2022 Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Interns of the Year
Holly Barrus, University of Idaho & William Billmeyer, Kirkwood Community College
For three to six months of the year, the interns awarded AFE’s Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship disperse throughout the country to gear up, take on new roles, and put their classroom knowledge to work through hands-on industry experiences. Every internship cycle proves that one key to a better future for the industry is investing in our young professionals through these experiences.
Students who successfully finish the internship, complete with their written reports and video blogs, automatically qualify for the Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Award. This year, two interns shone exceptionally bright – Holly Barrus of the University of Idaho and William Billmeyer of Kirkwood Community College.
Holly and William are extraordinary examples of the spirit of the floriculture industry’s next generation and of what Dr. Paul Thomas sought for them. Through opportunities like AFE’s Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Program, interns like Holly and William get the support they need to become our future industry leaders. With evident passion, fierce dedication, and an impressive capacity for learning, they displayed all this and more during their 6-month internships – Holly at Heartland Growers and Will at Tagawa Greenhouses.
Paul Thomas Floriculture Production Intern of the Year Award
This annual award pays tribute to the late Dr. Paul Thomas, a retired University of Georgia Professor, a passionate supporter of student programs, and an advocate of AFE’s Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Program. Recipients of this award truly embody the passion Dr. Thomas displayed for student programs and keep his spirit alive by pursuing industry opportunities.
This award provides recipients with paid hotel and airfare to Cultivate Conference, free registration to Cultivate (compliments of AmericanHort), $500 spending cash for the event week, networking, and photo op with AFE representatives and Faculty members (if present) at Cultivate, and a feature article in AFE publications and trade press..
University of Idaho
6-Month Internship with Heartland Growers in Westfield, Indiana
At 14, Holly joined her local FFA chapter in Idaho. With her youthful excitement, she was exposed to not only animal fair shows, agriculture, and agronomy, but she judged state dairy competitions. She continued these experiences throughout her high school career, and by her senior year, she began to focus more seriously on floral as her passion for our industry started to blossom.
Upon her arrival at the University of Idaho, her Advisor, Dr. Robert Tripepi, helped guide her to a Horticulture and Urban Agriculture degree with a minor in Crop Science – the rest is history. He spoke highly of her involvement at school, taking advantage of extra opportunities, and doing well in all her classes. “Holly has a great head on her shoulders and is quite willing to learn. I think she’ll go as far as she wants to,” he noted.
Beyond the classroom, Holly is involved through Idaho’s Plant and Soil Plants Club, founding the Hydroponics Club, and many other opportunities that involve what she describes as “unconventional ideas of production.” Her interests are not limited to one area of the industry, either. “I don’t have a specific passion because I like so much of the whole industry. The most inspiring, hope-filled facet of the industry is that you can do what you want, pretty much the way you want to. The horticulture industry gives a lot of creativity to the individual to demonstrate different talents, skillsets, and pursue different dreams.”
Through our Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Program, Holly was able to do just that. Placed with Heartland Growers in Westfield, Indiana, Holly experienced many areas of their operation, from production lines to growing, sowing, and shipping final products. Not only did she learn the ins and outs of facility operations, but she connected with the workers, their strategies, and personal processes. No matter where she was, she enjoyed working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with co-workers, applying classroom knowledge to her new responsibilities, and learning that growing strategy is relative to the grower. Holly Says, “One of the biggest things I pulled away from my internship was learning how to work with people of all walks of life and levels of experience. Heartland’s emphasis on teamwork and communication helped me take the time to really listen to my peers. I built confidence in my ideas and learned to build a bridge between my experiences and the experiences of others.”
Holly shined in this internship, learning that the industry has more to offer beyond classes. “Holly was a delight to work with. She was confident, able to learn quickly, and had a very good attitude. The industry is changing, and Holly brings hope for growers if there are more students like her willing to do what it takes to get the job done,” said her Internship Supervisor, Tom Samuelson. AFE is pleased to be able to connect our industry to bright young professionals like Holly; she’s a great example of why programs like this are so important.
