Growing an Industrial Strength Program
How Landscape Horticulture works with industry
Matt Brooks, a landscape horticulture instructor at Dakota County Technical College, handles the design side of his program. Jeff Kleinboehl teaches landscape construction and maintenance. Both instructors are tops in their field, but they will be the first to tell you that a key property of any academic program is the depth of its connection to its corresponding industry.
“Our Landscape Horticulture program stays ahead of what’s happening in the world of horticulture through the expertise of our Advisory Committee,” Brooks said, “which is composed of a dozen or more professionals from all across the industry.”
Because horticulture is so far-ranging, the Advisory Committee offers expert counsel on such areas as landscape design, contracting, construction and maintenance, retail and wholesale nurseries and garden centers, greenhouse plant production, the environment and much more—all with the aim to keep the program’s curriculum fine-tuned to industry trends.
Another important purpose of the Advisory Committee is to provide students of the program with networking and internship opportunities, which are vital to building the relevant skill set and knowledge base required to hit the ground running as professionals in the workforce. Graduates are not only equipped with the tools the industry needs, but they are also already in the pipeline for jobs thanks to the contacts the program develops via the committee membership.
One long-standing member of the Advisory Committee is Tom Faust, the manager of the Landscape department at Bachman’s on Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. Established in 1885 and now one of the signature companies of the Twin Cities,Bachman’s is known for the high-quality service and products provided by its floral, home and garden centers—not to mention the company’s easily recognizable delivery trucks.
Faust oversees two major groups in his department, the professional landscape designers and sales force plus the professional landscape installers.
“The biggest part of my job is making sure the two groups coordinate well with each other,” Faust said. “We dance that dance all the time, and it’s always fun to see it all come together.”
Because finding employees can shift dramatically from very difficult to relatively straightforward, several years ago Faust contacted the Landscape Horticultureprogram at DCTC with the idea that the college could serve as a resource for outstanding employees when it came time to rev up for seasonal rushes. He’s been on the Advisory Committee ever since.
“I see my role on the committee as keeping the instructors informed about what’s new and cutting-edge in the industry,” he said. “That could be about equipment orAutoCAD, but right now the industry is looking at such critical issues as sustainability, water use in landscape design, including rain gardens, and the threat presented by the emerald ash borer.”
“I see my role on the committee as keeping the instructors informed about what’s new and cutting-edge in the industry.”
As Faust looks to the future, he sees the green industry entering a period that has been termed the “Golden Years.” He believes that the DCTC Landscape Horticultureprogram is preparing the next generation of graduates to enter the industry with the know-how to address the industry’s most pressing issues and be immediate assets in the workplace.
From Faust’s perspective, what separates the DCTC program from other programs are instructors like Brooks and Kleinboehl, who have the vision to keep their coursework responsive to industry needs. He also notes that DCTC students do uncommonly well on the MNLA Certification exam, which is notoriously difficult.MNLA Certified Professionals are in high demand in the industry—and statistics show that one out of 10 CPs in Minnesota passed through DCTC’s program.
Faust’s philosophy regarding the right makeup of a landscape designer has three qualities:
- Thorough knowledge of the technical and aesthetic aspects of design
- Strong aptitude for sales and positive interaction with coworkers and clients
- Exceptional organizational abilities
Suzanne Gappa, a seasonal landscape designer, is one of several DCTC grads who’ve found their home at Bachman’s. Gappa loves her job and exemplifies Faust’s threefold traits of what makes a solid designer.
Gappa didn’t start out in landscape design, but switched careers after working for a number of years as a fundraiser for a nonprofit in the Twin Cities, having earlier earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and Russian studies from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
“I’ve always had an interest in landscape design and plant materials so I decided to go back to school,” Gappa said. “I checked out the DCTC program and was impressed by the course offerings. Once I got started, I found the coursework fascinating and exciting.”
While at DCTC, Gappa joined the Hort Club, which brought in a regular series of prominent speakers from the Twin Cities horticulture community, further cementing the bond with industry. She was also on hand for the opening of a new, state-of-the-art greenhouse on campus, which added another powerful element to an already dynamic program.
“I love the variety I encounter on the job. Every project is different. I also like that we do great design projects with top-quality plant materials. We stand behind our work and are very responsive to the needs of our clients.”
Gappa stuck with the program and eventually landed a seasonal design internship at Bachman’s. She’s been with the company for four years, specializing in two areas of design, In-Store, also called DIY for do-it-yourself projects, and On-Site, which typically takes on larger, more involved projects.
“I love the variety I encounter on the job,” Gappa said. “Every project is different. I also like that we do great design projects with top-quality plant materials. We stand behind our work and are very responsive to the needs of our clients.”
Brooks and Kleinboehl share Gappa’s outlook regarding work, but would add that they also respond quickly to the changing academic needs of their students—and, of course, they stand behind the graduates of their program.
- Edward Plaster, former DCTC LAHT instructor
- Chad Hagman, Stars and Stripes landscape (DCTC Alum)
- Carol Hlavay, Switzer Nursery
- Douglas Owens-Pike, Energyscapes
- Jake Gregory, Brickman Group
- McCrae Anderson, McCaren Design
- Dale Connolly, former DCTC LAHT instructor
- Tim Winters, Winco Landscape
- Tom Faust, Bachman’s, Inc.
- Julie King, Sage Design
- Scott Shanesy, Artecka Companies
- Debra Enstenness, Landscapes by DAE (DCTC Alum)
- Dr. Bud Markhart, organic horticulture professor, University of Minnesota