Top Companies Connect with Industry’s Brightest Students During 46th National Collegiate Landscape Competition   - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Top Companies Connect with Industry’s Brightest Students During 46th National Collegiate Landscape Competition  

It’s been two years since the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC) was held in person and the excitement has been tangible.

Hosted at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, the 46th NCLC officially kicked off on March 17. During the opening ceremony, several different leaders in the industry passed on their advice to the students.

Bob Grover, president of the board of directors for NALP and president of Pacific Landscape Management, encouraged students to fight through adversity and to lean in, as this is how opportunities appear.

Roger Phelps

Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager for STIHL Inc., the platinum sponsor for NCLC, pushed students to step out of their comfort zone and network, as the relationships forged at this event turn into lifelong friendships.

“They could be on a beach somewhere for spring break,” Phelps says. “They could be enjoying sunny weather instead of studying for an exam. The fact that they’re even here, what I and my colleagues are all feeling is there is real hope for the future because they get it.”

A total of 43 schools and 533 students attended this year’s NCLC and when the first-time attendees were asked to stand, the majority of the room got to their feet. Despite the vast majority of students attending this year’s event having no prior knowledge or experience with NCLC, their enthusiasm was unmistakable.

During the traditional roll call competition, North Dakota State University was named the winner by John Deere.

After the opening ceremony, students headed to the career fair in Carmichael Gym where landscape companies and manufacturing reps filled 98 booths waiting to talk to them.

If you asked just about any employer at the career fair what they were looking for, nine times out of ten the response was: everything. Companies across the country spoke with students and discussed everything from internships and summer jobs to full-time employment opportunities.

“If we get just one person, we’d be tickled to death,” says Charlie Schaul, president of Aridscape Utah, based in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

While some of the companies participating have been coming to the career fair for years, it was the first time attending for other businesses.

“It’s hard finding help,” says Rob Robinson, operations manager with New Leaf Landscape Construction based in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s hard finding educated people that want to do this type of work for a living. We’ve used every resource, so we figured we would give this a shot.”

Robinson says attending the career fair has helped them get reenergized.

“You start to lose hope in what we do,” Robinson says. “It’s nice to see kids that want to do this. It’s nice to see places like this to put on an event like this. Everybody has been very friendly, very helpful.”

Other companies that participated in the career fair had actually competed at NCLC themselves years ago. Daniel John, a landscape architect for Landvision Designs, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, says he competed back in 2003 and 2004 with NC State.

“It’s exciting because you get to see some familiar faces,” John says. “I’ve run into folks that I also competed with at NC State that are here now as professionals. It’s also exciting as I’m seeing universities that I’ve never heard of that apparently have really big programs. For us, that’s a huge pipeline that someday we’re hoping to tap, and it was neat to meet them.”

As for what the students were hoping to accomplish at the career fair, some were just curious to see what all paths are possible for them while others were looking to narrow down their internship and full-time job options.

“In less than six months, I’m going to be looking to sign a contract for somewhere so even thinking farther down the road, what am I looking for in my career and what companies are aligned with my values,” says Kate Schoenberg, senior at Kansas State University majoring in landscape horticulture. “A lot of them have some great company cultures that I’m really focused on and excited to find my place in the landscape industry.”

Christian Barker, a junior at Brigham Young University – Idaho, is currently trying to decide between landscape design and construction and pest control for his career.

Hannah Schoenegge, a senior at Owens Community College majoring in landscape management and design, used the career fair to scout for any company she could move to work for or nearby companies that offer internships so she can diversify her skills.

“First of all, you’re never going to get to talk to this many people in a room that are this passionate at once,” Schoenegge says. “If you need to network this is the place, it’s also just encouraging. You think that maybe it’s not going to turn out that well and then you see all these people who actually became huge self-starters and successes and it’s just inspiring.”

“I think it was a very successful event,” says Carynell Carlton, director of employee success at Milosi, based in Hendersonville, Tennessee. “It seemed like there were fewer students this year than what has been. But we talked to very quality students, very young in their career students that seemed to really eager and excited to learn more about the industry.”

The night before, on March 16, the NALP Foundation awarded 71 scholarships to hardworking students with a passion for the industry, bringing the total number of scholarships given out in 2022 to 85, totaling more than $132,000. This year’s scholarship reception was hosted by the Kevin Kehoe Family Foundation.

The President’s Scholarship, worth $5,000, was presented to Kristen McDonald with Columbus State Community College. McDonald is a landscape design and management major. She was previously a nurse but wasn’t finding peace in her career.

Kristen McDonald

After working on her godparents’ farm, they told her she could do a career in landscaping and McDonald got a job at Landscapes by Terra as a crew member. She attended an ONLA walkabout where Jim Funai was doing a diagnostic walkabout.

“I just feel like that was the day that it all clicked for me because the day I fell in love with the industry and I was like, ‘I want to be like you when I grow up and I want to do this and I want to learn more of it. I want to move up more and faster. How should I do this?’” McDonald says.

When she graduates, McDonald says she’d love to get into sales and design work on the residential side.

“It’s a nice place to start off at because you can do it on a smaller scale as you’re learning,” McDonald says. “I really like the fact that you’re doing this for a family and that they’re going to make memories out there. They’re going to enjoy things out there and I think after COVID everyone wants to make their home more comfortable, more enjoyable.”

McDonald encourages others to take advantage of the many scholarships available through the NALP Foundation and to explore the different career options in the industry.

“I think the green industry is great,” McDonald says. “We really have that family feel. We’re really all working on culture. We’re all working together. We all have that humanity, so I think it’s a very safe and good place for students. I think that there are so many different avenues and lanes and areas you can go into.”

A huge thank you to the many brands and companies who help support NCLC. None of this would have been possible without NALP’s partners.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.