Melinda Froning: 1999 GPN/Nexus Scholarship Winner
Mindy, a senior at the University of Tennessee, epitomizes the good news about the floriculture industry’s future, as does Terri Starman, her faculty advisor, and Four Star Greenhouse, which introduced her to the "real dirt" of her chosen profession.
Melinda Froning is a young woman with a lot going for her. Her school advisor considers her one of the finest students she’s taught. Her summer internship supervisor would be willing to offer her a full-time job. And last month, Greenhouse Product News editorial advisory board awarded her the 1999 GPN/Nexus Scholarship.
Mindy, as she’s known by her friends, was selected from a pool of finalists for not only the quality and caliber of her internship, but also her ability to articulate in essay form what she gained from the internship (see p.20).
Mindy is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, majoring in ornamental horticulture and landscape design. According to the GPN editorial board, she is also "the student who best represents the value of a quality internship program." The intent of the $1,000 scholarship, sponsored by GPN and Nexus Corp., is to encourage and recognize floricultural internship programs by honoring those students who take advantage of them.
Equally worthy of recognition is the American Floral Endowment, which sponsored Mindy’s internship as a Vic and Margaret Ball Internship. (See "Do Internships Matter," starting on p.14, for more on this and other notable floricultural funding programs.)
Mindy spent three months this summer as an intern at Four Star Greenhouse, Inc., Carleton, Mich. "I learned so much more from this experience than I could just being in a classroom," she says.
According to Dennis Crum, lead grower at Four Star, Mindy worked in shipping, the lab, growing areas, poinsettias, stock management and production. Crum says Four Star was definitely pleased with her performance. "Her background knowledge was good and so was the way she applied. She was open-minded about what we do and why, and she got along well with everyone. Between her personality, knowledge and work performance, she was really above average."
Crum says he would be interested in hiring Mindy after she graduates, but he knows she would like to work closer to home, in Tennessee.
Because Mindy’s past work experience had always been in small greenhouse operations, she welcomed the opportunity to work and learn at an operation with more than 100 employees. "I learned a lot about how a large commercial greenhouse runs," she explains. "Dealing with so many people was challenging. Everyone has different personalities and different ways of doing things and you have to find some way of working together."
Mindy says she loved the chance to do everything at Four Star, but her favorite experience was working in the research department. "They were studying which plants they would want for the future and creating some combination baskets in advance," she says. "I think I liked this department best because it was smaller and more separated from the rest of the greenhouse."
Because of its size and range of opportunities, Four Star offered the ideal learning environment, says Mindy. But her eventual goal is to work in a small retail greenhouse. "One of the things I learned from my internship is that I probably don’t want to work in a big company. In a small greenhouse I’d get more variety and be able to help with everything. I’d also like dealing with regular people who are just excited about plants."
Serious about her career
Mindy has not decided whether to go on to graduate school or go straight into the business after she finishes her undergraduate work in May. Her advisor, Terri Starman, an associate professor of floriculture at the University of Tennessee, is encouraging her to get her graduate’s degree. "Mindy is just one of those top-notch students," Starman declares. "She’s dedicated, conscientious, serious about her career, and she wants to learn. I would say she’s among the top five percent of students I’ve taught."
Starman has been impressed with Mindy not only in the classroom but also in the lab. "She has worked for me as an undergraduate research assistant for two years now and she’s always been pleasant to deal with. She questions because she’s curious, but she never resists instructions. I just know as a professor that she will work to the best of her ability."
Mindy’s interest in horticulture was sparked in high school while working part-time in a small retail greenhouse. "I didn’t like it at first, because I was a freshman in high school and I just didn’t like working," she recalls. "Eventually I loved being in a greenhouse."
Having decided on her future profession, Mindy enrolled at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "I chose the school because I wanted to stay close to home and I knew it had a good program." she says.
While praising the school’s program, Mindy asserts that the real-world experience she absorbed at Four Star will be pivotal in easing her entry into commercial floriculture. "The hands-on experience helps tremendously. I think it is a necessary part of education."
Starman agrees. "An internship reinforces everything that we’re trying to teach in the classroom. It gives students a chance to put everything together and see that it’s not all glamour; it’s hard work."
When asked to gaze into the floriculture crystal ball, Mindy says she sees a steady increase in the number of women entering the floriculture industry. "Just from my classes, I see more women going into the field, even in design, which has been mostly dominated by men," she observes. "I expect that the woman’s presence in the industry will grow as more women pursue a college education in this field."
