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Meet the competition: Illinois Central College battles against the odds
Jill Odom | March 17, 2017
People competing in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition

Pictured are front row from left to right Josh Lawson, Colton Estey and Whitney Woodward. In the back row from left to right are Corinne Brown, Andrew Waller, Norman Bolton, Josh Waldmeier, Jeff Rodger and Joel Rieker.
Photo: Jill Odom

Of the 61 colleges and universities competing in this year’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition there are institutions of all sizes, but they all share a passion for educating students about the green industry.

One of the great things about NCLC is that there are no division titles separating the four-year colleges from community colleges, so they all participate on the same playing field.

Illinois Central College (ICC) is a community college based in East Peoria, Illinois, and it has been participating in NCLC since the 1980s. This year a team of 14 students and two faculty members traveled out to Provo, Utah, to put their skills to the test.

ICC also likes to bring its horticulture and landscape management students out to NCLC to show them that they are not alone; 700 other students are on the same career path as well.

While ICC certainly doesn’t have the largest contingent, it will be well represented during competition day as it is participating in every event, bar a few.

“With a couple of the qualifying events we didn’t get past into the final round, but otherwise with our 14 students we’re bringing, each are doing four or five events,” said Corinne Brown, horticulture instructor at ICC.

ICC has had some individual successes in the past with the hardscape installation team taking home first place two years ago and another student placing first in skid steer operation several years back.

Brown’s goal is for ICC to place in the top 15 schools, but she was told the top 20 is more realistic. Community colleges are a bit of an underdog due to the fact their students can only attend NCLC twice.

“One of the difficult things with any competition, especially when you talk about colleges, is how the four-year schools have a lot more opportunity to be here several times,” said Joel Rieker, an adjunct instructor at ICC. “We have three students who have been here before and they’re never going to be coming again, so this is their second and final opportunity. Where in a four-year college they can come four years consecutively and so that’s a struggle, but at the same time it’s really cool to see us be competitive and yet not have very much experience in this specific competition.”

Returning for her second year, horticulture major Whitney Woodward will be competing in exterior landscape design, interior landscape design and sales presentation.

“Last year she’d never done interior,” Brown said. “We don’t teach it as part of our program. I said ‘Just go, you’ve got good drawing skills. Let’s see what it’s like and how it plays out,’ and we placed pretty decently, you know run of the mill last year. And we’re back this year hopefully to improve upon that.”

While the students have been studying diligently and are hopeful to pull out some wins, NCLC means much more to them than just competition.

“NCLC means an opportunity to create a stronger unity between my colleagues and friends and learning how to work as a cohesive team,” said Norman Bolton, one of the ICC students.

Colton Estey, another student who is returning this year, has enjoyed being taken under the wings of some of the arboriculture experts on campus.

“I’ve learned so much just from one competition,” Estey said.

When asked if they would recommend NCLC to other landscaping students, it was met with a resounding response of: “Absolutely.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not pictured are fellow ICC students Ava Alford, Alec Gonzalez, Josh Millow, Kyle Barrow, Lori McIe, Quinn Murphy and Robert Ateman. 

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