Those throngs of people frantically installing mini landscapes near the Hilton Fort Collins south of the Colorado State University campus in the middle of March aren’t trying to hurry spring. They’re simply participating in the 43rd annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition.
The NCLC returns to CSU for the fourth time March 20-23; the Fort Collins campus last hosted the spirited event in 2014. The event, sponsored by landscape industry leaders including STIHL, John Deere, and Caterpillar, is a four-day affair featuring the best and brightest collegiate landscape students from 70 universities across North America.
Roughly 1,500 students will descend on campus, as well as throughout town, to compete in 3D Exterior Landscape Design, Irrigation Assembly, Plant Problem Diagnosis, and Sales Presentation, to name just a few categories. More than 30 competitions cover every aspect a working landscape professional would encounter out in the field.
“This event brings the best students in the industry across the nation and Canada for an exciting networking competition and event,” says Zachary Johnson, professor of landscape business, landscape design and contracting at CSU. “It’s just a great opportunity for students to experience what’s out there.”
History of success
The NCLC is held on a university campus each year, most recently at Alamance Community College in Graham, N.C. According to Johnson, the CSU team typically places within the top five overall, with a fourth-place finish last year.
The event itself began back in 1977 as a challenge among three professors at Mississippi State, Michigan State and Ohio State to see whose students were the most talented. That challenge became the first “Field Days” in 1977, with five schools participating. The event has grown dramatically since then and is now organized by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, which also supports students working to become part of the industry.
Last year, the National Association of Landscape Professionals Foundation presented more than $107,000 in scholarships to 75 students at the NCLC.
Aside from spirited competition and scholarship opportunities, two major draws of the event are workforce development and recruiting.
“Participation in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition has grown dramatically since its inception, which demonstrates increased enthusiasm for the profession,” said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NALP. “We are continually reminded of just how much industry professionals are in demand when hundreds of employers arrive each year eager to add skilled professionals to their rosters.”
This year, 140 companies will pack into Lory Student Center Ballrooms for a networking event that often kickstarts job leads for graduating students. A series of career development presentations also helps students get a handle on opportunities after graduation. In fact, Johnson notes that his graduating classes typically have 100 percent placement in the industry, often thanks to this annual event.
Highlights throughout the week
Open to the public, the NCLC has a number of exciting events for local green thumbs, landscape enthusiasts, and fans of fun competitions. The opening ceremony, Thursday, March 21, 8-9 a.m., at the Lincoln Center, kicks off not only the event but also the rivalries. After welcoming remarks from CSU College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Ajay Menon, schools are announced in alphabetical order to much fanfare. Students sing, play guitars, shoot glitter cannons, wave flags, anything to one-up the next school and win the first competition of the week for school spirit.
By the end of the competition, the 70 student teams find themselves scrambling to assemble an attractive landscape on a small plot, according to a “client’s” plan, with provided materials and just 2 hours to build out the design. It’s the perfect combination of knowledge, attention to detail, and teamwork, all while under a material and time budget.
“It’s just so amazing and mind-blowing,” Johnson noted.