While acknowledging that women are still not well represented in the industry, Mindy says that she has yet to confront a gender issue. "I’ve never felt that being a woman has been an advantage or a disadvantage," she explains. "I think my personality has determined my experience. I haven’t been helped or hindered by being a woman."
Mindy also credits the support of her family and friends in her career goals. "I get lots of questions about plants now," she laughs. "My family certainly encourages me, even though they don’t see this as a career in which I can make a lot of money. They know this is what I want to do."
Melinda Froning’s Essay
To determine the 1999 GPN/Nexus Scholarship Awardee, members of the GPN editorial advisory board evaluated candidates primarily on the strength of the essay each was asked to submit. Candidates were asked to describe their internship experience. Editorial board members had no preconceived notions of what quality (style? content? enthusiasm?) would elevate the winning essay from the rest. The voice that emerges from Melinda Froning’s untitled essay is that of an aspiring professional with a writer’s eye for detail, refreshing candor, and the self-confidence to acknowledge that she’s still not sure of what her next move will be.
The editorial staff has been reluctant to refer to Mindy Froning, awardee of the 1999 GPN/Nexus Scholarship, as the "winner." Indeed, even the process of selecting "finalists" from the numerous entries seemed to diminish the true worth of the scholarship program – the encouraging news that numerous hort students from across the country, along with dedicated professors and participating companies, responded to our call for entrants.
GPN’s editors salute all the students who took the time to compose and submit essays for the GPN/Nexus scholarship. Given the magazine’s space constraints, we have chosen to profile the three student interns, who along with Melinda Froning, made the "final cut."
A senior at Clemson University, Erin spent five months at White’s Nursery & Greenhouse, Inc., Chesapeake, Va. Her internship was designed to show her all areas of the company, which included work in each department. According to Erin, she devoted most of her time to growing and maintaining various crops.
"I could not have asked for a better experience," she wrote in her essay. "White’s offered a program that gave me a chance to work in and learn the different areas of the company. From this I will take with me a desire to continue working toward becoming a grower."
Erin says that upon graduation in May she hopes to work for a small greenhouse in South Carolina. "I’d like to get in with a small nursery with big goals and watch it grow. Watching a nursery start small and grow would be interesting, especially since I’d like to stay at one particular nursery."
She thinks her internship has helped prepare her for this goal. "An internship is the implementation of what you learn in class. You have to deal with real-life situations and think on your feet.
In December, Amy graduated from Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. This past summer she spent 14 weeks as an assistant grower at Green Circle Growers, Oberlin, Ohio. Over the course of her internship she shadowed six different growers, performing tasks such as watering, applying pesticides, fungicides and growth regulators, monitoring insect levels, mixing fertilizer stock and collecting soil samples.
"This internship was great because it was an opportunity to get hands-on experience," Amy says. "You can be taught anything, but you have to be able to apply it, and I was able to do that last summer."
In her essay Amy wrote: "When I entered college four years ago, I expected to earn my Bachelor’s degree in horticulture and become a grower for a small greenhouse operation. Since then my plans have changed. In January I will begin my graduate research with Michigan State University’s floriculture department. My goal is to ultimately obtain my PhD and become a professor. I want to help prepare the next generation of horticulturists by giving them the skills they need to be successful."
Sarah McQueen, a junior at Michigan State University, spent 13 weeks this summer working at Ball Seed Co., West Chicago, Ill. She says her duties included assisting in design, planting, labeling, maintaining and conducting tours of Ball Seed field trials.
"Many floriculture students end up watering acres of bedding plants or geraniums all summer, gaining a line on their resume, but not much else," wrote Sarah in her essay. "My experience was anything but boring or repetitive; my boss, Jim Nau, liked to call it a ‘trial by fire.’"
Sarah says her internship helped her realize how much she has learned in school. "I got to apply things from classes that I never thought I’d use," she explains. "When I got to the job they actually wanted me to know what an indeterminate tomato was. You go to school to learn the background information, but you don’t get to use it until you’re on the job."
Sarah’s favorite part of her internship was the opportunity to work on something new every day. "In horticulture you’re always doing something different," she says. "My nightmare is a desk job."
Sarah says she hopes to work in a large production greenhouse after she graduates. "I’d like to manage a decent-sized greenhouse eventually, if not my own."