A green industry resource

Photos Courtesy of Kyle Serman and Daniele Kidd.

Students learn hardscape construction procedures, along with turf and ornamental care.

Delaware Technical and Community College (DTCC), a fully accredited school, has locations in Wilmington, Dover, Stanton and Georgetown, with its agribusiness program centered at the Jack F. Owens Campus in Georgetown. It’s a great resource for those already in the industry to upgrade their technical and business skills, and is a great source of potential employees.

“DTCC is focused on serving professional development needs as today’s workforce faces fluctuating economic conditions and ever-advancing technology,” says Kyle Serman, department chair for applied agriculture technology. “For the green industry, we offer two-year associate degrees in turf management, landscaping and ornamental horticulture, and agribusiness management. We have one-year, two-semester, diploma programs in turf management and horticulture studies. We also offer one-semester certificate programs in turf management, landscape design, and plant and soil.”

The turf management program focuses on plant materials, provides in-depth knowledge of soils, pest control, irrigation equipment and upkeep, and offers students the skills needed to oversee irrigation systems, fertilizer programs and pest treatment programs. Students also learn a working knowledge of equipment operation and maintenance.

Within the associate degree program for landscaping and ornamental horticulture, students learn to propagate, grow and care for plants; plant structure and function; how soil and water influence plant life; greenhouse structure, design and operation; business and marketing; and operation and maintenance of equipment.

Students prepare the area for sodding. Students work together with somepreparing the area and others beginningthe sod installation.
Students piece the sections of sodtogether tightly to minimize seams. Students install sod.

Current enrollment figures for the associate degree programs number nearly 100. Students are intermingled within the classes, with the mix depending on when the courses are offered and the slots are available.

The state of Delaware has established a SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degrees) program, which provides free tuition at The University of Delaware or DTCC for high school graduates who have achieved a specific grade point average and meet all the prerequisites for college. Serman says, “It gives all students within those parameters the opportunity to better themselves and many of those right out of high school are using that avenue to prepare for green industry positions. Prior to the introduction of this program, our students were primarily those working in the industry or changing careers. Now, our average student age has dropped from the low 30s to the low 20s.”

The DTCC agribusiness department has new classroom facilities, new shop areas, new equipment and tremendous support from the industry. The department has established advisory committees for each of their program areas, which consist of professionals working within the industry and supplier representatives. Serman says, “We meet with each committee at least once, and sometimes twice, a year to make sure all aspects of the classes stay current with industry standards and needs. We also have our advisory committee members speak to our students about specific opportunities in their segment of the industry.”

Hands-on learning

DTCC strives to accommodate all learning styles. An individual could earn their associate of agribusiness management degree entirely online. Many classes within the other programs are also offered online, “but some may not have the computer skills to get the optimum benefit from the online courses,” says Serman. “Others prefer the classroom interaction even if they’re thoroughly familiar with all the computer applications they’d need. And, many of the classes require the hands-on experience to become competent.”

There may be up to five adjunct instructors teaching within the programs at any one time, along with Serman and another full-time DTCC instructor. The adjunct instructors include retired cooperative extension personnel and those actively working in the industry in various professional positions for independent businesses or major corporations, as well as business owners and operators. They may be leaving their “day jobs” at the same time the students in the workforce leave theirs, to meet together for the 5:30 p.m. start of evening classes. Minimum class size is 10, average class size is 25. Many of the hands-on classes are limited to a maximum of 20.

Students prepare the base for a walkwaythrough the greenhouse. The walkway is completed.

Serman says, “All of the adjunct instructors are experienced professionals and many have been in the industry for 30-plus years. They not only have knowledge on the horticultural level, but business expertise, as well. It’s essential in today’s economy to have sound production management and marketing skills and the ability to incorporate cost analysis into business operations. These industry experts tie all that real world expertise into their classes.”

The Owens Campus has a turfgrass lab where students are involved in the hands-on aspect of turfgrass management. They do the work on all the flowerbeds and ornamentals, as well as the golf course maintenance.

Serman says, “The students will become proficient in operating and maintaining all the equipment used within their segment of the industry, and they’ll understand the cost of operating each piece of equipment.”

Students within the landscape and ornamental horticulture program work with the design, installation and maintenance aspects. There is also a garden center on campus that operates year-round, marketing throughout the spring, summer, fall and the Christmas season. Each year, different classes work in the greenhouse handling all areas of plant production. Serman says, “They do everything an operating business would do, including the marketing and financial aspects. Before they even start production, they need to determine if there’s a market for each crop, if they have the resources to produce it in a cost-efficient manner, and what steps they can take to increase efficiency and produce a profit. Then they need to follow through on all of their planning processes and track the results.

“The active, hands-on involvement gives them the opportunity to experience what it takes to work within the various segments of the industry and determine if it’s the right match for their skills and abilities.”

Cooperative work experience

The associate degree programs consist of a 16-week fall semester, a 16-week spring semester, and a 10-week summer session, followed by another fall and spring semester. During the summer session, students are required to complete cooperative work experience. This session runs for a preset period, (usually 180 hours) with the student working under an approved supervisor at a preapproved facility. The student is paid by the facility and earns three credits during that period.

DTCC has developed a list of potential facilities for these sessions. Companies with openings may contact the college directly. The student may also set up the session through industry contacts. In all cases, preapproval is required before the arrangement is confirmed.

During the work experience session, one of the full-time instructors makes a site visit to meet with the employer and supervisor. The supervisor completes an evaluation. The student maintains a portfolio, which includes a written record of their experience, along with a photographic record and their evaluation from their perspective.

Serman says, “The student must meet certain requirements within the curriculum to complete the work experience successfully. Students generally work for the facility for the remainder of the summer. Some are offered a full-time position following their graduation because of their performance during this session.”

The walkway project continues.

Into the job market

Some of those within the certificate or diploma programs opt to return at a later time to earn their associate degree. The credits they’ve earned apply toward that degree. A percentage of each year’s graduates opt to move on to a four-year school and complete their bachelor’s degree. DTCC has an articulated arrangement with the University of Delaware for a connected degree.

The job placement rate has been 92 percent or better within the graduate’s field over the past 10 years. That’s more evidence that DTCC is meeting the needs of its students and the green industry marketplace.

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.