For a small institution, Chattahoochee Technical College made a strong showing in a national landscaping competition last month.
Eleven horticulture students from CTC’s North Metro campus competed for top honors at the 41st Annual National Collegiate Landscaping Competition March 15-18 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Organized by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, the three-day event featured networking opportunities and a skills competition in which 672 students from 60 colleges and universities nationwide competed in 29 events directly related to the skills necessary for a career in the green industry, including hardscape installation, wood construction, sales presentation and plant identification.
Led by instructor John Hatfield, Chattahoochee Tech’s team scored a combined 2,273 points at the competition to finish in 24th place out of 60 schools.
Individually, Denna Pace of Woodstock took first place in two categories, Interior Plant Identification and Turf and Weed Identification, and third place in the Plant Problem Diagnosis event to secure a 53rd-place finish out of 672 students.
Pace, who had a total of 269 points, earned 99.5 points in Interior Plant Identification, 79 points in Turf and Weed Identification and 90.5 points in Plant Problem Diagnosis, where she missed second place by only half a point and first place by only 3.5 points.
Luke Brummeler of Marietta also earned a second-place finish in Tractor Loader Backhoe Operator.
CTC also had four other students place in their categories and another five students who competed but didn’t place.
Pace, who plans to graduate next spring with a Horticulture Associate of Applied Science degree, said it took a while for it to sink in that she’d defeated a combined 147 opponents to win two first-place awards.
“It was more than a little unexpected,” she said. “I had come out of two of the three events I competed in thinking I hadn't really done as well as I'd hoped. I wasn't expecting to see my name up on that screen during the awards ceremony, to the point that my teammates saw it before I did. I walked up to get my awards in kind of a daze. I guess it hit me as I was walking back after getting the second award, judging by the big, stupid grin on my face in the rest of the pictures from closing ceremonies.”
But Pace, who is “uncomfortably close” to her 43rd birthday, is actually most proud of her third-place finish in the Plant Problem Diagnosis event.
“That was a difficult, complicated event, and I had gone back and forth on trying to take it on,” she said. “I had already been studying for the other two events for months then decided just a few weeks before the competition to just go for it. I didn't have as much time to study for it, and there was a huge amount of material to cover. I still can't believe I managed to do so well in such a short amount of time.”
For her efforts, Pace was awarded certificates for all three events, gift cards for two of them, a backpack and “uh, a hat that has been claimed by a family member because it's about three sizes too big for me,” she said.
There were “a few reasons” Pace said she wanted to enter the competition.
“I think this competition is important to the school, for one thing,” she said. “Some of the biggest players in the horticulture industry pay attention to this, and when a smaller school like CTC scores well against the big universities with huge horticulture programs, employers notice that. It means a degree from this little tech school in Georgia can catch the attention of an employer on the other side of the country because they noticed our students consistently placing well in these competitions. On another level, I guess you could also say I compete against myself. I wanted to see what I was really capable of.”
Pace enrolled in the horticulture program, housed exclusively on the North Metro campus in Acworth, after finding CTC was the only college near her Cherokee County home that offered it.
“I'm glad it was,” she said, noting it’s taking her a while to complete the program because she only takes one or two classes a semester. “I've kind of fallen in love with the program. ... I wish this school offered a four-year program. I'd be first in line for it.”
Because she loves her chosen field so much, Pace isn’t sure what area she wants to focus on once she’s out of school.
“That would be a simpler question if I didn't find every aspect of horticulture fascinating,” she said. “I started school thinking I'd be concentrating on greenhouse management, but there were so many classes on subjects I wanted to learn more about that I wound up diversifying.”