Karen Schneck is a first-year graduate student at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. When she finishes her education, her goal is to become a grower at a commercial operation, ideally producing annuals and perennials — plants she says she loves because they “make other people happy.” To prepare her for her dream job, she has interned at Skagit Gardens in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa. She’s also been awarded various horticulture-related scholarships over the past few years, including the Dr. P. Allen Hammer scholarship from Dümmen Orange and the 2018-19 Shinoda Foundation Scholarship.
Greenhouse Management: What made you want to pursue a career in horticulture?
KS: First, when I was very young, my mom and grandma had a huge flower garden, so I started to get that love of flowers and nature through them. And then as I got older, I got involved with 4-H, where I did the horticulture judging contests, the state judging contests where I got exposed to [Kansas State’s] horticulture, and then I was also involved in the plant science options in 4-H. I did all of the horticulture contests that I could and, through my school, I got some experience in the greenhouse. And with my [grandma’s garden club], I took a tour of a commercial greenhouse; that was my first with a commercial greenhouse. All of those things inspired me to take on horticulture as a career. I knew in high school that being a grower [was] the direction I wanted to go in.
GM: Do you feel there are enough scholarships and internships available for aspiring horticulturists? What could growers do to make an internship experience more worthwhile?
KS: No, I don’t. [What’s available now] is a good start, but there’s always, always room for improvement. Kids searching for horticulture opportunities in college — they need help in college, and I think, for some people, it’s more challenging. Any support that the industry can give to students is extremely necessary. And there are some fantastic scholarships out there and I’ve been honored to receive several of them. But I think there need to be more made available for more students. I think being open to the needs and customizations of the students [matters] because maybe some students are super interested in propagation or finishing or maybe they want to do some research. It’s about making sure your program is super customizable and open to the interpretation of the students. Adapt to them.
GM: What do you feel like the horticulture industry could do to get more young people interested in the industry?
KS: I think a lot of it has to start in middle school and earlier and throughout those formative years when [children] are searching out what they love and they are passionate about. I think there’s a lot of good being done with the Seed Your Future campaign and with youth organizations like 4-H and FFA. Those kids are so dedicated to what they do — the green industry needs those people. What really needs to happen is greenhouse owners and green industry professionals and garden centers need to focus in locally through those organizations.