In a matter of three months, Claire Baglien realized the pandemic was going to put her next career step on hold.

Photo courtesy of Claire Baglien

In January, Baglien was accepted into the Conway School, a graduate program in Massachusetts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in food justice and sustainability and had been working various green industry jobs ever since. These jobs included a role as the urban agriculture programs specialist for the city of Minneapolis, which just ended at the end of August.

The timing was going to be perfect: She’d end her stint with the Homegrown Minneapolis program and travel out east to live in Massachusetts. But as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, she grew concerned about moving out. So, too, did some of Baglien’s classmates, who eventually learned that their program had been postponed until next fall.

“I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to be flexible, and hopefully there are things that come out of this that I wouldn’t have planned on or expected otherwise,” Baglien says. “I’m trying to explore other facets of the landscaping industry, whether that’s finding part-time greenhouse work or other things.”

Of course, there’s still some disappointment. Roughly 18 students get accepted into the Conway School each year, so Baglien was about to receive in-depth education that would’ve taken her career to the next level.

But she’s taken comfort in knowing she’s not alone. Her future classmates all joined a group call after the decision was announced to postpone, and she found her concerns about doing in-person education had been echoed by her peers. The school ultimately decided that, after trying it out in the spring as a last resort for its 2019-20 students, online learning wasn’t an option. Baglien says she’s okay with that.

“I appreciated the opportunity to hear what other people were feeling. I think (the school) did a really great job processing what this looks like for everyone,” she says. “People were coming in from out of state, and so many people just felt like that’s just not going to happen with the pandemic. Ultimately, you can’t really learn landscape design online.”

Baglien says she’ll be there next year, but in the interim, she’s going to continue working about 30 hours a week at a local landscaping company. She’s still looking for work once the Minnesota snow comes in during the winter, but it’s at this company where she’s learning about the labor that goes into the design work she aspires to do in the future. Though she’s not taking any formal classes, she’s even learned some masonry since starting the part-time work.

“I think that’s really valuable,” she says. “If my goal is to be a designer, I need to understand how those designs are implemented on the ground.”

Baglien says her interest in horticulture began as an interest in climate activism in high school, and since then, she’s dedicated herself to designing environmentally responsible landscapes. After working in an urban garden, she says she realized the connection between climate change and sustainability.

Though it’s been a winding path to get here – a path that only continues to grow unclear amidst the pandemic – Baglien says she feels confident this is the industry for her.

“Doing work that was tangible really spoke to me. Since then, I’ve been looking for ways to not be in an office,” she says. “I love building something with (clients) who have dreamed about their landscapes for 20 years.”

The author is associate editor of Lawn & Landscape magazine.