At this year’s 45th annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC), 600 students from 40 schools participated in virtual industry challenges, networking with green industry companies and more. With over 1,000 attendees, 58 career fair companies and 19 sponsors, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) says this year’s event was a success.
“While we were disappointed not to be at Virginia Tech for NCLC 2021, we were thrilled with the interest in this year’s virtual event,” says Jennifer Myers, NALP senior director of workforce development. “We were able to create virtual versions of many of the aspects of the event, including the career network and challenge events, giving it the feel of the in-person event.”
According to Britt Wood, NALP CEO, the association was overwhelmed with the response from green industry partners, companies and students for this year's NCLC. Wood reports that this year's attendance came close to their normal in-person number, which he says is "amazing for a virtual event."
“Stihl has been proud to be the lead sponsor of this event for over 20 years,” says Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager Stihl. “Nowhere else is the future of the industry better represented than at NCLC, and this week was a terrific experience. While we all still miss the live event and look forward to when we can meet in person again, we were especially pleased that there was such strong support for the virtual event from students, faculty and the industry.”
Dr. Traci Carr, a senior at Shasta College studying horticulture and landscaping, attended NCLC for the first time this year and says she thoroughly enjoyed the event.
“Although I have not attended NCLC before, I have used other virtual platforms and attended conferences through them,” says Carr. “My favorite to date is NCLC. They used a platform that was accessible 24-hours, competition was built-in and video conferencing was available within Juno. NALP made it very easy to participate.”
While chatting with green industry professionals, Carr says she was introduced to the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, and she plans to join the group in the future.
Carr says her favorite aspects of the event were the student workshops and the career fair, as she was able to make connections and network with fellow students and green industry professionals.
After college, Carr says she hopes to begin working with a landscape design company, and on the side, she would like to open up her own landscape design and boutique nursery.
“Attending NCLC enables students to gain in-depth knowledge in smaller chunks of information, participation develops their online communication skills and it gives them the opportunity to meet with and learn about others living and working throughout the world,” says Carr.
Carmen Kesteven, HR manager with Environmental Enhancements, Inc., says they proudly returned for their fourth year with NCLC ready to work with the virtual platform. During the event, Kesteven says their goals were to promote their new internship program, as well as develop partnerships with faculty members.
“(Participating in events like NCLC) helps promote our company and puts our name out there,” says Kesteven. “There are many students and faculty that may be interested in finding out more about EEI and events like NCLC helps us do this. NALP’s support to accomplish our goals is very much appreciated.”
Kesteven says she enjoys being able to talk and network with interested students during these events, and hearing about the goals and plans of the students is “very humbling” to her.
When advising students, Kesteven says she encourages them to know what they are looking for, to set up realistic goals and plans, to be ready to make changes and adapt and, above everything, to have a great attitude.
“A great attitude will take you a long way,” she says. “We at EEI consider the ideal team player as someone who is humble, hungry and smart.”
Franziska Collier with Cuyamaca College says this was her second NCLC, and she enjoyed the virtual platform of the event, as her college isn’t always able to afford travel expenses associated with the in-person event.
“I loved the newness of the virtual experience,” says Collier. “Especially positive was the ability to connect with people from all over. Taking advantage of educational workshops on demand was a plus and I will always remember my 4-year-old son studying with me. It was 5 am and we watched the Plant Problem Diagnostic, as it showed pests under the microscope.”
During NCLC, Collier says she was able to connect with numerous industry professionals to discuss topics such as robotics, tool adjustment possibilities for females or workers with smaller hands and sustainability practices in the green industry.
Throughout her talks with professionals, Collier says the advice she received time and time again was that persistence does, indeed, pay off. She says they also told her that students do not need to be afraid to clearly state and share what they want from the industry, as well as where they think they could fit in.
This year, Collier says she had the chance to try out almost every challenge offered, and she also participated in the Q&A sessions and the student leadership forum. Collier says her favorite aspect of NCLC is the family atmosphere that accompanies the event.
“NCLC is a great asset for students, faculty and industry professionals,” she says. “It is a must! Not only is it great for networking and education, but the potential for problem solving and working together to overcome challenges we are all faced with is enormous and even has growing potential far beyond the borders of America. The possibilities are endless.”
Brian Dominik, director of talent development with Bland Landscaping Company Inc., and his company returned to NCLC this year determined to tackle the virtual landscape and network with students.
While Dominik says he enjoyed his time connecting with students, he does say he missed the face-to-face aspect of previous years. When planning for the event, Dominik says his goal was to get as much face time with the students as possible.
“As a recruiter, a company representative and an industry representative, I will talk to anyone who will listen, I will provide guidance for anyone seeking it, I will tell everyone what a great company I work for and how awesome it is to work in one of the most plant diverse states in the US,” says Dominik.
Dominik notes that there were events and other happenings of NCLC that he wanted to participate in, but since the virtual platform had him sitting in front of his computer, he says it was harder to pull himself away from his work responsibilities to dive deeper into NCLC.
“When you’re there and in person, emails and stuff sitting on your desk is the last thing on your mind,” says Dominik. “It’s hard to flip that switch.”
Throughout the week, Dominik says he had the opportunity to talk with students in search of internships, guidance in their career paths and some just inquiring about the company and possible careers with them.
“We are building the industry for tomorrow,” says Dominik. “We’re building their confidence, we’re helping them network, we’re guiding their path and we’re giving them advice so they don’t make the same mistakes we did. It’s not about me, it’s not about who is the biggest or the best. It’s about building and nurturing our community.”