It was a crisp, clear day on the Mississippi State University campus Wednesday, as students from across the country sprawled on the grass with their gear and prepared to learn more about landscaping and participate in a number of hands-on activities.
One of their volunteer instructors was Rip Tompkins, co-owner of ArborMaster Inc. in Willington, Connecticut.
Tompkins has been working in arboriculture for 30 years. And for the past two decades, he has been training people at events like this week’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition.
The annual event is managed by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, with support from a number of corporate sponsors.
The arboriculture training was sponsored by Husqvarna and ArborMaster.
Not surprisingly, safety was the first thing Tompkins stressed in the lesson, reminding the students that they should never take unnecessary risks.
He also discussed how important communication is on a tree job site.
Tompkins used the acronym HOPE in explaining how he prepares for work on trees. That preparation involves looking for “hazards” and “obstacles,” as well as by “planning” ahead and ensuring he has the right “equipment.”
He demonstrated a number of throw line techniques for the college students and shared some of the practical knowledge he has gained during his career. Later, during the second half of the workshop, students began attempting to climb themselves.
Among the other classes students could attend on day one of the 40th National Collegiate Landscape Competition, which wraps up on Saturday, were sessions on operating skid steers and backhoe-loaders.
New Holland provided one of its B95C backhoe-loaders for the event and a number of students were eager to try their hand at operating the equipment. The video below shows one future landscaper accepting the challenge of moving three balls of various sizes from stands into a plastic container.
Caterpillar had two 262D skid steers on hand, each sporting different attachments, to give the students a chance to test out various controls and get a feel for the machines.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Starkville campus, Hunter Industries and Ewing Irrigation led irrigation workshops, breaking down the different products typically used by irrigation contractors and which ones are capable of conserving water better than the typical fixed spray head.
“We are the stewards of water,” said Lynda Wightman, industry relations manager for Hunter Industries.
Other students participated in a workshop on identifying wood ornamental plants, traveling around the campus and taking note
of the wide variety of plant life to be found at MSU.
“It’s a great opportunity to network and meet with other students in your industry,” said Sandy Serna from Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois. “I’m excited to meet potential employers. Plus, you get to see jobs you didn’t even know existed.”
Along with the workshops, students could visit with representatives of some of the event’s sponsors, including Stihl, Husqvarna, Toro, Gravely, Caterpillar and John Deere. The companies were set up to greet students and give away free merchandise.
On Thursday, landscape contractors from throughout the country will be on campus to participate in the career fair. Also on Thursday, students participating in the competition will attend event briefings for the different tests.
The competition among participating colleges will be held on Friday. Here’s the video: