When thinking of a school competition, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the packed stands at a high school basketball game where the state championship is on the line, or maybe a skills competition contestants have spent months preparing for.
In either case, students in the competition are there to do one thing — win. However, when BYU-Idaho students sign on remotely to showcase their skills at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC), winning isn’t the only thing on their minds.
Since 1977, the National Association of Landscape Professionals hosts a competition where students from all over the country demonstrate their abilities in events like Compact Excavator Operation, Irrigation Design and Small Engine Repair. With 34 schools in participation, the NCLC is no small event, nor is it limited to smaller colleges. Other large universities like Michigan State University, Kansas State University and BYU compete annually.
According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ website, “The event brings together top students, landscape companies and industry manufacturers. There is truly something for everyone at the largest landscape industry career development event in the nation.”
While not the largest university in attendance, nor the most represented, BYU-I won the most events when compared to other schools, claiming first place in 7 of 21 competitions.
BYU-I performed well among the other 33 colleges, but according to faculty at BYU-I, competitions are not the most important component of the week-long gathering. Nineteen partner companies sponsor the event and give the participants the opportunity to be scouted by potential employers in a virtual career fair.
“Taking first place or top three is awesome but it shouldn’t be the main focus,” said Skyler Westergard, a professor in the Applied Plant Science Department. “Students are able to go and compete and try their skills and compare with other students and get to know other people, go to their career fair, get to know people, get internships, get careers, go to the workshops. The whole package, I think, is what makes it so fantastic.”
Some students prefer the competition to be attended in person, but the remote gathering afforded over 20 non-competing BYU-I students the chance to schedule interviews with companies and seek after internships. Typically, only students engaged in events could take advantage of this opportunity.
Lis Hardy, a senior studying horticulture, said she didn’t initially want to compete in the event. However, after being talked into participating by Westergard, she enrolled in the Sales Presentation event. Leading up to the event, Hardy felt unprepared for the contest, but the NCLC brought two successes for her. She won her event and gained a career opportunity from an employer.
“I’ve got a job opportunity that came from it,” Hardy said. “I’m going to be flying out there to meet with them. It’s just been really, really rewarding for sure.”
While faculty and students focus on the job fair as the component that brings the most long-term opportunity, doing well and winning events does have lasting benefits. As students continue to perform well in their craft, employers see BYU-I as a place to search out job candidates.
“It really does a lot for our program because we’re in rural Rexburg,” Westergard said. “By doing well at that event, it kind of puts us on the map and lets companies know students coming out of (BYU-Idaho’s) program really know their stuff.”
The NCLC isn’t just open to students studying horticulture or land care, but to all students who want to attend and compete. Westergard said business or communication students would do well in many competitions that require customer service and speaking skills. He is hopeful that more students will be able to participate in the future.