Growing passion: Students sculpt a living outdoors in Landscape Technology Program
Photos and Story by Misty Bouse
With many options offering wide-ranging skill sets, the Landscape Technology Program (LAT) enables Portland Community College students to choose healthy careers that better the built world while also greening their futures.
“In one day, I might be looking at plants under the microscope, then using a chainsaw the next, and a CAD program to illustrate and design gardens. It is an incredibly broad discipline!” said LAT Chair Elizabeth Brewster, who is in her 14th year as a PCC instructor.
The diversity of students that come together in the LAT program is broad as well.
- The Landscape Technology Program combines horticulture and environmental science, construction, and art skills to create a solid foundation for rewarding careers in the green industry including landscape construction and maintenance, design, management, arboriculture, and habitat restoration. While the Oregon Employment Department reports landscape manager wages range from $19.68 to $43.20 per hour, the average annual salary is $63,867.
“It’s great to be a part of our program that has people with so many different backgrounds and stories who join in the common pursuit of designing, constructing and maintaining the landscapes of the future,” said instructor David Sandrock, who earned a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University.
Sandrock maintains an Oregon Landscape Contractors Professional License and is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist. Having worked as a nursery manager, landscape designer and landscape contractor, he teaches “Landscape Math,” “Landscape Construction,” “Plant Identification” and “Tree Care.”
The LAT program is small but mighty with veterans of the industry who have passion, believing plants are good for people and the planet.
“I had a real interest in plants, and knew I wanted to work outside. And I wanted to get dirty, and to wear boots and ride in trucks. We’re typically outdoorsy,” said Brewster, who has a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from the University of Maryland and worked as a horticulturist for public gardens as well as a landscape designer and project manager for design-build companies.
She insists you can have fun in the field and make a good living.
“It’s a growing industry. Landscape companies are swamped and can’t hire enough staff,” she said. “Since the pandemic, people are wanting outdoor spaces that feel safer, and this has not let up. Firms are booked out for months and months. We’re at a high level of demand with our students being recruited straight out of their internships. While we’re not recession-proof, there’s absolutely job security!”
While it is very much a learn by doing program, LAT has kept pace.
“The whole sustainability focus is huge! From eco roofs to bioswales to pollinators and native plantings to plant-insect interactions,” said Brewster, whose colleague agrees.
“In an ever changing world with increasing pressures from climate and population, this is an important responsibility. But there is also a great opportunity to have a career that is focused on meaningful problem-solving coupled with developing beautiful, useful spaces. It is a good fit for many people,” added Sandrock.
The Rock Creek Campus includes 260 acres of woodlands, wetlands and grassland, a diverse collection of farm animals, and a 3.6 acre Learning Garden offering experience with active bee hives, pruning, planting and designing for sustainability. Here, nature lovers can study two-year degree options, or less-than one year certificates, and prepare for the State Landscape Contractors Exam.
“We like to have a good time, get hands-on, go on field trips and visit job sites, nurseries, and native habitats,” Brewster added. “We’re a fun program with a supportive community in the industry and within the program. LAT students are friendly and often study together outside of class. We get a lot of second-career people: lawyers to office workers who are tired of indoor work. Plant connection is very restorative.”
Many students establish their own business in construction, maintenance or design by pursuing an associate degree in landscape technology. Landscape management includes maintaining residential, estate, commercial and public properties, golf courses, private and public gardens, and parks. The Landscape Design degree prepares students to work in the landscape design and construction field, for landscape contractors or as independent designers. Whereas, the Landscape Entry Level Certificate prepares students to enter landscape management and/or construction.
Once students near completion of their studies, they have access to a landscape jobs board and the department’s employment specialist. LAT graduates smoothly transition into participants and leaders in the industry.
“At one of our recent open house events, it was great to see how many PCC LAT alumni were now playing very active roles in the industry,” said Sandrock.
For more details, visit the Landscape Technology Program webpage.
Supporting Community Colleges
Portland Community College is the largest educational institution in the state and is one of the largest employers in the Portland metro region. Without improved investment in workforce training, skills building and essential wrap-around support services for students, PCC cannot provide economic mobility to Oregon’s underserved communities. It benefits everyone when the state supports Oregonians to attain degrees and better paying jobs.
Learn more on how you can help PCC and the state’s 16 other community colleges get the funding support they need to build Oregon’s economic future by visiting: https://www.pcc.edu/college-relations/