Spring is college competition season. While most of the country was immersed in March Madness on the basketball court, college turfgrass and horticulture students took center stage at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC).
This year, Mississippi State University hosted 46 collegiate and university teams who traded their spring break to compete in the Olympics of the green industry. NC State’s HortPack took home ninth place amid rough weather conditions.
“We had 19 undergraduate students on the team this year, none of whom had traveled with us before due to the Covid pandemic and the fact that we hosted the event on campus last year,” HortPack co-leader Emily Erickson said. “It’s always fun to see them experience what other states have to offer and what other campuses feel like.”
NCLC is a multi-day student competition and networking event for two and four-year college and university teams from across the country. The National Association of Landscape Professionals manages the event. Students compete individually or as teams in hands-on categories like exterior landscape design, plant identification, robotics and technology in landscape design and maintenance, irrigation design, and more.
The Pack’s Winning Spirit
While the HortPack finished ninth overall, they won the team spirit award and had several great individual performances, including:
- Annual and Perennial Identification: Rhett Pasour (8th) and Andrew Pfeifer (10th)
- Business Management: Adam Miller (9th)
- Construction Cost Estimating: Andrew Quate (7th)
- Interior Plant Identification: Emma Jolly (5th) and Emily Eldridge (8th)
- Landscape Lighting: Daniel Wasserman (10th)
- Landscape Maintenance Operations: Matthew Ward and Nicholas Taylor (2nd)
- Maintenance Cost Estimating: Emily Eldridge (2nd) and Emma Jolly (7th)
- Mini Track Loader Operation: Andrew Quate (10th)
- Robotics and Technology in Landscape Design and Maintenance: Adam Miller (2nd)
- Woody Plant Identification: Rhett Pasour (2nd) and Andrew Pfeifer (3rd)
- Social Media Spirit: Hannah Ledford (1st)
“I would like to go into the installation side of the landscape industry, so I chose to compete in the hardscape install, mini track loader, and skid steer events,” said NC State junior Andrew Quate. “Adapting to the working conditions was the biggest challenge. Competition is rain or shine, and unfortunately, this year was rainy and muddy, making hardscape and plant installation even more challenging. But the memories we made were unforgettable.”
As an added bonus, three HortPack students took home industry-funded scholarships.
- Taylor Carpenter, Moore Landscape Scholarship
- Andrew Pfeifer, The Bruce Company Scholarship
- Rhett Pasour, Greenleaf Services Scholarship
Landscape Skills Training
To prepare for the competition, the HortPack and other North Carolina-based NCLC teams polished their skills at practice days held locally by Bland Landscaping and Alamance Community College.
Kurt Bland is the president of Bland Landscaping and NC State HortPack alumnus.
“At our practice day, students from multiple schools work side by side with our field managers and foremen collaborating to assemble an irrigation system or learning how to operate a piece of equipment. That could very well be the most valuable experience that comes from this day — how to be part of a team. They’ll bring those hard and soft skills into competition and hopefully into their careers.”
A Week of Green Experiences
The NCLC week is a horticultural deep dive. The HortPack team took advantage of their travel route to stop at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Bailey Innovations breeding nursery operated by NC State alumnus David Roberts.
HortPack co-lead Lis Meyer scheduled the behind-the-scenes tours.
“We always plan a few travel stops where students can learn more about potential careers in the horticulture industry,” Meyer said. “This year, we gave students a glimpse of careers in public gardens and nursery crop research and production. It was a chance for them to see the work they’d be doing at these places and talk to the people they’d be working for in person, which is much more meaningful than just reading a job posting online.”
In addition to NCLC’s on-site competition events, students enjoy an opportunity-rich networking event with industry recruiters from top green industry employers, including Stihl, John Deere, Caterpillar, Davey, Ferris, Gravely, and Husqvarna. It’s a prime event for career connections and even on-site job interviews.
“You’re there to compete, not necessarily to win,” Bland counseled students in advance of the trip. “NCLC is an immersive experience. This industry is a pretty small group that you’ll interact with repeatedly. The contact and relationships you make at NCLC will stick with you throughout your career. The week isn’t just about the competitions; it’s about life skills.”
NALP President Britt Wood presented the NCLC trophy to the 2023 winner Cuyahoga Community College. The 2024 national competition will be held at Bringham Young University – Provo in Utah.
NC State hosted the 2022 NCLC event on campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Hands-On Learning for In-Demand Careers
Searching for an academic path that leads to a career of impact? Consider crop and soil sciences or horticulture sciences. Our students learn from expert professors and experience hands-on adventures every day.
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