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Sami Nickerson: Nursery Knowledge to Plant Sales

Sami Nickerson, Horticultural Science alumna and Pender Nursery Saleswoman.
Sami Nickerson, Horticultural Science alumna, and Pender Nursery regional sales representative.

Sami Nickerson, a spring 2022 alumna, moved nearly 1,000 miles from Thiensville, Wisconsin to NC State and discovered a new path and enthusiasm for plants. Nursery opportunities came knocking quickly after Nickerson switched her degree to horticulture production systems and entrepreneurship, with a minor in plant biology. As part of the undergraduate program experience, Nickerson, like other undergraduate students, was encouraged to participate in mock interviews and internships. A mock interview translated into a full-time job while attending the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

What inspired you to study horticulture?

Before I came to NC State, I thought that I wanted to be a teacher, so I was enrolled in that program for my first semester. It wasn’t a field I was passionate about, so I started my search for another program. I realized that I loved plants and was actually pretty good at keeping them alive back home in Wisconsin, so I decided to give horticulture a try. The first class I took was “The World of Horticulture” with Professor Brian Jackson, and whenever I think about the start of my journey in this industry, I attribute it to him. His class inspired me to keep taking classes and because of this, I discovered that I excelled in all things plant-related and it was something I was really interested in and passionate about.

How did you learn about your internship?

I found my internship through one of Helen Kraus’ classes, which has also been a major part of the success of my journey so far. I set up mock interviews with Biltmore and Pender Nursery to get experience with the interview process. We were encouraged to ask about internships in the mock interviews. While speaking with the Pender Nursery’s local general manager, Ariel Montañez, offered a 10-week internship opportunity in May 2020.

What roles or responsibilities were you given?

I spent 10 weeks in the nursery learning how it operated, and every few weeks, I would switch to a different part of the nursery. I started out as a field tech, then went to potting, then production, propagation, inventory and pest management, sales and shipping, and then I completed my internship project. For my project, I chose to help with the tag room, where all picture tags are kept for the branded material that we sell. I cleaned, painted and re-organized the room to become more functional and efficient for the field techs. 

What was the most valuable thing you learned or experienced?

The most valuable thing I learned from this experience was how all aspects of a nursery contribute to the running and operating of the facility. Without one part, the entire business can be impacted. I also really enjoyed getting to work with each group and it helped me get a good idea of how important everyone’s job is. I also made some friends along the way. 

How has your internship prepared you for your future career?

After the internship was completed at Pender Nursery, I was asked to stay on as a field tech and I happily accepted. I’ve since moved my way up from field tech to sales. I now work in the South Carolina, Western North Carolina, and Tennessee territories, and I love it. Sales is something I never thought I’d do, but I’m glad Pender Nursery gave me the opportunity because I really enjoy it and I love working with my customers.

Do you want more information about our horticulture programs?

If you are a student interested in plant production systems and entrepreneurship in horticulture, be sure to check out the undergraduate programs for two- and four-year students.

Explore the Department of Horticultural Science’s student career experience database and find your internship opportunities in landscaping, gardening, lab research, and more. If you are seeking to host a horticulture student internship, view the employer career experience database.

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