Inspiring and Empowering the Next Generation of the Floral Industry

Inspiring and Empowering the Next Generation of the Floral Industry

Alejandra Ruelas’ Life-Changing Internship Experience at Altman Plants


Alejandra at IntershipInternships and scholarships encourage and support the next generation of our industry. The Endowment aims to inspire the future leaders of our industry and give them hands-on experience in the field to ensure the continued growth of floriculture. One of the many opportunities provided through AFE is the Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship Program. Hear directly from one of our interns what her experience was like and how it impacted her future career goals!

First, let’s share a bit about the Vic & Margaret Ball Internship – this program gives students the opportunity to gain practical floriculture/horticulture experience while training at a commercial production greenhouse or nursery. Students intern away from home for three-six month periods, and upon completion of their paid internship, they receive a scholarship to continue their degree.

Alejandra Ruelas is one of our 2022 interns. She is a student at Arizona State University and was placed in an internship with Altman Plants in Lake Mathews, CA. This internship reawakened her passion for horticulture and floriculture, inspiring another future leader to stay in our industry.

“Before I entered this internship, I was really questioning my degree and if I should change it to something else because I wasn’t feeling the love of horticulture like I did back in high school. But this summer internship confirmed my love and passion for horticulture and that I actually want to stick with it and be a grower,” reflected Ruelas.

She learned a wide variety of skills, from propagating all the way through to delivery, gaining exposure to all of the different departments and roles.

Internship Photo“My favorite parts of the day were in the mornings when I got to walk with the growers and learn how to examine a bed of crops. They taught me how to propagate and examine the moisture in the soil. I got to identify actual plant diseases and pests personally and learn which types of chemicals effectively treat them. I also learned about growing weeks and how fast-paced plant production is. I could see how growers really loved their plants and how worried they were when they would see a bed with pests,” noted Ruelas. Seeing the passion of experienced growers directly, Ruelas was able to better understand the investment that companies like Altman Plants make into their product and experience the challenges that come with production.

In addition to learning about growing, Ruelas was also exposed to big-picture thinking and industry advancements. “I loved learning about sustainable practices with Altman. 70% of their water is recycled, which at first introduced many issues. They solved their problem by adding Cannas to filter out chemicals. Owls on the property keep rodent populations in check instead of poisons which keeps plants and employees safe. One way we recycle soil at Altman is we heat it up to clean it from pests and harmful bacteria before reintroducing it to the workspace.”

She was also able to learn about Altman’s multiple locations, “I learned is every location owned by Altman Plants is important and unique. For example, Edgehill has all of the succulents, Lake Matthews has most of the drought-tolerant plants, and other colored plants are found at Fallbrook due to a cooler climate.”

The pandemic impacted Ruelas and her education like so many other students over the past few years. This internship provided a much-needed break from the virtual and a step back into in-person experiences. “Altman plants really cared that I learned everything hands-on.” From testing soil mixtures on different plant species to recording the height of mums, Ruelas was able to gain direct exposure.

Co-workers at IntershipHowever, the internship’s impact is not limited to professional training. These experiences also give students the opportunity to network and create lasting connections for future professional and personal development. ”I loved my fellow coworkers at Altman plants! I could honestly say that I found long-lasting friendships during my stay who taught me so much about agriculture! They all made me feel like I had a place in the company.”

So, what is the next step for students after their internships? In addition to the scholarship provided by the Vic & Margaret Ball Fund, these placements can also lead to future employment opportunities. Ruelas shared how excited she is about the prospect noting, “I love the company and the direction they are heading. I told them that I am going back with more experience and knowledge that I will gain from ASU, and I am going to get certified in Integrated Pest Management (I.P.M.). I can’t wait to go back and apply this knowledge on a greater scale and hope to become a head grower.”

Internship ExperimentAltman Plants and Ruelas mutually impacted each other; When asked about Ruelas’ work during her internship, her supervisors, Jim Hessler and Elias Estrada, noted, “Alejandra was an outstanding intern and was a real asset to our operation. In addition to working in all the different areas of the nursery, she had a specific project to complete, which was to execute and document several soil trials for our drought-tolerant line of plants. She really took the project to heart and did a thorough and outstanding job. Her work on this project was very beneficial to us.”

In closing, Ruelas adds, “Thank you to the Vic and Margaret Ball Internship Program for giving me a wonderful opportunity that has changed my life.” To learn more about the program and AFE’s other internship opportunities, click here. And, if you are interested in becoming an internship host to meet future industry leaders like Ruelas, click here. You can also see videos from our interns at their internships across AFE’s social media platforms.

By: Karin Krause, AFE’s Manager of Communications & Outreach