1. Why are you passionate about mentoring students into the industry?
The communities of inspirational individuals that are included in the WSNLA, WALP and Green Industry have continued to educate & motivate me. Growers, designers, landscapers and many others have become trusted colleagues and provided a connection to a fabulous group of people. The chance to give back and hopefully inspire the fact that this is a vibrant, thriving & fulfilling industry is my hope. Why not give students the inside information that there are ‘artisan’ growers, talented landscapers & others that really care about stellar landscapes? At the end of the mentoring line, a stronger industry is produced. Mentoring provides those new to the industry the opportunity to see what is possible and allows them to broaden their horizons. What we all hope for is a family that grows produce together or grandparents that enjoy sitting on their new patio or an urban dweller that loves their containers on their rooftop patio. Or maybe because of the mentor relationship, a newbie to the industry will advocate for greener cities, invent a gardening product or create a new line of plants that responds to a need not currently met in the industry.
2. How do you currently participate in guiding and mentoring horticulture students into the field?
Haven’t we all been inspired by an individual at a critical time in our career path? It is your turn to be that person for the next ‘generation’. Get involved in your local high school horticulture program and volunteer to speak, sit on the advisory board or judge the entries at your local fair. Youth organizations like the Scouts or Camp Fire might be a way to reach out and assist with landscaping projects either through offering donated products or expertise. Technical colleges that have horticulture programs often need job shadow volunteers. Local schools that have garden spaces often enjoy work party assistance and guidance. Be a sponsor for a youth related event or give a gift certificate for a service to a youth centered auction. Offer to buy a hort student a coffee and answer their questions. Schedule to assist during a slower part of your season. Being that person for the next ‘generation’ will end up a highlight for both of you.
3. When mentoring, what have you found to be valuable experiences for the student to experience?
Yes, tips of the trade and technical aspects are easy to share but the most challenging experiences and non-text book approaches while thinking on my feet is the stuff that is invaluable. We’ve all stepped in dog doo, tried to console a crying toddler while taking notes and sat through marital squabbles while on the job. Take a newbie to a challenging situation or client experience when you have a plan for success or tactic to attempt to give them the insight that they WILL need. Share your resources, colleagues and keys to the kingdom that you’ve built. Help them to find the unique aspects that they bring to the industry that will help them to excel and create a more diversified and vibrant career for all of us. Sharing your craziest ideas for novel approaches may give someone the striking point to run with their novel ideas.
4. When mentoring, what have you found to be valuable experiences for you as a professional?
Given the chance to share the process of starting a business and revisit the core values of my path allowed me the chance to assist in the early stages of starting a business and, more importantly, realize that the path hasn’t been as long or as bumpy as I had expected. Allowing me to take stock helps me to realize that there are new goals to set. It is also interesting to ask mentees approaches to various dilemmas, one can gain new approaches – learn of current trends – glean generational insight. And feel free to throw in that nugget of guidance that may make a world of difference to not only a future career but to that person.
5. As a student, did someone mentor you? If so, how did it impact your professionalism? Your confidence? Your connection with the industry?
Having the unique experience of ‘home schooling’ myself in this second career, my meeting with Tina Dixon after I met her as a speaker at a design seminar was an invaluable experience that helped me to feel like I did have unique talents. Lacking the ability to learn with others in a more formal setting was new territory especially when my training to become a high school science teacher involved years of education. Leaning heavily on my background in education and lifelong love of gardening and landscapes allowed me to create objectives and mini-lessons that were engaging and fun. Tina’s support and enthusiasm during the few hours that we met helped me to understand that I was on a good path, they business systems that I had in place were indeed important & that there was yet another incredibly caring person in an expanding world that I was entering into.
6. As an industry, how can we create a stronger relationship with hort students (of all levels)?
Students should be part of professional experiences in each and every business on a yearly basis. Interns can be guided by participating in smaller projects. Student organizations, such as student-WSNLA, should be a vibrant part of their educational experience and supported by industry professionals. Students should be sponsored at meetings, seminars & conferences. Students should have full voting privileges on boards & committees. Giving students these professional experiences early in their pre-career give them a leg up in the hiring process by producing active, interested & involved applicants. Hiring agents have a more highly qualified applicant with a strong working knowledge, valuable relationships already established & arrive armed with support from our industry.
7. Is there any additional content you would like to share with regards to this topic?
We are all standing on the shoulders of the individuals that came before us. Provide that support. Mentors do matter – take a step and assist!