Whether you’re seeking to advance your career, sharpen your skills or both, there are ample educational opportunities that can fit your schedule and learning style. Flexibility has become a component of today’s educational community, making it easier than ever before to take a single course or a group of courses in a specific area of concentration. That extends beyond turfgrass and agronomy to computer skills, accounting, management practices and communication.


Mineral Area College students paint the circles in the mascot stencil they created for homecoming.
PHOTO BY CHAD FOLLIS.

You may want to make continuing education a team effort and challenge your staff members to seek educational opportunities, encouraging them to take specific courses as a step to advancement. Explore options within your facility or organization to provide funding for proven successful completion of qualified courses.

Online

The Ohio State University Sports Turf Certificate Program is an online program developed specifically to meet the professional objectives of traditional and nontraditional students. Podcasts combine the topic-focused presentations of OSU turfgrass researchers and educators with photo and/or video illustrations. Unlike a classroom session or on-site seminar, these podcasts can be viewed via computer anytime, day or night, and multiple times if desired.

The program consists of five certificates, which include: Soils & Sands for Sports Fields; Turfgrasses; Cultural Practices; IPM, Weeds, Pests and Diseases; and Synthetic Turf. These may be taken individually, with certificate recognition of successful completion; all five combine for the complete Sports Turf Management Certificate Program.

Pam Sherratt, sports turf specialist for Ohio State University, says, “The individual certificates provide an opportunity to tailor the learning experience to specific needs. We’ve had people who take all but the synthetic turf component and some who only want to take the synthetic turf component.”

The program is offered year-round, so you can start whenever it fits your schedule. However, each individual certificate must be completed within 10 weeks of the start date. If you decide to take all five components, the completion deadline is one year.


Mineral Area College students admire the logo they painted from the stencil they created.
PHOTO BY STACEY FOLLIS.

Each of the five certificates have assignments, some written and some hands-on, that apply the principles studied to real-world sports field applications. Sherratt says, “They may be required to conduct an infiltration test or irrigation audit, identify grasses and list their characteristics, or do a soil settlement test and plot it against the triangle. We include math in these assignments, too. That could be calculating fertilization requirements or determining how many gallons of paint would be required to lay out a soccer field given the basic field dimensions.”

To ensure the same accountability as on-site college courses, you must successfully complete these assignments and pass the examination taken online at the completion of each of the five modules to earn the certificate.

Sherratt says, “Our program has been approved for either educational value points or CEU points for the STMA Certified Sports Field Manager program. Any educational institution that has a sports turf continuing program can now request review for this approval through the STMA certification committee.”

Community college

Community colleges are one option for study on a part-time basis, as well as a two-year degree program. Quite a few offer evening classes or a combination of on-site and online course work to accommodate the schedules of those in the workforce. Many are incorporating turfgrass courses into their broader horticulture programs and include a sports field component if they offer a dedicated turf management program.

“The interaction between traditional and nontraditional students is a benefit, too,” says Chad Follis, horticulture instructor for Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo. “I have students from 17 to 62 in our program. They bring a variety of backgrounds and skill sets to the classroom that are very similar to what many sports field managers will encounter within the workforce of their facility. Each person learns from the others and gains insight into how to communicate with those at different points on the learning curve in specific areas. The technologically advanced teenager can share computer skills with those still struggling to master a spreadsheet while learning the basics of operating power equipment or how to handle an in-person interview from them.”

Craig Tolley, assistant professor of landscape and horticultural technology at County College of Morris, in Randolph, N.J., says, “About one-third of our program’s students will complete their two years here, then complete their bachelor’s degree at a four-year university, while 25 to 35 percent fall into the nontraditional category. Some are looking for a career change and some for additional training in their current field. Over the last few years, we’ve had several that were on the grounds crew of school systems or parks and recreation departments.

“Currently, around 20 percent of the 100 students in our overall horticulture programs are concentrating on turf. We do incorporate a sports field component, including hands-on participation in management practices on the fields on campus, either in conjunction with our grounds staff or as class-only sessions. Many of our classes are hybrids, combining on-site sessions with online supplements, which increases the accessibility for those in the workforce.”

Troy McQuillen, turf instructor for Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says, “About 30 percent of the 60 students in our turf program are considering sports field management or some form of lawn care. The sports field component is included in our classroom work and hands-on, applied management practices on campus. We’ve also developed a strong internship program for our sports field students, both in and out of state. Kirkwood students have interned with the Sportsturf Services division of The Brickman Group and with the Boston Red Sox.”

Increasing awareness

The addition of a sports field-focused Student Challenge program in conjunction with the national STMA Conference brings national attention to four and two-year educational opportunities. All three of these community colleges are active participants, with Follis one of those involved in developing the program and helping to coordinate it.

Follis and McQuillen have taken some innovative steps to increase the awareness of the sports field component of their turf programs. At Kirkwood, students document their internships, combining photos of the different aspects of their experience along with their written report. McQuillen says, “Freshmen take a one-credit orientation class in August that includes presentations on the internship experiences by the sophomores. Learning about things like game day field prep definitely helps students appreciate the sports side of the turf industry and draws more of them to it.”


This “Congrats Grads” logo, created by the Mineral Area College students, taught them sports field management skills and increased awareness of that component of the horticulture program.
PHOTO BY CHAD FOLLIS.

McQuillen also coordinates a weekly, two-hour study session for potential team participants in the Student Challenge, running from September up to the January conference. This past year, those students devoted Sunday afternoons, putting their skills to work to raise funds to cover their food, travel and lodging costs for the conference. McQuillen says, “They sodded a baseball infield, did some mound constructions for area ball fields, and did 62 home lawn aerations. All that generated interest as well as funds, building an even stronger level of support throughout the community.”


Kirkwood Community College students work together on building a mound.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TROY MCQUILLEN.

Follis has added a Turf 1 class as a required course in the horticulture curriculum at Mineral Area College, and offers a Turf 2 class as an elective. He says, “I wanted to increase awareness of our turf component, including the sports field aspect, throughout our campus and our community. I decided the best way to accomplish that was to visually make our mark on the turf.”

Follis volunteered the work of his turf students to create a logo to promote the annual homecoming celebration. The college has softball and baseball teams, but not football. They’ve built their homecoming activities around basketball. Follis said, “We featured our cardinal mascot, along with the word ‘homecoming’ and ‘2010.’ We integrated the project into classes, creating the stencil by tracing images projected on the wall of the campus communications room and cutting out the circles for painting. Since there wasn’t a field, we selected a high-profile location on campus to paint the logo. Students did all that, too.”

That project drew so much attention, and appreciation, the class added painted logos to two more campus events. Follis says, “We created a logo for graduation, with ‘congrats’ on top, a cap and tassel in the middle, and ‘grads’ at the bottom. For the campuswide Susan G. Komen charity event, we created one large pink ribbon and placed nine smaller ones around campus for even greater visibility. Both were teaching tools for our students. They freehanded the cap and tassel, using tapes to gauge the layout, and created the ribbon logo on graph paper to grid out for painting. We’ve also created logos for a golf tournament fundraiser and its sponsors at our local course.” The painted logos for each of these events have generated coverage by the local media, including comments by Follis, helping to extend awareness throughout the community and beyond.

These outreach programs also help establish an appreciation for knowledge and expertise of sports field managers. That’s an important part of all these education programs and the many others available to you. Consider that one more reason to take advantage of the opportunities to advance your expertise and your career.

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.