New Degrees Highlight Landscaping Careers

New Degrees Highlight Landscaping Careers

Two associate degree options added to Horticulture program

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

This fall, Fox Valley Technical College added new options for Horticulture students interested in two different career pathways related to landscaping.

Instructor Rox Olesen and student Emmi Heikkinen were recently interviewed by Hayley Tenpas during WHBY’s Focus on Careers. They explain how the two new associate degree programs, Greenhouse Operations and Landscape Horticulture, differ from each other and what kind of interest the college has had since launching the programs.

Tap the video to listen to the interview or scroll down to read the interview transcript.


Tenpas: Welcome back to Focus Fox Valley on WHBY. It is time now for our Focus on Careers as we highlight careers of promise with Fox Valley Technical College. And today they are part of what helps our campus at Fox Valley Tech look so beautiful. They are helping teach people how to beautify things and work in the ever-important Horticulture world: growing things, growing food, growing everything, organizing it, making things look beautiful. They do it all. They do it all. And we have two voices with the Horticulture program at Fox Valley Tech joining us here today. First Horticulture instructor Rox Olesen, HI Rox.

Olesen: Hi and thank you so much for having us.

Tenpas: Good to see you. Also joining us here today is Emmi Heikkinen who is going to share more about working in the Horticulture field, then coming back for more classes and her journey as well. Hi, Emmi.

Emmi: Hi, Hayley. It is nice to meet you.

Tenpas: Nice to meet you, too. Let us just start by learning more about the roots of the Horticulture program and Rox, tell us a little bit about your career with the college and how long you have been connected with the Horticulture program.

Olesen: Yes, well, I have been with the Horticulture program… I started in 2003 as an adjunct, and myself and the other instructor that they had hired at that time, we built the program, and we started with a couple of certificates that rolled into the one-year technical diploma. And then about 2007, I was hired full-time. So, I have been there ever since.

Tenpas: Well, you mentioned the start of those programs. Have they grown now? Not just an associate program. You have a wide range of options from certificates to degrees. Tell us about the programs that are offered with the Horticulture program.

Olesen: Right. We have right now three certificates, just a series of 6 to 7 classes to let people see if they want, you know, just to dip their toes in slowly and to see if this is what they want. All of those then roll into our one-year technical diploma. So, they are all hands-on core courses. And then a couple of years later we developed our two-year technical diploma instead of an associate degree. These are all hands-on core courses.

Tenpas: Okay. There are two newer options I understand that have to do with all things landscape. Tell me more about it.

Olesen: Correct. We just launched two new associate degrees, one in Landscape Horticulture outside and one in Greenhouse Operations inside. What we found was a lot of the students that came for the two years had more of a focus… Like, I want to go outside, and I want to build things, draw things, and design things, but I do not want to work in the greenhouse. Or we would see the flip side, boy, I love to grow. I want to get in there, but do I have to go out and build construction? So, that is what set this off. This is the first semester, and we already have 14 in landscape Horticulture and 11 in greenhouse operations. So, it is fabulous.

Tenpas: And that is fabulous because it sounds like two very different skill sets that can be applied depending on which program you prefer.

Olesen: Correct.

Tenpas: Wow. One fun thing that people might not realize is that there is a lot of landscaping around Fox Valley Tech, and the students have a huge part in that. Can you share more about that?

Olesen: Correct. Right now, we just left where they were working on construction. So, we maintain the campus. The only thing that we do not do on campus is snow removal. That requires big trucks and things and everything. But yes, we do all the planting, all the weeding. We have a landscape maintenance class. We were just out this morning finishing our cutback. So, our program is very hands-on. We talk about it then we go out and do it.

Tenpas: So, if you are impressed by what surrounds Fox Valley Technical College you should be because it is beautiful. The students have their hands on all of that. Yes. Excellent, excellent. So, tell me about the typical student. Is it someone fresh out of high school? Is it someone who may be returning? Is it someone who just loves planting and gardening and wants to take some courses? What do you see?

Olesen: So, when we first developed our program, we had a wide array of different people coming right out of high school and returning adults. Then it swung more toward returning adults. And now in the last two years, we are about half and half with students right out of high school and returning adult students.

Tenpas: Fantastic. Well, I believe you fall into one of those categories. Tell us a little bit about what made you want to come back to school and study Horticulture. I understand you kind of had already been working in that industry. Tell us more of your story.

Emmi: I have been working in the industry. I am currently still working in the industry at a local garden center. I just have personal interests. I have always enjoyed gardening and being outdoors, spending time with my family, but a lot of the customers come in and they want you to design their whole yard for them and they do not understand all the dynamics of the plants.

