Chattahoochee Technical College trains students to play in the dirt

In March, more than 20 of the college’s environmental horticulture students competed in the 2012 PLANET Student Career Days, a three-day national event sponsored by the Professional Landcare Network, a lawn and landscape association. The event is an opportunity for students to showcase their skills to potential employers and gain internships or jobs.

“This is like the Olympics for horticulture students, who participate in the 28 different events. Out of the 64 colleges there, we placed fifth in the nation, beating out some much larger four-year universities, like Penn State, California Polytechnic and UGA,” said Bejie Herrin, horticulture instructor.

It marked the 20th year that Chattahoochee Tech’s team has placed among the top 10 in the nation, including first-place finishes in 2008 and 2010. This year, Chattahoochee Tech’s Keith Loggins earned the top student award.

Herrin’s horticulture students range from recent high school graduates to much-older career changers, but they all have one thing in common. “They love plants,” she said. “To be able to say that they can make other people’s living environment more beautiful and feed themselves, as well, makes for a rewarding career.”

Like many fields, the plant and landscape industry declined during the recession, but it’s slowly coming back, Herrin said.

“There are jobs, especially for those with knowledge who are willing to work hard. You can make a decent living,” she said.

Program graduates find jobs with garden centers, landscape design firms, greenhouses, nurseries, botanical gardens, golf courses, government agencies, and parks and recreation departments. Starting salaries range from the mid-$20,000s to the mid-$40,000s, depending on the type of job and location.

“We send people all over the country to work, and some students go on to four-year degree programs,” she said.

Some horticulturists open their own nurseries or landscaping firms. Others take sales and marketing jobs with agricultural equipment or supply manufacturers.

“Most people are surprised by how varied the field is and how many options there are for potential jobs,” she said.

Chattahoochee Tech offers diploma and associate degree programs in environmental horticulture at its North Metro campus in Acworth. Students may enroll during any semester and take day or evening classes.

Students in the program take classes in horticultural science, plant identification and pest management, and then may specialize in landscape design and management, nursery and greenhouse production, golf course design, irrigation or turf grass management. They also learn theory in the classroom and hands-on skills in labs.

Students can get into the field quickly by earning a certificate of credit as either a lawn maintenance specialist or an environmental horticulture technician.

Tuition for the 60-hour degree program is $75 per credit hour, plus $150 to $200 in fees per semester.

For information, call 770-529-2316 or go to www.chattahoocheetech.edu.

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