A Top-Notch Program Created By Top-Notch Faculty
The Commercial Turf and Grounds Management Program at State Technical College of Missouri is top-notch. It’s been a recipient of the National Association of Agriculture Educators Region IV Outstanding Postsecondary Agriculture Program Award and has impressive job placement stats. Students have landed jobs with the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Vikings, the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakmont Country Club, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, to name a few. The main drivers behind the success of the program are its faculty members: Ryan Klatt and Nick Rackers.
Klatt and Rackers have backgrounds in opposite ends of the turf industry. Klatt worked in golf course maintenance for 13 years and currently teaches the turf-related classes. Rackers worked as a nursery manager, taking care of the merchandising and helping with perennial, annual, and vegetable production. He teaches the more ornamental-related classes.
The melding of opposite ends of the industry, according to Rackers, helps the program work well for students. “Being able to offer diversity in our program, with both turf and ornamental courses, allows our students to have the flexibility to go a lot of different ways,” Rackers said. “You might think you want to end up in golf course management at the beginning of your journey with the program, but having that chance to take a landscape design class could alter your thinking later.”
Real-world experience is of the cornerstone of the program Klatt and Rackers built. The instructors believe students learn better when they can practice industry skills in their classes and fail without the consequences of failing on the job. This reasoning is why Klatt built a 3-acre golf practice facility, which includes a 6,500 square foot green, in the middle of campus.
“Unless you’ve worked on a golf course, you haven’t used a walking greens mower or a triplex greens mower,” Klatt said. “We’d rather you scalp the collar off of our green here at school than on your first day on the job at the golf course. What better way to learn than with an outdoor lab that you can use?”
The golf course practice facility is not the only area at State Tech where students practice real-world experiences for their future job. Klatt and Rackers have incorporated the entire campus into their program. Students help manage the College’s 360-acre campus, which includes the golf course practice facility, a greenhouse, and the turf and ornamentals throughout the school’s grounds.
Internships are a stellar method of gaining real-world experience for a career. An internship is included in the curriculum for this reason; however, the structure of their internships is different than the typical semester internship.
“We have an accelerated eight-week curriculum, which allows the students to go out on their six-month internship about the first week in March,” Klatt said. “That puts them out ahead of everybody else. They get to experience the spring season as well as summer on their internship.”
Students in the program have completed internships with premier landscape companies, PGA caliber golf courses, and professional sports teams.
Keeping up with all the continuously changing real-world experiences their students will need in the green industry is difficult, but Klatt and Rackers have created a few reliable methods.
One method they use is an industry advisory council.
“Every year in November, we have a Career Expo day for our students where we invite all sorts of green industry professionals needing full-time employees and interns and have them sit in on a meeting,” Klatt said. “In that meeting, we ask them what our students should know and have experience with. One year we bought a stand on skid loader because our industry partners expressed a need to have workers with experience on them. Now our students already have practice on that machine before they hit the job market.”
They also use the information they learn from alumni.
“My favorite part of teaching is getting to know students and developing connections with them that last past their time at school,” Rackers said. “As they progress through their career, many will reach out, and our back and forth becomes a source of information for us both. We are able to incorporate their knowledge and make the program better. ”
The Commercial Turf and Grounds Management Program at State Tech has two compassionate and hard-working instructors. They’ve gone beyond the standard curriculum to create a program where students do not just read about industry practices, but get hands-on training with them. They also apply input from industry leaders and alumni to the program, which allows it to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technologies. Is there any wonder its students are attracting big-time employers? We do not think so.