Students Show Off Their Grit During 46th National Collegiate Landscape Competition - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Students Show Off Their Grit During 46th National Collegiate Landscape Competition

On Friday, March 18, 2022, students from 43 schools scattered across North Carolina State University’s campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, to compete in 31 different industry events as part of the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC).

“It’s just like taking a car for a test drive,” says Doug Halsey, chair of NCLC. “There’s no commitment and it’s a fun event. Most people that come back year after year, that’s what launched their careers in this industry was the fact that it’s a fun industry.”

Students exhibited their knowledge of how to safely operate in a tree during the arboriculture techniques event.
Photo: NALP/Jill Odom

The majority of this year’s participants heard about the event from their professors who had to replant the soil after two years of hosting the event virtually. This was the case for Christian Barker, a junior at Brigham Young University – Idaho. He wanted to grow in his knowledge of the industry and his professor told him how NCLC would help him get a better feel for the industry.

Barker competed in arboriculture techniques, landscape maintenance operations and the tractor loader backhoe operation events. 

“I really enjoyed preparing for the competition and getting introduced to heavy equipment,” Barker says.

John Devall, a faculty member at Eastern Kentucky University, says that it was a little bit of a challenge getting students interested in attending this year.

“Being on spring break, a lot of students want to go on their spring break, but we had 10 students that we brought this year,” Devall says. “There’s a lot of excitement coming back. I’ve been coming myself as a faculty advisor or a student. I think this is my 14th or 15th year so I’m happy to be here again and help cheer on my students.”

Events covered everything from exterior landscape design to construction cost estimating and challenged students’ hands-on skills in events like irrigation troubleshooting and truck and trailer operation.

Students exhibited problem-solving during the irrigation troubleshooting event.
Photo: NALP/Jill Odom

“It’s just a good opportunity to figure out what you want to do in the industry,” says Nate Fairwell, a junior at Brigham Young University – Idaho majoring in horticulture. “There’s just so many different options, and competing at an event, taking the time to study for couple weeks and learning, ‘Oh, I thought I wanted to do this and now I don’t like it,’ or ‘I thought I wanted to do this and I actually love it.’”

In the truck and trailer operation event, LandCare brought their rigs from their Charlotte branch, which are larger than the trucks and trailers that have been used in the past.

“It’s just an exciting event amongst the entire competition and something that we wanted to be able to one, show off our vehicles and help the kids out but just have a great presence out here, whatever we can do to help out,” says Allan Gunter, Charlotte branch manager for LandCare.

Students navigated a winding course of cones during the truck and trailer operation event.
Photo: NALP/Jill Odom

The obstacle course features cones and a diminishing corridor that landscape crews would have to navigate while out on the job. It also has a toy duck the driver has to avoid running over.

“The duck is there as a kind of a real-world obstacle within the road,” Gunter says. “There is a way to drive through the street there without hitting the duck. They just have to position the truck and trailer around the duck without hitting it to lose any points.”

The landscape companies and suppliers who participated in the event see NCLC as a way to invest in the future leaders of the industry and a way to help these students grow in their skills and become more professional.

“I think if I was a contractor or supplier, I would come and I would get to know these young people and recruit them,” says Britt Wood, CEO of NALP. “I’d also come in and think of it as a fresh restart for myself as you go into your busy season in April.”

Events like tractor loader backhoe operation tested students’ skill to scoop different-sized balls and place them in various buckets.
Photo: NALP/Jill Odom

This year also featured the new event, Safety First, sponsored by SiteOne Landscape Supply. This event has a written and a physical test. The physical test includes a vehicle inspection and the students are watched to see if they’re coming off the equipment correctly and if they can identify unexpected elements such as a chemical spill.

“It’s not just the safety of equipment, but it’s your physical body,” says Michele Posehn, senior manager for diversity and early talent initiatives and West recruiting for SiteOne Landscape Supply. “In our workshop, we talked about how many injuries happen and what that financial cost is to a company.”

At the end of the day, the highly anticipated landscape plant install event was held. Teams of three were cheered on by their classmates as they worked to make the provided design a reality.

Due to an abundance of rain the two days prior, some of the plots were incredibly muddy making this event even more challenging for some teams. Despite the mud, these teams soldiered on and made the best of the situation.

The landscape plant install came with the additional challenge of muddy plots.
Photo: NALP/Jill Odom

“I got to learn a lot more of the hands-on knowledge, getting more familiar with the tools and the equipment that we would use in a professional setting,” says Zachary Nixon, a senior at Illinois State University majoring in horticulture and landscape management.

Chris Graham, a junior at Colorado State majoring in landscape design and contracting encourages other students to participate in NCLC if they can.

“Just try it,” Graham says. “You might as well since it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity while you’re in college.”

Thank you to the partners who made NCLC possible.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.