Students’ Energy and Focus Stands Out During 48th National Collegiate Landscape Competition - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Students’ Energy and Focus Stands Out During 48th National Collegiate Landscape Competition

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Quiet focus radiated from the 650 students participating in 30 different competitive events at the 48th National Collegiate Landscape Competition, presented by NALP and powered by STIHL, hosted at BYU in Provo, Utah, on March 15.

As they created landscape designs on computers, identified various plant species and navigated various obstacle courses with machinery, students from 50 schools challenged their abilities.

“They’re having fun, but it’s very focused and they’re here to do something,” says Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager for STIHL. “They’re here to compete. They’re here to learn. They’re here to network.”

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

A mixture of newcomers and returning students made up this year’s competitors. Michigan State University brought 21 students this year, which is higher than the last time NCLC was hosted at BYU in 2017.

Marcus Duck, an instructor, advisor and program coordinator at Michigan State University, says NCLC is one of those events that he can talk about, but until his students get here and see it, they can’t truly understand how impactful NCLC is.

“It’s life-changing,” Duck says. “I was just telling my students when I competed when I was at Auburn, I really don’t think I would be where I’m at right now because it completely changed my path. I didn’t truly understand the industry until experiencing this. How big it is, how professional it can be. It’s just eye-opening and life-changing.”

This year marked the return of the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, which hadn’t participated since 2019. Susanna Derksen, a senior at Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture majoring in professional horticulture, says it was exciting to return.

“Ben’s in second year, so he’ll be coming back next year in his third year, and he’ll be more of a mentor and help the students next year who go,” Derksen says. “Just having a student being able to talk to other students about what it’s like, helping them to prepare, getting the study material back on track, all that stuff is really amazing that we can be here to help the students next year to go.”

First-time attendee Connor Salmon, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst majoring in landscape contracting, says his favorite thing about the event was how nice and happy everyone was.

“The competition, everyone stresses out, but after that, everyone’s just having fun,” Salmon says.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

It was also Damen Velez’s, a junior at College of DuPage majoring in horticulture business, first time attending the event.

“I love it,” Velez says. “This is a worthwhile experience. I had coworkers that always told me about this event and so I had an opportunity to go back to school and I took advantage of it. I entered in the competition and it’s been a life-changing event.”

Velez says he’s learned that networking is his best friend. He encourages more students to participate because NCLC is the opportunity to get out there in front of the people who are going to be in the industry for the next 15-20 years.

“You never know if it’s going to be the first time or the last time you see them,” Velez says. “I’ve had a great opportunity to see a bunch of people that I’d normally see in Illinois. Now they see me out here. It’s a lot more exposure. They introduced me to other people. It’s been a great experience so far.”

For many returning students, this year’s event was an opportunity to improve in events they competed in the past and test their skills in a new area.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Emily Galloway, a sophomore at Piedmont Technical College majoring in horticulture technology, competed in business management, sales presentation and the safety first events this year. While she had competed in business management last year, safety first and sales presentation were new for her, with sales being the most challenging event.

“I overcame four of the five hurdles,” Galloway says. “I needed 30 more seconds to be all squared away. But not knowing what to expect, not knowing what the hurdles are going be, and not knowing how to process the information that I was reading in the packet, I’m pretty proud of myself.”

Taylor Pulver, a junior at North Dakota State University, majoring in horticulture in the landscape architecture track, says it is her third year attending and she likes how her school’s team has grown each year. Pulver says participating in NCLC helps prepare her for the industry, specifically with networking.

“It’s one of my favorite parts about NCLC, getting to meet industry professionals, but also other people going into the field that I could be working with,” Pulver says. “You can only get so much learning and get so much preparation in school and in the classroom. This helps take it a step further it than that, where you’re doing stuff that you’ll actually be doing every day in the field.”

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Jenn Myers, executive director of the NALP Foundation & senior director of workforce development, concurs that NCLC is such an important event because, for so many students, it is their first time interacting with the professional industry and they get a taste of what it’s like when they go into the industry full time.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get that validation that what they’re studying is something that’s going to lead to something greater and that they’ve made a good choice,” Myers says.

Because this event is designed to be a learning experience for students, the competitive events are always evolving. For instance, the arboriculture techniques event added a limb walking portion on the ground as about a third of the participants experience tree climbing for the very first time at NCLC.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

“We wanted to make it safer so that there wouldn’t be the distraction of climbing,” says Brigitte Orrick, director of recruiting and employee development for Davey Tree Expert Company. “By putting it on the ground the fear of height is removed so you can still earn points that way.”

Industry professionals also love the event as many say the students’ energy is reinvigorating. Throughout the day, students cheered on their teammates as they worked through the event’s challenges, encouraging them.

“Every time I come here, I may be a little bit stressed out because we’re going into spring and summer season at work but I always come here, my cup gets filled up and I go back home motivated,” says David Grover, NCLC chairperson.

NCLC also serves as a time to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

“The personal thing that always gets me, because now this is my 23rd, is when I meet someone that I saw as a student 15 years ago, and is now running their own business and they say that this event and something that we did made a difference in their life,” Phelps says. “There’s a lot of different definitions of success but I think the best one is, ‘Have you helped anybody?’ In the end, all of us here can walk away knowing that we were successful because in some way, in different ways, we’ve helped someone succeed.”

Thank you to our elite partners STIHL, Stanley Black & Decker, Caterpillar and Aspire for supporting this event. Additionally, thank you to our Gold Partner, John Deere and all the other industry partners who help make NCLC possible.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.