Miller says it provided a good baseline of where her students are at.

“We did pretty darn great just as is and the only thing I would ever love to see would be a chance for tests to be read out loud for students with learning disabilities,” Miller says.

Aaron Mitchell, a first-year student, competed in mini track loader operation and robotics & technology in the landscape. He says despite the rain, he was able to focus on the task at hand.

Photo: Lisa Stryker/NALP

“I was a little nervous at first, but it became a very exciting adventure for me,” Mitchell says.

During landscape plant install, the team struggled with having to take two different types of measurements for the placement of the plants, but Miller already has a game plan for next year.

“Next year, we’re going to play Battleship where you have to do the coordinates and that’s how we are going to approach plant installation,” Miller says. “Instead of sinking ships, we’re going to plant plants.”

Miller says NCLC also provided an opportunity for her students to do things independently, as several had never spent a night away from their parents or left their time zone. Jamille Hewitt, a second-year student, says his favorite aspect was exploring the campus.

“The experience though was great,” Hewitt says. “I really enjoyed myself.”

Photo: Laura Miller

Miller says 70 to 80 percent of her students could be trained for most landscaping jobs.

“Ideally, I could see my students working at a retail garden center or working for a farm,” Miller says. “Some of them are really interested in just planting; they love planting. I would love to see more of my students get into landscaping.”

Cevion Marsh Sheridan, a first-year student, says he hopes to work at Elon University’s greenhouse after he graduates.

“This is going to be a lifetime event,” Miller says. “It’s going to be something that they’re going to talk about for many years. This is just the most amazing opportunity.”

Miller says she wants the Career College to compete in the event again next year at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, on March 13-16, 2024.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.