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Kansas State turf program grows well-rounded careers

This item originally appeared in Toro’s Grounds for Success September 28 newsletter:

Sure, the K-State Turfgrass Science program has plenty to do with the science of growing grass, managing water, and more. But what they’re also growing are graduates ready to succeed and advance through a variety of career stages.

“We have evolved over time to incorporate coursework into our program that we consider most important for students to succeed,” notes Jack Fry, Professor of Turfgrass Science at Kansas State University. That evolution includes coursework in hotel management and restaurant services in addition to the tradition turf science courses. “We feel golf course superintendents, somewhere along the career track, may have interest in becoming a manager of the entire facility.”

Career preparation includes a requirement of two internships before graduation. The goal is to make sure the students are well rounded and enter the workforce with industry experience as part of their education. Internships at golf courses, resorts, athletic facilities, landscape and maintenance companies, country clubs and more help ensure that graduations are prepared for a variety of opportunities.

Focus On Stressed Conditions

Because of its varying soil and climate conditions, Kansas is a difficult area to grow grass. “We deal a lot with stress issues, and in particular heat stress and drought stress and cold stress, so we put a lot of emphasis on that,” says Fry. Research conducted at Kansas State is helping to develop grasses that need less fertilizer, less pesticides, and even less water. The university continually researches with the goal of “finding grasses that fit and perform well under all those conditions with minimal input.”

Through variety trials that identify grasses that resistant to diseases and/or insects, the faculty and students are developing ways to create a more sustainable surface. As Fry looks to the not-to-distant future he sees a time where “you could potentially have a golf course superintendent that’s got a grass there that requires very little input.”

Emerging Technology And Business Management

Part of that commitment to future-focused progress involves making sure students are up on the latest industry technologies and manufacturing advances. Fry notes that Toro is one of the companies heavily involved in the education of the next generation. “Toro comes in and they spend a week telling students about the latest technology in the industry and how that applies to sports turf or golf courses.” Add the internships to the real-world education that students receive from industry partners, and it’s easy to see what Kansas State turf program graduates are so well prepared for a variety of career choices.

Still, success in the turf industry is much like success in any other industry — it all comes down to people communicating with people. That’s why the well-rounded preparation at Kansas State will always be an emphasis. “Communication is almost number one” for students, notes Fry. “They have to be able to manage the crew well, the budget well, so the business emphasis is still going to remain.”

Check out this video to learn more about how the K-State Turfgrass Science program is developing graduates and researching grasses that are each the future of the industry.

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