Oklahoma State University turf management

Heath McDonald uses a simpmeter on a grass plot for golf course greens as Charles Fontanier watches at OSU’s Turf Management test facility; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

Unique academic programs in Oklahoma prepare graduates to fill high-demand jobs on some of the nation’s most renowned landscape and turf projects, including designing world-class city parks and managing top-rated golf courses.

Oklahoma State University (OSU) operates the only accredited undergraduate Landscape Architecture Program and the only four-year Turfgrass Management Program in the state. Both degree programs operate within the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. The programs celebrate a nearly 100% placement rate for graduates.

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Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

Yet, despite the promising job prospects and starting salaries around $40,000, prospective students often overlook these career fields. They frequently misconceive landscape architecture as planning a garden or turf management as just mowing lawns.

“These are science-based programs that students go through, and it’s a science-based, evidence-based management system they are conducting,” says Charles Fontanier, assistant professor of turfgrass at OSU. “I tell my students there are not very many people in the world who can keep a plant alive at a tenth of an inch on a putting green.”

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Meaningful Careers Make an Impact

Often misunderstood and underappreciated, design careers in landscape architecture carry the potential to make significant economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts improving quality of life, says Michael Holmes, OSU program director and professor of landscape architecture.

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“The profession of landscape architecture is closely aligned with architecture, city planning, civil engineering and horticulture,” Holmes says. “Most people initially think of landscape architecture as ‘landscaping’ or primarily about plants and garden design.”

Rather, landscape architecture encompasses the design of parks, streetscapes, trails, plazas and other projects to help define a community. Some of the best-built examples in Oklahoma include the internationally recognized Guthrie Green or the new, world-class riverfront park called Gathering Place, both located in Tulsa.

Oklahoma State University’s Landscape Architecture Program Director Michael Holmes on the campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

“If you are interested in both art and science, then landscape architecture is a really good profession. It’s an impactful profession. It’s very exciting to see your work built and to see how people engage and interact in these places that started in your mind as part of your imagination,” Holmes says.

About 10 students per year graduate from OSU’s five-year bachelor’s program in landscape architecture, offering an attractive student-to-professor ratio. As a result, students share meaningful interactions with industry pros, including guest lectures, on-campus workshops, off-site tours and national conferences.

“Because we’re a small program, we work really hard to engage the students in the profession,” Holmes says. “Before the students graduate, they will have over 100 opportunities to engage with professionals.”

OSU’s Landscape Architecture Program Director Michael Holmes goes over a design with student Kenzie Cejka; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

Solid Education Yields Rewarding Career

In addition to networking opportunities, students in the Turfgrass Management Program gain exposure to internationally recognized turf research and plant breeding programs at OSU’s turfgrass research station.

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Subsequently, students graduate with a science-based understanding that well-managed turf improves the economic and environmental values of properties. They learn how management of turf can impact many sports, from the strategy of the game to the safety of youth athletes and multimillion-dollar professionals competing on them.

Graduates of the Turfgrass Management Program secure jobs managing some of the nation’s top facilities. In fact, OSU alumni today manage several of the nation’s top 50 golf courses and well-known sports fields, including Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home to the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

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OSU Landscape Architecture student Kenzie Cejka works on a design for a client’s garden; Photo by Nathan Lambrecht

To bring more attention to this overlooked career field, Fontanier helped organize the inaugural turf management contest with the state FFA association in 2019. Oklahoma represents the fifth state to offer such a contest and organizers hope to trigger a nationwide trend.

“These careers are widely overlooked by students,” Fontanier says. “We are hoping to get awareness to ag students about this career opportunity, which can give them a chance to stay close to home or a chance to see the world.”

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