Teaching future leaders

Greg Jolley is passing his enthusiasm for the green industry to the next generation of employees, and he is loving every minute of it.

Photos courtesy of Greg Jolley

Brigham Young University Landscape Management professor Greg Jolley has the energy and passion of a man doing exactly what he was meant to be doing – in exactly the place he was meant to do it.

“Being an educator was always in my long-term plan,” says Jolley, who has received numerous awards for his teaching, including the 2017 Outstanding Educator of the Year Award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and the Karl G. Maeser Professional Faculty Excellence Award from Brigham Young in 2018. “One of the best parts of my job is seeing students succeed.”

Jolley joined the faculty of BYU – where his father had been an agronomy/soil science professor and where he himself earned an undergraduate degree in horticulture – in 2003, just four years after getting his master’s degree in landscape architecture from Kansas State University.

“I thought I’d work in the field longer before I jumped into education, but the opportunity came up to apply for the position at BYU, and it was my dream job,” Jolley says. “It’s where I grew up. I spent my childhood running around on this campus, watching my dad interact with students. The chance to teach at BYU was the only thing that could have convinced me to move out of professional work as early as I did.”

“He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with. He is just, to the core, a nice guy and a consummate team player.” Phil Allen, BYU

Finding His Calling

Jolley credits a middle school science assignment – he had to identify 20 tree specimens for seventh grade biology – combined with his dad’s ongoing research in soil science for first piquing his interest in landscape management as a potential profession.

While in college, he took on a part-time job with Orem, Utah’s city parks department, where he spent many summer days “repairing irrigation systems all day long,” he says. “It was fascinating to me, trying to troubleshoot problems and rebuild old impact heads.”

For Jolley, it became clear early on that a career in landscape management could satisfy his engineering-oriented mind and knack for building things along with his love of nature and working outdoors.

That hybrid, multi-faceted aspect of the landscaping career track – it’s a career, after all, that incorporates business savvy, creativity, building know-how, people skills, and plant science – is one of the features Jolley loves most about the industry. And it’s one that he loves sharing with his students.

When students enroll in Jolley’s residential landscape design class, which can serve as a general education requirement for non-majors, they often envision going into engineering or business. But, thanks to his lessons, they discover that landscape management combines those interests, and they’re hooked.

“I probably love teaching that class the most,” Jolley says, “because it’s the one where a lot of people discover their passion for landscape that they maybe didn’t know they had when they first arrived on campus.”

Jolley teaches about six classes a year routinely including courses on hardscape structures, landscape irrigation, construction materials, landscape graphics and advanced design.

“It’s really nice for me to be able to say to my students with confidence, ‘This is a great industry to go into,’” Jolley says. “It’s one where you’re always going to be in demand.”

Jolley, here celebrating an NCLC win with students at a school TV station, has won the competition seven times, including each of the past three years.

A Culture of Success

Under Jolley’s leadership as head coach, Brigham Young University’s collegiate landscape team has won the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC) seven times, including each of the past three years.

The annual, three-day event allows students to participate in an array of industry-related competitions, from 3D exterior landscape design to landscape lighting and maintenance cost estimating.

In addition to Brigham Young University’s perennial powerhouse performance at NCLC, Jolley points to BYU’s mandatory on-campus, semester-long grounds internship as another reason its landscape management graduates enter their professions so well prepared.

“We call it a grounds practicum, and I coordinate those placements and getting them on a crew with our BYU grounds staff,” Jolley says. “They can opt to focus on maintenance, construction, basic gardening, irrigation, or even join one of our specialty crews to help maintain the football or soccer fields.”

The students’ success hasn’t been limited to NCLC.

In 2016, Jolley and his students “became the first college or university ever to win an Award of Excellence from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (in the residential design/build category) when Greg’s students competed with professional companies,” says Phil Allen, a 2012 Leadership award winner and Jolley’s colleague on the BYU Landscape Management faculty who nominated him for this year’s Lawn & Landscape Leadership award.

“Greg shares a passion that we all feel toward this industry,” Allen says. “The students who work with Greg learn so much thanks to his own expertise, but also because he often brings in world-class professionals as teaching assistants, to share the cutting edge of what’s going on in the field.”

Joe Jackson, head of the water management solutions division at Utah-based Sprinkler Supply Company, routinely collaborates with Jolley. “Greg is helping prepare his students for life after graduation through his mentoring,” he says. “He’s giving them the tools they will need to thrive in our industry.”

BYU’s program typically graduates 25-30 students every year, and 95 percent of its seniors secure one or more job offers even before they graduate. Jolley estimates that, since he began teaching, a dozen former students have secured careers as full-time grounds staff on the BYU campus. Dozens more have gone on to prominent careers in the industry throughout the region and beyond.

Jolley, pictured with his wife, Chelsea, joined BYU in 2003.

Committed to Family and Futures

Outside of his teaching and mentoring roles at BYU and his leadership roles on several state and national boards, including for NALP and the Utah Landscape Architecture Licensing Board, Jolley can most often be found on a sports field in Orem, Utah, pursuing his other true passions: family and soccer.

He and his wife of 26 years, Chelsea, have four children together – a daughter, Taylor, and son, Cade, each of whom are now married and beginning lives of their own; plus 19-year-old son, Jeffrey, a college freshman who goes by the nickname “J”; and 17-year-old daughter, Billie, a high school senior.

“I love the game of soccer, and I love being involved with my kids,” Jolley says. “I have coached all my kids’ soccer teams, and I even got a chance to mow the fields every once in a while. Chelsea and I have spent the last 20 years running from one sport event to another, supporting our kids. That’s been our focus, and we have loved every minute.”

While some coaches have a reputation for being hot-headed, that’s not Jolley. “In working with Greg for over 15 years, I have never seen him lose his temper,” Allen says. “He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with. He is just, to the core, a nice guy and a consummate team player.”

In fact, Jolley readily admits the team-oriented component of landscape management – where various crews collaborate to build something beautiful – is another reason he loves the industry. It was during his tenure as a project manager with Verdone Landscape Architects in Jackson, Wyoming, before he joined the BYU faculty, that Jolley grew to appreciate the networking and teamwork involved in his career, he says. “I came to the realization that landscape architects have a role. Designers have a role. Landscape and build contractors have a role,” he says. “And when you all work together as a group, you can create some pretty amazing things.”

As gratifying as Jolley found working as a professional in the field to be, nothing tops teaching future leaders of the industry, he says.

“There’s just something extremely satisfying about helping a young person find something they’re passionate about, and then seeing them go out and contribute to an industry that is never going to go away,” Jolley says. “The future of the industry is in really good hands.”

October 2019
Explore the October 2019 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.