Program Spotlight: Horticulture Technology
January 2, 2014
According to Josh Murdock, Horticulture Technology program director at Piedmont Technical College, many people already have an interest in the field, but don’t realize that it’s a real career option.
“What we find as we’re talking to potential students—in high school classrooms, in FFA chapters, and out in the community—is that a lot of people don’t realize how much opportunity is out there for them if they choose this path,” he said.
“Horticulture is a big part of the largest industry in the state,” says Murdock. “Agriculture creates and supports almost 200,000 jobs in South Carolina, and the greenhouse, nursery, turf and floriculture industry ranks as our second largest cash crop.”
It’s also a diverse industry that offers careers for many different interests.
For instance, Greg Durham, a second year student, is headed toward a career as the superintendent of a sports complex. Robert Porter, is planning on pursuing a horticultural sales position. Erik Richardson is planning to transfer to Clemson after finishing his studies at PTC.
Whether you want to own a greenhouse, manage athletic fields, own a landscaping business, diagnose peach tree diseases, or research treatment programs for turf diseases – it all falls under horticulture. There are even rewarding positions working for companies in the fertilizer, equipment, seed and plants sectors.
“There’s plenty of opportunity out there, and there’s really no ceiling to advancement with an associate degree,” Murdock says.
Built-in Practical Experience
Anyone who’s been involved in FFA should be very familiar with the motto: “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”
The PTC horticulture program takes that motto very seriously, and it’s applied on a daily basis in the coursework and hands-on learning projects students are required to complete.
There’s plenty of opportunity out there, and there’s really no ceiling to advancement with an associate degree.
All of the horticulture paths at Piedmont Technical College include applied learning projects. Students install turfgrass, work in an actual greenhouse and more.
The program offers four options for students: a Horticulture Technology associate degree, a landscape management certificate, and two associate degree paths designed to transfer directly into Clemson University.
Students receive expert instruction from faculty with experience in the field in all programs.
For Glenda Wright, a first year student, the instructors have made a difference.
“I really enjoy the advice and information the instructors give. When you think you already know it, they offer expert advice and made it more easily understood,” she says.
A summer internship is built into the program to offer additional practical experience for every student.
“Employers want work experience these days,” says Murdock. “We have students who are currently out on golf courses, working in the landscape industry, and on large and small farms. So, whatever their ultimate goals are, the internship gives them the opportunity to get out and get some hands on experience.”
Murdock says that many students get hired directly from their internship experiences.
As a result of this focus on practical application, graduates who want to go directly to work will be fully equipped to find good employment. And many who start at PTC on their way to a four year degree will find that they have distinct advantage.
“The hands-on horticulture training here, combined with a bachelor’s degree is an extremely attractive combination for employers,” says Kathryn White, an award-winning PTC horticulture instructor who has also been a Clemson Extension agent.
In addition to theoretical knowledge gained in the classroom and experience in the field, PTC students also get the unique opportunity to participate in Collegiate FFA.
Piedmont Technical College offers one of only two Collegiate FFA chapters in South Carolina. The second is at Clemson University.
"We take a personal interest in each of our students. Because ultimately if they’re not successful, then we’re not successful,” said Murdock.
“All of the horticulture and agriculture instructors here at PTC have been involved with FFA at some level throughout their careers,” says White. “So we know how many doors the organization can open for students, and we know how well the organization can strengthen an education in horticulture.”
Through participation, students get the invaluable opportunity to attend conferences and networking events through a national organization with roughly 500,000 members and a very large alumni base.
“If a student comes here, and is serious about advancing their degrees in FFA, we’re all here to help them achieve their American degree, which is the highest they can achieve, and a great addition to a resume,” White says.
The Bridge to a Bachelor’s Degree
Students who know they’re headed toward a bachelor’s degree can start with our Horticulture program and earn credit toward a degree at Clemson University. Because Piedmont Technical College has articulation agreements with Clemson University’s Horticulture, Turfgrass and Agriculture Education programs, students can qualify for up to 62 hours of transfer credit.
“Our transfer option with Clemson is really unique,” says Murdock. “We have a faculty and staff here at Piedmont who are committed to seeing students succeed, and to help them make sure that, if transferring is their goal, they take the right classes to make sure they get the maximum amount of credit.”
PTC Horticulture students have the opportunity to meet with a representative from Clemson on PTC’s campus several times a year to talk about the requirements and to get a first-hand understanding of the expectations at the University.
Students also visit the University during the course of their studies at Piedmont Technical College.
Murdock says that the smaller student-to-teacher ratio and locally accessible classes help students adjust to college life, and the real-world experience in horticulture at PTC will give students an advantage when they’re ready to enter the work force.
Best of all, because Piedmont Tech’s tuition is the lowest in its service region, students who start at PTC save thousands in tuition and fees by completing their first two-years here.
PTC transfer students also enjoy a high level of success in Clemson’s program after transferring. According to Murdock, 100 percent of recent transfer students have either graduated from Clemson or are on track to graduate soon.
Overall, the Horticulture program is driven by a student success philosophy.
“One of the reasons we believe that our students are successful is that we mentor them. We want them to succeed, and we take a personal interest in each of our students. Because ultimately if they’re not successful, then we’re not successful,” said Murdock.