The landscape industry is well known for its easy entrance, according to Reese Nelson, a faculty member of the Horticulture Department. For that reason, the leaders of similar companies from around the country form peer groups that depend on each other for business advice.

On May 7 and 8, two peer groups gathered at BYU-Idaho to tour the Thomas E. Ricks Gardens and discuss internship programs.

They followed Nelson as he introduced different sections of the garden and answered questions. For Nelson, the main goal is for students to have what he calls “stickability.”

“I want them to land in a place where they match their values with your company values,” Nelson said.

Cassidee Bohnet, a senior studying horticulture, started her education with an emphasis in production. “I wanted to help people in being sustainable,” Bohnet said. The motive came from her mission in Africa, where she saw how difficult it was for people to obtain nutritious food.

However, as Bohnet took more classes, she also felt drawn to landscaping. “I love the idea of helping people feel different emotions from the environment they’re in,” she said. Now, she’s looking for an internship that’s focused on her new emphasis.

Internships are required for horticulture students and need to include 400 hours of work. Nelson says it’s an opportunity for students and employers to check each other out with no strings attached.

Bohnet happened to see the tour group in the garden and joined them. When someone from the peer group asked what students are looking for in internships, Bohnet said she wanted to see all sides of the business.

“It’s always better to know where you can go within a company so that you want to stay with that company and grow with them,” Bohnet said.

In March, Bohnet participated in The National Collegiate Landscape Competition, or NCLC, which involved 28 events and 800 students from around the country. She placed fifth in the sales presentation event.

“That’s where we discovered BYU-I for the first time,” said Jason New. New is a principal at McFarlin Stanford, a management consulting company that facilitates the peer groups.

New said landscape companies were struggling to find educated people who could take on leadership roles for their businesses, but the NCLC offered a solution.

“We realized how many students were out there going and competing well and wanting this as a career,” New said. “We found such a great match to go, let’s go meet some students.”

Jim Cali, another principal at McFarlin Stanford, shared some of his experience with interns from BYU-I. The interns he hired got experience shadowing professionals, making purchases and stepping in to manage crews.

“We want them to get their hands dirty,” Cali said. “Not literally, but we want them to touch every aspect of the department.”

In response, Nelson said, “I want literally.”

BYU-I has lots of room for horticulture students to get hands-on experience between the orchards, the farm, the greenhouses and the garden. Most of it is designed, built and maintained by students.

“We want to build an authentic project where the students and the community can use it,” Nelson said. “We’re a hands-on oriented program, unlike most other programs.”

On the second day, several horticulture students joined the tour and had the chance to engage with the professionals in the peer group.

“The favorite part of my job is introducing students to industry,” said Nelson. “Because there should be gainful employment at the end of the education, in my opinion.”