College and University Turfgrass Programs: State Technical College of Missouri
State Technical College of Missouri’s (State Tech) Associate of Applied Science degree program in Commercial Turf and Grounds Management is designed to prepare students to enter careers in the golf course, athletic turf and landscaping industries. The program has a 99% placement rate, and the work of State Tech graduates can be seen on golf courses, athletic fields, landscapes or at garden centers and greenhouses throughout Missouri and beyond.
State Tech is a two-year technical college that offers Associate of Applied Science degrees, and the school has grown approximately 80% during the past eight years (with a current enrollment of more than 2,300).
The Commercial Turf and Grounds Management program used to be capped at 22 first-year students, but enrollment numbers have trended upward in recent years and the program now sets its goal at 50 first-year students.
“We started with 38 first-year students this year,” said Ryan Klatt, department chair, Commercial Turf and Grounds Management. “Between our first- and second-year students, we currently have 56 in the program. It is an Associate of Applied Science in Commercial Turf and Grounds Management.”
State Tech also offers a 1-year certificate in either Turfgrass Management or Landscape Management, but does not have any certificate students at this time.
“I try to talk students into pursuing their associate degree,” said Klatt. “When you look at the job ads out there, most of them require a 2- or 4-year degree.”
State Tech’s facilities and grounds include a new facility for the Commercial Turf and Grounds Management Department. Three years ago, the college took ownership of a 9-hole community golf course that had been struggling, and built a new $3-million facility at the site – complete with greenhouse, driving range and entertainment complex.
“Our classrooms and our shop are out here, and students get to go out on the golf course,” said Klatt. “I teach an equipment operations class, and students mow the greens and fairways, rake bunkers, and everything that is required on the golf course.”
Despite being taught in a golf course setting, State Tech’s Commercial Turf and Grounds Management program is much more than just golf course management.
Although many students pursue careers in golf course management, State Tech graduates work in professional landscaping, as well as in sports field management careers at all levels of sports.
“We educate students on a range of equipment – from reel and rotary mowers to skid-steer loaders and mini excavators – and we try to get everyone onto every type of equipment they would encounter out in the industry,” said Klatt.
Now in his twenty-third year of teaching, Klatt – who formerly worked in golf course management – teaches the equipment operations, turf, irrigation and shop classes, while his colleague, Nick Rackers, teaches landscape design, plant propagation, herbaceous ID, woody ID, weeds/diseases/insects/pests, etc.
According to Klatt, much of the coursework is hands-on experience, but it depends on the time of the year. For the equipment operations class, safety procedures are covered in class, but then students are outside running equipment for two hours every day. In the shop class, students learn how to weld, sharpen reels and troubleshoot engines. Classes such as plant propagation or woody ID and maintenance feature plenty of hands-on experience as well.
“A student doesn’t need to know what they want to do when they come in,” Klatt added. “Everyone takes all of the classes. The more they know when they get out, the more valuable they are going to be.”
The Commercial Turf and Grounds Management program at State Tech breaks its class schedule into 8-week sections. The academic year begins in August with the first 8-week section running from August until early/mid-October; followed by another 8-week section from mid-October to Christmas break. Following the holiday break, students are on campus for another 8-week set of classes, with the academic year concluding the first week of March. First-year students then have a mandatory internship between their first and second years – from March until August.
“They are on the job, training and making money for six months,” said Klatt. “That gives them a chance to focus on the area they are most interested.”
Second-year students follow the same schedule, which allows them to graduate by March of their second year.
Added Klatt, “We do that so employers have help for a longer amount of time. It allows those on internship to experience multiple seasons, and it allows the graduates to get out there during peak hiring season.”
State Tech students are able to showcase their skills in settings such as the state Professional Agriculture Students (PAS) conference, which offers turfgrass, landscape and floriculture competitions, as well as a career-building component.
“We used to go to nationals with PAS, but the organization focuses more on agriculture,” said Klatt.
Now, State Tech uses the state PAS as a qualifier, and if students qualify for national PAS, State Tech instead takes them to a national event based on their area of interest – such as the SFMA Student Challenge, the GCSAA Turf Bowl, or the NALP Student Career Days.
“We have found that it works better for our students, because they can choose their area of interest, which allows them to go and network with people they might not otherwise meet,” Klatt added.
Although some graduates of the program go on to pursue their bachelor’s degree, most go straight into the industry. Many State Tech turf and grounds students gain exposure to potential employers through the department’s Commercial Turf and Grounds Career Expo, which brings in dozens of companies from several states to meet existing students.
State Tech alumni have gone on to work for (among others) the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, Boston Red Sox, Sporting KC, MU Athletics, as well as professional landscape and design companies, botanical gardens, and golf courses such as Oakmont, Valhalla and Bellerive.
The success of its alumni has helped State Tech when it comes to recruiting new students, and making them aware of the Commercial Turf and Grounds Management program. The department displays banners of the various teams, organizations, golf courses and companies at which its graduates are employed. Prospective students are able to see those banners during their tour of the facilities.
“A big thing that helps the college as a whole is just getting people to see what we offer,” said Klatt.
In addition to on-campus tours, State Tech reaches prospective students through career fairs, communication with state high school agriculture teachers, via word of mouth from alumni, and through television commercials during major sporting events.