Looking forward, Holly says she’s more prepared. She noted, “Now, I have more practical skills, not just book skills. I’m grateful for the Vic and Margaret Ball Internship Program because it helped make my knowledge more applicable, gave me a window to the industry, and gave me experiences I can take with me for the rest of my career.”
The next step is Cultivate 2022. She said she’s “super excited” to attend and looks forward to learning from different sessions, making connections, and spending time at the trade show.
It’s clear Holly has thrived in the industry and is excited to let experiences like these continue to shape her future in floral. She has hopes to one-day own land and develop a community garden to provide resources for underprivileged families and after-school jobs for youth. Ultimately, she hopes to stay in production, “I’m willing to try just about anything. Whether it’s growing flowers or vegetable plants, I’m motivated to let my dreams become a reality.”
Kirkwood Community College
6-Month Internship with Tagawa Greenhouses in Brighton, Colorado
Will Billmeyer has his grandmothers to thank for his interest in plants and landscaping. With both having big gardens for him to play and plant in (i.e., experiment with annuals), those moments cultivated a seed he would later take as a career.
Believe it or not, Will began at Kirkwood Community College in software development. Not far into the year, he knew something was missing. Will considered other programs and found Landscape Horticulture Studies. “I really enjoyed working with plants a lot more than I thought I did – a bit more than just a hobby and it was very interesting to me,” he said.
Through this program, Will was exposed to different areas of plants, from design to propagation and turf. Still finding himself interested in flowers, annuals, and vegetables for their quick turnaround, he started, again, to experiment. Through these efforts, Will grew close with his instructors, who later recommended he apply for AFE’s Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship Program. After acceptance and placement interviews, Will was hired at Tagawa Greenhouses in Brighton, Colorado – the first move he ever made out of Iowa.
Despite the daunting move across the country, Will was thrilled with what he could learn in Colorado. He notes, “It was absolutely fascinating to see an area that had multiple climates and hardiness zones. I got to learn a lot more about them than I would have staying in Iowa.”
From the get-go, Will was thrilled to have so many opportunities to learn. From working with more advanced equipment and various plants to starting a special project with the head grower at Tagawa, the experience exceeded his expectations across the board. Bob Smith, Will’s advisor at Kirkwood, describes him as a great student. Having had Will in class and visited him at Tagawa through AFE’s reimbursement program, Mr. Smith has seen Will thrive in many settings. “I think Will does a great job understanding his work from a science perspective. This led well into his internship,” he noted.
Tagawa’s program showed Will operations from all sides. They moved him in rotations from production to shipping, right into stores and a virtual conference. Software developer turned green thumb; Will thrived at Tagawa. His internship supervisor, Ashlie Tagawa Mohr, says, “Will was very involved even from the early stages of trials and tracking very specific details in our production teams. He was the go-to person for plant knowledge when he worked with our retail teams. His love of plants really shone through his work.”
Looking back on the internship, Will values the perspective he gained of the industry, helping him realize there’s a well of green knowledge to pull from in different locations. Moving beyond Iowa opened the door to more versatile and flexible horticulture knowledge that keeps him excited about learning. Will says, “The Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship Program gave me an experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The scholarship helped finance my move to Colorado, make connections through Tagawa, and even bring it all back to my school. I’m just amazed at how much the practical application of the experience affected my knowledge in class.”
With a year left at Kirkwood, Will is already helping instructors develop course material with his projects and has plans to speak to first years about his internship experience. With Cultivate 2022 on deck and additional education in genetics up for consideration, Will says he’s excited to expand his network with the help of Tagawa connections and, of course, see what more he can learn.
AFE’s Internship Programs
As the trusted source and catalyst for floriculture advancement, AFE’s scholarship and internship programs invest in young professionals, connect them within the industry, and facilitate quality, hands-on environments to learn and grow their careers. The Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship and the Mosmiller Intern Scholarship offer bright young professionals like Holly and Will the opportunity to contribute to the industry beyond the classroom meaningfully. The American Floral Endowment is proud to uplift these individuals and help facilitate a stronger future for floriculture.
Upon completing AFE internships, students also receive a scholarship to help further support their education and career. If you are interested in hosting interns, please reach out to AFE’s Program Coordinator, Candice Musgrove at firstname.lastname@example.org.