Kirkwood Community College
Hands-on learning for the green industry
|Photos Courtesy of Troy Mcquillen.
|A student tackles the mowing on the
sloping hillside with a ride-on, triplex mower.
||Hands-on classes give students
experience in a wide variety of lawn
and landscape applications.
The horticulture department
has been active and growing at Kirkwood Community College (www.kirkwood.edu)
since 1968, just two years after the school was established in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. It continues to blossom, with an $8 million investment in
new, up-to-date facilities, including high-tech greenhouses, classrooms and
shop and an extensive outdoor lab. An expanse of 32 acres to the west of
the facility is slotted for future development, which will include a tall
grass prairie, wetlands, a tree nursery, turfgrass test plots and research
space for herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees.
“It’s all about equipping students for the
real world situations they’ll encounter,” says Turf Instructor
Troy McQuillen. “To accomplish that, we take a hands-on approach to
all aspects of the horticulture programs. We call it ‘applied
communication,’ and it involves all the senses—seeing,
touching, feeling and smelling. So, our greenhouses, shop and outdoor lab
are essential components of the learning experience.”
Kirkwood CC offers four horticulture programs. The
first, golf course and athletic turfgrass management, involves hands-on
development and maintenance of grounds, sports fields and golf courses.
Classroom and lab work combine to cover design, installation and
maintenance of turfgrass systems; best management practices using cultural
and chemical controls; installation and maintenance of irrigation systems;
and operation and maintenance of turf equipment.
All four of the programs include a focus on computer
literacy, team building and leadership responsibilities, and written and
The second program, landscape, nursery and garden
center management, combines hands-on outdoor and greenhouse experience with
classroom and lab work to cover identification, care and use of plants;
landscape design and construction; insect, disease and weed identification
and control using best management practices; and operation and maintenance
The landscape maintenance program combines the
turfgrass and plant components of the first two programs to cover landscape
design and construction; turf and plant identification, use and care;
irrigation system installation, maintenance and repair; pest identification
and control following best management practices; and equipment operation
|Students learn the art of
working together as a team, as well
as correct procedures.
|Students work with pull-type
and tractor-mounted attachments.
The parks and natural resources program focuses on
preserving and maintaining natural resources. Hands-on indoor and outdoor
lab work and classroom sessions combine to cover design,
construction/installation and maintenance of campgrounds and lakes;
identification and management of fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and
nesting and game birds; maintenance of plant and turfgrass systems, erosion
control; maintenance of park facilities; and equipment operation and
All of these programs lead to an associate degree
following a two-year, four-semester format, combined with a 192-hour paid
internship during the summer between the two years.
Making it work
McQuillen says, “We currently have close to 240
students in our horticulture programs. Approximately 90 percent fit in the
traditional category, carrying a full class load and planning to earn their
degrees in the standard two-year time frame. The remaining 10 percent are
nontraditional, generally older students who are either upgrading their
skills or changing career paths, but that mix changes all the time, with
job layoffs and people interested in retraining. Most of our students in
both categories have part-time or full-time jobs, are parents or have other
family commitments, and have other outside activities. Our programs must be
flexible enough so they can be tailored to each student to make it work for
The department accomplishes that flexibility with a
combination of day and night classes and a staff of six full-time faculty
members and eight adjunct instructors.
“We also offer the certificate option in each of
the four programs,” says McQuillen. “The student works with
their advisor on class selection and scheduling to tailor a one-year
program that fits their needs and meets the class and credit hour
requirements. Individuals also can sign up for a single class within any of
the programs if they wish, but most of those already in the workforce will
pick up classes in communication, leadership or computer literacy through
our extensive continuing education programs.”
|Students gain hands-on
experience in turf maintenance, such as
the core aerification project shown here.
||Students reworked the
mound and home plate areas of the
baseball field and the skinned area
of the softball field this past year.
Instructors strive to treat the classes like a work
environment. Students must be on time, pay attention and be prepared to
have random tasks that must be completed. McQuillen says, “Anyone who
works in the green industry needs to understand they are going to get dirty
at times, and they’re going to be working outside on days when
conditions are far from pleasant.”
Sixty to 70 percent of his class time is spent outside.
He says, “I mix inside and outside class time. We may spend 30
minutes indoors talking about the basics of mowing, then move outdoors to
examine and operate both reel and rotary mowers. Even if the entire class
is indoors, I’ll mix the formats, maybe lecturing for 30 minutes,
then giving them 30 minutes of computer lab time to research the topic;
then 30 minutes of group discussion or work on a project.
The on-the-job training through internships is a key
element of each of the four programs. Some internships are set up through
the job fair Kirkwood CC holds each year. Companies and facilities in the
area are invited to participate. Other companies and facilities contact the
college when they have internship openings. Close to 40 percent of the
students line up their own internships through the networking resources
they’re encouraged to develop.
The formal internships are the equivalent of six weeks
and are completed by the second week of April. During that period, their
supervisor fills out a biweekly evaluation and the intern keeps a daily
work log. The faculty member overseeing that program will meet with both
the student and the supervisor by week five to discuss the student’s
progress. The supervisor is asked to assign the student’s grade at
this point, though it could be adjusted early in week six. The final
internship grade must be posted by the end of week six.
McQuillen says, “The biggest problem we hear from
supervisors across all four programs is the students don’t ask
questions. We find the students do need time to become accustomed to the
environment and get used to the management style and operational details,
but most students continue to work under their supervisor for the remainder
of the summer, often developing a great working relationship, and earning a
raise in the process.”
|Part of the program
includes gaining experience in
equipment operation during the
performance of standard maintenance
procedures. Here students
handle the offset setup for the John
Deere TC125 collection system.
|Students load topdressing
material and use the Dakota 410
Turf Tender to apply it.
For each program, horticulture faculty members work
with an advisory committee, which involves people from all aspects of the
industry and includes business owners, facility managers and vendor
representatives. Traditionally, these meetings have been held once a year
to review the programs, compare existing classes to the course objectives
and to relevant industry advances, and make changes as identified.
McQuillen says, “As we prepared to move into our new 21st century
building, we felt it was essential to upgrade our programs, too. The past
two years, we’ve met with our advisory committees two or three times
each year to fine-tune each of the four programs to make sure
we’re hitting student and market needs. We’re including
feedback from current students and recent graduates, too.”
Some changes resulting from this process are minor;
others add new classes or new areas of focus. For example, athletic field
maintenance was added to the golf turfgrass management program as area
schools and park systems recognized the need for professional management to
protect their field resources and provide greater safety and playability
for their athletes.
“Each of our programs has similar connections,
providing avenues for those students who complete their associate degree
here and move on to a four-year school for their bachelor’s degree.
Our parks advisory committee has determined that students in that program
will be more successful if they do pursue a four-year degree. Our other
three advisory committees have confirmed that our graduates can get good
jobs with their two-year degrees and be very successful. However, we do
provide full support and encouragement for those who do wish to complete a
four-year program in those areas.”
Students learn that the quality of the follow-up work after procedures such as verticutting makes a huge impact on the effectiveness of the procedure.
|Students replace sod
around the mound.
||Off-campus field trips give students the opportunity to see how other facilities are set up and managed. Here the class visits the baseball field of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Class A affiliate of the Angels.
Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a
communications and market research firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has
been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.