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Competition day in Utah offers students hands-on learning experiences
Jill Odom | March 20, 2017
Students Participating in the Plant Installation Event at NCLC 2017

Three-man teams of students rushed to install plants and sod on their plots in the hour and 50 minutes provided for the plant installation event.
Photo: Jill Odom

While most individuals simply celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green, students from 60 colleges across the country observed the holiday by testing their green industry skills at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition on Friday, March 17.

The competition kicked off early at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, with some events, like sales presentation, running the whole day.

This year students were presented with a scenario where they were meeting with a branch manager of a local credit union for the ninth or tenth time about landscape renovations and a maintenance plan. Students had to present their design and then had 10 minutes to try to close the sale.

In order to place, students were required to ask for the check within the timeframe. Gravely, an Ariens company, sponsored the event and its representatives posed as the branch managers.

“About 15 percent of the students will close,” said JW Washington, director of business development for Ariens. “The amount who could close in 12 minutes would rise drastically.”

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Students competed in events from sales to small engine repair.
Photo: Jill Odom

The first student who came to pitch actually did not bring a design. Joshua Diaz, a construction management major from SUNY Delhi in New York, instead requested a $500 deposit as a design fee. He stressed wanting to build a relationship and doing a walkthrough first, but at the end of his time limit, he failed to receive a check.

When he chatted with the judges afterwards, he explained his unique approach.

“I’ve actually worked as an assistant manager in the past,” Diaz said. “We’ve never done a design just from a phone call or meeting. We always ask for a deposit first.”

Despite this reasoning, it didn’t help him in the end as he finished 36 out of 39 in the event.

“In my seven years of running this event, I’ve never seen someone not bring a design,” Washington said.

Outside the conference center, students were spread out assembling irrigation kits, driving trucks and trailers, practicing their landscape maintenance knowledge and operating various compact equipment.

For Patrick Tipsord from Southwestern Illinois College, the NCLC events provided him an opportunity to keep his equipment operating skills in tip top form. He competed in the tractor loader backhoe operation and the compact excavator operation.

During the tractor loader backhoe event, students were required to use the bucket to pick up a tennis ball, softball and soccer ball from cones and then place them in a trash can. Tipsord had competed in tractor loader backhoe last year, but the switch from John Deere machines to Case models threw him off as he wasn’t aware there was an extendible boom on it.

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It was Tipsord’s first time competing in the compact excavator event.
Photo: Jill Odom

The compact excavator event had two portions to it, with one focused on the skillful manipulation of boulders from one circle to the next without damaging the soil and the other on the speed and neatness a student could dig a foot-deep hole.

“As far as takeaways, practice time is definitely a bonus, if you’ve never practiced on it before you’re going to be very hard pressed to do really well on it,” Tipsord said.  “I have a little bit of background in it before I’ve operated the big ones so I felt pretty comfortable with my stick control.”

Even though competition is in NCLC’s name, for a majority of the students the event means much more to them than that.

“It’s been amazing,” said Rachel Dather, a student at Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. “It’s my first year in this competition, but I got to come last year. It’s different each year, but it’s also really similar, which is really fun to meet a bunch of new people who have the same inspiration and passion that you do about the environment and the green industry.”

The three-student team from County College of Morris in New Jersey competed in the compact excavator operation, irrigation assembly, skid steer operation, turf and weed identification, tractor loader backhoe operation, truck and trailer operation and landscape plant installation, but they still had time to meet professionals and learn from the workshops.

“I started my own business when I was a junior in high school and my kind of passion or career focus is just always been to continue to grow that and provide a better service and continue to build my own knowledge, or find crew members who have more knowledge about something I don’t know about just to build and provide an exceptional service,” said Doug DeAndrea, a landscape management and design major at County College of Morris.

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Students had to use teamwork on during events like the hardscape installation.
Photo: Jill Odom

Fellow student Marcelo Simone discovered the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance during the Career Fair on Thursday and admitted that without coming to NCLC he wouldn’t have known the organization existed.

“Since I became a member yesterday I’m technically the first member in New Jersey or north New Jersey, and they’re only six years old so it’s definitely a great opportunity. And I told them I want to help them out as much as possible, especially in our area,” Simone said.

The competition day wrapped up with the highly anticipated landscape plant installation with possibly the best weather it had seen in years.

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