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  • Author or Editor: Dan T. Stearns x
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Decisions regarding curricular direction are often made by departmental committees comprised of faculty who are most closely associated with the curriculum. While knowledgeable about current direction, these faculty may not be positioned to accurately forecast future shifts in industry focus. By including employers, potential employers, alumni, students, and representatives from similar programs in the process, alternative views and opinions critical to the visioning process are generated. Penn State's recent efforts in program assessment will be outlined.

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Certain principles that appear in examples of successful design create the structure around which landscape design education is woven. Concepts of balance, contrast, rhythm, dominance, unity, and order must be understood before quality &sign is produced, but these concepts are often difficult to explain in a classroom situation. Commercially available vi&o imaging software has proven to be a valuable tool in increasing student understanding of design principles. After scanning an actual site photograph, students add, delete, or modify plant materials and other amenities to strengthen the design principles as they relate to the specific site. Benefits of this method over traditional lecture or studio techniques include the ability to investigate a variety of sites and an increased ability to observe the inter-dependency of design principles. As modifications are made to strengthen one principle, the others are also affected in either a positive or negative manner.

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ePortfolios are gaining popularity in academic communities worldwide. Purposes of ePortfolios include: converting student work from paper to digital format, thereby allowing it to be centrally organized, searchable, and transportable throughout their academic lives and careers; promoting student centered learning and reflection; improving advising; and career planning and resume building. Pennsylvania State University is investing in the use of ePortfolios in course work throughout the university system. To facilitate these efforts, the university provides all students and faculty with 500 MB of hosted web space to create and share their portfolios. One of the courses using ePortfolios is Horticulture 120, Computer Applications for Landscape Contracting, in the Landscape Contracting program. Outcomes of implementing ePortfolios include increased availability of student work to potential employers, enhanced recruiting through displays of student work, and enabled reflection on completed work. Students showed improved quality in project work because their projects would be publicly available through the Internet to potential employers, faculty, family, and other students.

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In a survey of 42 recent graduates of the Penn State Department of Horticulture's Landscape Contracting major, 29 respondents indicated their present employment, salary range, and the type of work in which they were involved. 25 were employed by landscape contracting firms, 1 by an irrigation design firm, and 3 were attending graduate school. Salaries ranged from a low of $12,000 to $15,000, to a high of $30,000 to $35,000, with average just below $20,000. 19 were involved in landscape installation, while 14 were doing landscape design and 14 maintenance. Work in pest control and irrigation were each identified by 6 respondents. The survey requested identification of four areas important to their employment that were not adequately addressed in the curriculum. Equipment handling and repair and pest control received the greatest response. Also requested was identification of four aspects of the curriculum that were most useful to them in their employment. Design, plant identification, and construction practices received the greatest responses in this category.

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In discussions among industry representatives, faculty, and graduates of the department of horticulture at Penn State community service was identified as an important attribute of successful landscape contracting companies. To foster a sense of community service responsibility among students, service projects were integrated into three horticulture courses. Fifty-four students in a planting design course worked with township officials to develop a planting plan for a new park located 10 miles from campus. Students planted 120 trees, which were obtained from a nursery operated by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections. Eighty-eight students in two classes, landscape planning and issues in landscape contracting, volunteered to work on a farm being developed as an environmental education center. Work included mechanical and chemical control of invasive species and planting of natives. In discussions following these projects, students expressed personal satisfaction and a willingness to participate in future community service projects.

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As the landscape design/build industry continues to develop, opportunities for providing baccalaureate degree programs in landscape contracting increase. Employers seek individuals with competencies that are not adequately addressed by traditional horticulture or landscape architecture curricula. The Department of Horticulture at Penn State has developed a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Contracting degree. The program, now entering its fourth year of resident instruction, has experienced rapid growth and a high degree of success. Annual increases in student interest and demand have necessitated caps on the number of students entering the major. An emphasis on design process and on construction technology, and a requirement for successful completion of courses in Horticulture and allied departments contribute to an education which instructs students in the art, science, and management of a professional design/build business. Integration of computer-aided design into Landscape Contracting courses positions graduates to carry current technology to the industry. Students obtain skills on the use of AutoCAD, LandCADD, and New Image software.

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