Landscape management students at Brigham Young University and Brigham Young University-Idaho have participated in an annual national competition sponsored by Professional Land Care Network, or PLANET, a trade association that represents professionals in the landscaping field, since 2003.
BYU or BYU-Idaho has placed first in nine of the last 12 competitions, competing with more than 60 other schools in the country. This year, BYU was first overall and BYU-Idaho was second. In addition, both schools consistently rank in the top three landscaping management programs.
“Wining to us is just a byproduct of the fact that we’re following our mission statement,” said Phil Allen, a professor of landscape management at BYU.
That mission statement guides the BYU Landscape Management faculty in seeking to provide students with “the best overall undergraduate education in landscape management.”
BYU and BYU-Idaho are two of only 10 four-year schools in the country that offer accredited degrees in landscape management. The remaining schools that BYU and BYU-Idaho compete against during the PLANET Student Career Days, according to Allen, are those that have not yet met the requirements for accreditation but are still allowed to compete.
Students who graduate with a degree will be doing much more than planting flowers and mowing lawns. Landscape professionals design, build and manage many of the outdoor and indoor environments that people use every day, from parks to hotels, golf courses to shopping malls, business offices to temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I think too often people consider our major as a 'professional lawn mowing skills major,' but it’s more than that," said BYU student Levi Johnson, who is currently interning in Washington, D.C. "To me it is about understanding science, understanding the business aspect and understanding art. When you are successful at all three of these fields you are a successful landscaper. You have to wear those three hats at once and be good at it."
Landscape companies from all over the country have taken notice of the students at BYU and BYU-Idaho, according to Allen.
“(Students) are able to compete for the best internships in the country," Allen said. "And then when they get the best internships in the country they get the best jobs after they graduate.
It’s a reinforcing system from students maximizing their potential, and I’m driven to make sure that every one of our graduates who wants a job can get a job."
Allen points to the fact that BYU and BYU-Idaho give students first-hand experience.
“Here (at BYU), we have a world-class campus from a landscape standpoint, and our students get hands-on experience while they’re working for grounds," he said. "Not only are they gaining excellent instruction in the classroom but the entire campus is our classroom.”
BYU-Idaho has a similar philosophy.
“To facilitate hands-on teaching and learning the department has a five-acre garden and a five-acre orchard," said Reese Nelson, professor of horticulture at BYU-Idaho. "We talk about pruning, or constructing a paver patio, or growing vegetables, and then we go and practice the newly learned skill in the garden."
Despite competing against one another each year during PLANET’s Student Career Days, BYU and BYU-Idaho students and faculty get along well.
“You could say that we have a rivalry, but we’re going to church after the awards ceremony together, and we’re having testimony meetings together, so if it’s a rivalry at all, we’re helping each other out,” Allen said.
The students and faculty also have a strong bond. According to Nelson, 230 students are majoring in the landscape management degree at BYU-Idaho. At BYU, 125 students are currently majoring in landscape management but more enroll almost every day, according to Allen.
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“The people in the major are all amazing, hard-working and so much fun," said Katie Hawkins, a landscape management graduate from BYU. "I have made some of my closest friends in this program and will keep in touch with them for life."
Whether the students focus on designing, building or maintaining and managing landscape projects, the purpose is to help people recognize the beauty around them.
“(Students) are making the earth a more beautiful place for people to experience life,” Allen said.