And from my spot in the job market, there is no time to learn any of that, hands-on. So going back to the Tech has been a great opportunity, especially with Rox. A lot of the classes overlap. So, what I am learning in one for landscape maintenance applies to what people are doing in their yards right now at home. So, I can help with that, or it is late in the season. They want to plant while things are on sale, but why am I planting this and how am I planting it? And what do I need to put in my yard for it? All the landscape classes, the herbaceous classes, are planned out together and they overlap a little bit. So, it is not a ton of new class information. They relate to each other. You are doing it hands-on. It makes it ten times easier, and the teachers are out there with you doing it.

Emmi: So, it just encompasses the whole ball of wax to say that, you know, you are not alone. It is the 18-year-olds with you that have no experience that I am going to encounter in my job or the landscape companies that are there to learn some of their skills in that job. It is all around and it is fabulous. I'm so happy that I chose to go back there due to the amount of time and energy and love that the teachers put in and want to know that you're feeling what you're doing, you're enjoying what you're doing, and if you're not, the staff is so readily available to help you and try different avenues.

Nobody is hurt or offended, and you can just go and take the class you want today to see if you like it. You do not have to do a year or two of general studies. It is right there for you right now. You can. If I want to take a cooking class this semester, I can just take one. It does not have to be part of my curriculum. It does not have to be part of my program. And they are all okay with it. They are great. And they encourage anything that you want to try, and you want to do.

Tenpas: That is a great testimonial right there, Emmi. Thank you for sharing that. We must take a short break. But when we come back to where these students are headed… into our local landscaping companies and other job opportunities are out there for them as well. We will return with more of that after this.

It is our Focus on Careers taking up the last few minutes of Focus Fox Valley. Today we have Rox Olesen joining us, instructor with the Horticulture program, and Emmi Heikkinen also joining us here to share her experience as a student. But you know, this area for many people Rox starts as a hobby, a fun thing we do on the side. And as we look to gather more plants, we realize, oh, I could do this for a living. So, what skill sets do you see that make a good fit for this career in Horticulture?

Olesen: Anybody who likes to be outside, likes to work with their hands, is not afraid to get what we call dirty. You know, it is soil if we plant in it, but if it is on you, it is dirt, you know, and there is a wide variety of different areas that they can go into, into greenhouse growing, into landscape maintenance in design and construction. One of the newest things right now is we are starting to look toward what is going to happen in the future, whereas our populations are growing, and food scarcity is happening. There are so many ways to grow food, like in our hydroponics class we even delved a little bit into growing edible blue-green algae this past year.

Tenpas: Wow, wow. So, the sky is the limit, and you are looking into technologies that might not even be in our mindset.

Olesen: Correct.

Tenpas: Amazing. What about the local connection to employers? What does it look like out there?

Olesen: It is great. We have active, good advisory committee members from different areas of the industry we get together with. We just had our meeting last week and we talked about, you know, this is what we are looking at. What do you see in the future and what do you need? Because we are here to support you. So yes, we work well together.

Tenpas: Excellent. What would you say to someone considering coming back to school, considering Fox Valley Tech considering Horticulture from a student's perspective, what would you suggest?

Emmi: From a student's perspective? I, of course, would tell them to jump on board and come and meet everybody. And you could like us all and want to be part of the family out there. I think Rox says a lot when she is talking about the industry and where it is going. I know when you think about it, a lot of it has been a male-oriented career, you know, oh, you are tough. You are out in the yard, you are shoveling... And it does not have to be that anymore.

A lot of people I think are going back toward growing your foods, looking into -- there is a lot more following for organic. How can we do it more healthily… you know, we have been talking about the soil structures and the different microorganisms that grow in them you can focus on science and microbiology and just have it be something as simple as what is in your dirt, but it affects all of us.

You can, you know, we are trying to save the soil and soil erosion. And how are we wearing it down… just because you think it really might not be your area of expertise, taking one or two classes just to test the waters may open that up for you, and you'll be amazed by how many career choices you can find just from something as simple as the dirt. What is in your soil? What is in your water, how important it is, how it is absorbed, and how all of us make an everyday impact on that. That you can learn just from a little soil. Of course, you can have a specialty career for the rest of your life from shaking out your dirt in the backyard.

Tenpas: Amazing. It is one of those unique areas where you can take courses as a hobbyist or take courses to find a career. So how cool. Here we are sadly running out of time, but Rox very quickly if people are listening and thinking hmm, I would like to take a class or find a new career. How can they get in touch?

Olesen: Well, we have a very active website there at the college. You can call if you look us up at Fox Valley Technical College, look at careers, and you can see different career clusters… Horticulture, Agriculture, and Natural Resources are together. Click on that and you can see all the different offerings we have.

Tenpas: Fantastic Rox. Good to see you. Thanks for being here today, Emmi: Thank you to you as well.