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Keeping the University of Minnesota grounds tidy and safe is no small feat. And if it weren’t for student workers, the grounds wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.
During the summer growing season approximately 100 students participate in Facilities Management’s Landcare Student Worker Program, spending their days weeding, watering, planting and mowing. Landcare continues to employ 45-55 students during the school year when less grounds maintenance is necessary and students have a full load of classes. Grounds Superintendent Les Potts sees the program as a benefit to both the university and students.
“It’s a form of financial aid for students and provides Landcare with a seasonal workforce that doesn’t impact operations if students choose not to work during the school year,” said Potts.
Flexibility and Convenience
Landcare student jobs allow students to easily balance their study and work time during the school year, while guaranteeing a 40-hour work week in the summer.
"I like how flexible it is,” said student worker Mike Heesch. “I don’t work winters because I have another job, so I work spring to fall and I’ve been able to come back for the past three years."
Returning students are a real asset for Landcare because they don’t need to be trained and can help new employees learn the ropes.
“Ideally we would go to the freshmen job fair and walk away with 40 kids that want to work for us for the next four years, but it just doesn’t happen that way,” commented Potts.
It pays for Landcare student workers to stick around, as well. Students that start as laborers can be promoted to student assistant gardeners and then student gardeners, receiving a pay increase with each promotion. They also gain valuable skills for their future careers. Chris Shivers, a third year Landcare employee on the turf crew, started as a laborer his freshmen year and is now a student gardener.
“You get to learn new things and how to use equipment and then teach other students,” said Shivers. “I’ve trained about 50 students over the course of 3 years, which has reinforced my knowledge and given me leadership skills.”
Supervisors understand that some students have interests and academic goals related to Landcare operations and try to provide opportunities to learn on the job. Student workers gain valuable field knowledge, like names and characteristics of plants; how to take care of different types of landscaping; invasive plant and weed removal; as well as equipment operation and maintenance.
Some student workers have even decided to pursue careers related to Landcare. Four of the 31 full time Landcare staff members started out as student workers, including the grounds superintendent.
“I started as a student worker at the arboretum and ended up getting a gardener position there before moving to campus,” remembers Les Potts, who celebrated 35 years of employment at the U in April.
Dave Finney, a forestry major that has worked on the tree crew for the last three years, plans to use his degree and the knowledge he’s gained in Landcare to start a career in forestry.
“Both of my bosses are really smart and know a lot more than I do, so I’m able to ask questions constantly,” said Finney. “They also quiz me since they know I want to learn.”
Even if they don’t want to pursue a career in Landcare, student workers learn skills that will help them maintain their own property later in life.
The Great Outdoors
Working outside has always been one of the biggest benefits of working for Landcare, but students who stick around long enough see beyond the perks and learn to appreciate the affect they have on the campus grounds.
“It’s outside, you really get to see the place develop and make a difference,” said Heesch. “It’s good to know you’re making the campus better.”
Landcare student workers do an exceptional job keeping the campus accessible and looking great. Whether students plan to work in the horticultural industry, do a little yard work at home or just need a summer job, Landcare has a lot to offer and gives students practical skills they can use in the future.