She wasn’t there at the beginning, but Martha Hill has definitely attended the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (formerly Student Career Days) enough times to be a seasoned veteran.
The department chair of landscape management technology at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi, first participated in the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ event as a student at Mississippi State University in 1981 and hosted at Hinds in 2003.
In total, she’s attended 30 of the 40 annual events. She had her perfect attendance streak as a faculty member broken in 2015 when a back injury kept her away.
“I didn’t get to go and that just about killed me,” Hill says.
But she will make her return with a Hinds team this year for the event’s 40th anniversary, which happens March 16 to 19 at her alma mater, Mississippi State University.
Q. Why is the NCLC such a special event?
A. It’s an incredible opportunity for students to see the job opportunities that are available in the industry and to work as a team in preparing for the competition. They get to also network with other students at other colleges.
Through the years, I’ve just listened to what the students have said and they compare our program to other programs and I think it solidifies that ‘Hey, this is a viable career choice that I’m making here’ because there are jobs available and there are good programs in the country. They get to see what they are going to be doing in the industry just by the nature of the events that they’re in and the diversity that there is there, as well as compare their college with other colleges and talk to fellow students in other programs.
Q. How has the event changed since you first attended?
A. Every so often, we add new events that relate to what’s happening in the industry. I know this year we are adding landscape lighting as a new event. That’s a good one. We’ve added the computer aided design type events and 3-D design. That’s a sign of the times when you add those kinds of events. I think the competition has tried to stay up with the changes that are in the industry.
Another thing, we actually started this when we hosted the competition in 2003. I had worked with a friend of mine who I knew was just a guru at Microsoft Access and Excel programs. I asked her to manage the scoring for us in 2003. Ever since then, every host school or NALP has hired Susan Sudduth to manage scoring. I think our scoring has been more consistent by Susan being involved.
We aren’t passing information from one school to another without directions. Or one school might not be familiar with a certain program that would have been used. I know one year one school changed the whole program that was used previously and it was a nightmare with the scoring system.
Because we have consistency in scoring, I feel better about the scores. I know there are mistakes that get made, but there are fewer now, and not as monumental as they had been in the past.
What is your favorite memory of the event?
A. When we hosted it, I was awarded Educator of the Year, which I never was expecting. That was a very memorable year for me. I was just blown away by that honor. Also, in 1991, Bob Callaway attended career days. He’s the one who started it.
He was at University of Kentucky in 1991 because that was the year we announced that the first place trophy would be named after him. To see Bob attend and get to realize how big this event had become through the years was just so rewarding. Bob was a personal friend of mine and I’m so thankful he got to be there and see Career Days before he passed away in 1995.
That was definitely a memorable experience personally for me. Then one year our students – we were competing – and our students did really well in a lot of events. We scored 13th place overall and we had never scored that high. It was just an incredible team of students that attended that year. They went there with the purpose of doing the best they could in every event they were in. It made all the difference in our scores that year.
Q. How does this event benefit the industry?
A. For the companies, where else could they go interview 800-plus potential employees who are committed to this industry because of their major? Those industry people have an open door to those students the entire time the competition is going on. That’s just phenomenal for the industry to be able to have access to these students who are definitely interested in a career path in this industry.
For the students, it just pulls together everything they hear about in the classroom from lectures to networking to career opportunities in comparing themselves to other colleges. I think all of that plays a big part in giving the students confidence that they are truly in a career choice that has a future for them – from the job opportunities to the salaries that are available and the opportunities beyond their region that they live in.
There are literally opportunities across the U.S. for them. We say that all the time as educators, but for them to talk to people from Colorado or California or Maryland or Florida and really see that, it just helps that student open their eyes to the opportunities out there.
Q. What can attendees expect this year compared to previous years?
A. With the 40th anniversary, there is going to be a lot of focus on the history of the event. Mississippi State is trying to collect as many old pictures from graduates and alumni that might have them. I have some connections with some fellas that were at the first two that MSU hosted. There’s a quilt that has been made from all of the T-shirts that are designed for the event. I’m looking forward to seeing the history of this event.L&L