Center Update: High School to NC State Turfgrass Program

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Creative Pathways to Engaging High School Students to Study Turfgrass Science

PIs: Lori Unruh Snyder and Dr. Richard J. Cooper


Turfgrass Science is a unique area of study for undergraduate students with less than 25 land grant universities offering these programs. When reviewing current literature to compare our study with others, the data was limited. There were only a few papers published within the realms of turfgrass education, but they focused on teaching pedagogy of on-line learning (Bigalow, 2009 and Turgeon, Di Biase, and Miller 2012). However, we did find one study conducted in 2002, by the University of Georgia (Seagle and Iverson), to determine the characteristics of the turfgrass industry in the year 2020 in order to recommend curriculum content for agricultural education programs of the future. They had specific objectives to determine the general characteristics of the turfgrass industry in the year 2020 utilizing a demographic profile of opinion leaders in the turfgrass industry to gather data for the Delphi technique to achieve consensus among turfgrass experts to outline the workforce requirements of the turfgrass industry, and the educational requirements of those employed in the turfgrass industry by the year 2020. This paper was critical for this research project in order to move forward for what the next twenty years would like for educators. What does the turfgrass science curriculum look like in 2040 and/or did we meet the expectations of the Delphi study in 2020? Thus, this report contributes to the data in need of being published for the Turfgrass Industry to understand what we have learned about the current interest of students and potentially the direction we need to continue to grow for recruitment and retention.

Background of Programs Offered for Retention and Recruitment

Prior to the years of 2015, there were very few opportunities for Turfgrass Science students to travel abroad or to become involved in high school recruitment projects allowing our undergraduate students to be key leaders in program development. Thus from 2015 up to the Fall of 2018, students had increased opportunities to travel and to get to know each other outside of the typical academic schedule. We created a new program called the “Turfgrass Ambassador Leadership Program” and it was a pilot program starting in 2018, where selected students for the Ambassador Leadership Program were within the Department of Crop & Soil Science in Turfgrass Science studies. The overall mission of the “Turfgrass Ambassador Leadership Program” was to provide students the opportunity to engage in transformational leadership activities. During the spring of 2019, a two-day “Turfgrass Science Academy” program offered to high school students interested in the NC State University, where they experienced workshops organized by the student leaders who went to the Dominican Republic. There were 14 participants (7 parents; 7 students: senior (3), junior (1), sophomore (2), and freshman (1)), who learned about turfgrass identification, field research and management techniques for golf courses, research, and career pathways by our Turfgrass Science Alumni from both the 2 and 4-year programs.

career path

Figure 1: High School Students’ Career Pathway Interest Related to Turfgrass Sciences, 2019-2020.

Results and Discussion

Assessments were given throughout the retention and recruitment events. The high school students and parents who participated in the Turfgrass Academy in 2019, responded to two questions asked on the Likert scale (1=so-so, 3=pretty good, and 5=fantastic) for their overall experience =4.92 and experience during the Turf alumni dinner = 4.64. All participants (N=14) responded they have a clear understanding of the Turfgrass Science Program and the educational opportunities at NC State. All participants responded they would recommend the program to their friends and schools. We had similar interests for the program in 2020, with students coming from rural agricultural communities and with similar interests in studying to study Turfgrass Science at NC State (Figure 1). When reviewing the Delphi study by Sealge and Iverson (2002) who implicated characteristics of the turfgrass industry in 2020 they listed as their top ten skills needed for the upcoming students were the following: (1) computers skills would play a major role in educational, decision-making and recording keeping process for turfgrass manager’s job; (2) utilizing sophisticated equipment; (3) more “on-line” training as well as access to information on turf management; (4) increase interest in environmental issues of use of scarce water resources and more remediation about water pollution; (5) increased demanding services more aligned with industry; (6) emphasis in new cultivars; (7) increased need for degrees in the specialization of turfgrass with at least a 2 or 4-year degree in the area of plant or soil sciences to assist with superintendent certification; (8) increased skills with people management, risks, communication skills, and increased public relations; (9) use of treated water for more green management treatments for water use; and (10) increased understanding of environmental regulations. When comparing Seagle and Iverson’s (2002) findings with the topics that were discussed throughout our recruitment projects we paralleled with their findings. The undergraduate students involved in the program were highly motivated to share with the high school students their interest in using their computer skills (1) with computerized programs in making decisions in turfgrass management. There was a mutual synergy with those inclusions in our program set up. In addition, a mutual interest from the undergraduate student turfgrass science majors and participants to learn about the equipment used (2). In addition, the students wanted to include the benefits of conversation related to turfgrass science (4), which matched the interest of the high school students interested in the academy program. The program also included sharing information about plant breeding related to the industry (6) and students interested in obtaining a major and/or minor in Turfgrass Science (7). Therefore, we conclude that in the future there is, even more, need to work more closely with the agricultural education teachers to help assist with the planning and development of curricula. Teachers of agricultural education should be included in future Turfgrass workshops and seminars and should be invited to help assist with creating ideas of inclusion in the students’ environmental and agricultural study classes. Recruitment of students into turfgrass programs should be based on expanding career opportunities. Groups that are traditionally lacking in representation in turfgrass, such as minorities and women, should be actively recruited into turfgrass programs. In 1969, O’Kelley defined curriculum as “the sum total of the student’s experiences and activities under the direction of the school, including teaching materials and methodology” (p. 29) which is critical to our future industry’s workforce and our much-needed steps to the future.


  1. Seagle, E., and I. Maynard. (2002), Professor. Characteristics of the Turfgrass Industry in 2020: A Delphi study with implications to agricultural education programs. A publication of the Southern Region of the American Association of Agricultural Education Volume 52 Number 1.
  2. Bigelow, C.A. (2009) Comparing student performance in an online versus face-to-face introductory turfgrass science course – A case study. NACTA Journal 53:1-7.
  3. O’Kelley, G. L., Jr. (1969). Curriculum planning: A consuming demand. American Vocational Journal 4l4(33),29-31.