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Cultivating the Next Generation

It’s always good news to learn that a smart, hard-working, dedicated young person is preparing for a career in horticulture and floriculture—one where she can be expected to contribute mightily to higher standards, better products, innovative techniques, and a healthier marketplace for flowers and plants.

It’s even better news when that person is an adept communicator, likely to serve as an impassioned, articulate ambassador for the industry we love so well.

Such a person is Renata Goossen, the first-ever recipient of the Paul Thomas Intern of the Year Award, created to recognize an outstanding student who has successfully completed a Vic & Margaret Ball Internship.

As the Paul Thomas award recipient, Goossen will be provided with free registration, paid hotel and airfare and a cash stipend for expenses at Cultivate 2021, the annual educational and trade event sponsored by AmericanHort. 

The award, sponsored by the Vic & Margaret Ball Internship Fund, is intended to promote awareness of all the student programs administered by AFE. It honors the late Dr. Paul Thomas, retired University of Georgia professor, and AFE Ambassador, a tireless and effective supporter of these programs.

Learning by Doing

A senior at Kansas State University, expecting to graduate with a bachelor-of-science degree in May 2021, Goossen requested in her application for the scholarship to intern with Green Circle Growers in Oberlin, Ohio.

It was a savvy choice. Best known for its Just Add Ice brand of potted orchids, Green Circle produces other crops as well, in a complex, diverse operation that ranges from propagation to finish production. Over 16 weeks in the fall of 2019, Goossen was able to work in each of the four main production areas, introducing her to a wide spectrum of crop culture.

Her duties ranged from the mundane and even menial—power-washing algae off the greenhouse floors—to, at times, taking charge of a greenhouse section in the grower’s absence. The internship provided practical knowledge of ever-advancing applications such as integrated pest management. 

“I really valued the time that each grower took to show me how things work and break down the details,” said Goossen. Other valuable lessons related to time and people management and the inspiring work ethic she observed.

“During my time at Green Circle,” she wrote in her report on the experience, “I discovered what it means to hold the title, ‘grower.’ A grower is someone who thinks from every angle: innovating practices, challenging personal expertise, discovering new resources and connections, never settling for the bare minimum.”

The growers she worked with returned her admiration. “Renata was a breath of fresh air,” said Jarrett Gouch, head grower for young plants at Green Circle, who has worked with many interns over the years. “It’s not often that we get such a hardworking, smart, down-to-earth individual.”

Gouch’s assistant Billy Green chimed in: “I love having interns come through because they help me up my game. Renata was willing to do whatever needed to be done, and always ready to learn.”

Not surprisingly, according to Goossen’s academic advisor at Kansas State, Kimberly Williams, she was offered a job in every division that she worked in. In fact, during the spring semester Goossen continued working with Green Circle Growers, 10 to 20 hours per week, via a remote marketing internship.

Bridging the Gap

Here is where Goossen’s passion for horticulture, her growing expertise, and her ability as a communicator come together. During the internship, she was able to shadow the company’s marketing department for a week.

“Green Circle’s brands are so well known,” she said, “that I was interested in how they translate horticulture to the end consumer. In the work I’m doing for them now, I get a lot of direct experience with consumers who are interested in horticulture but don’t know anything about it. I really love bridging that gap.”

As an example of how well she does it, Goossen occasionally publishes a blog, in which she has also reported on her internship: https://morningface.net/home/a-bend-in-the-road

No doubt, the enthusiasm and perspective she brings back from the internship not only will enrich her own final year but will inspire other horticulture students at Kansas State. Goossen’s advisor, Dr. Williams, summed it up beautifully:

“Renata’s experience is an exemplary example of what the Vic and Margaret Ball Program was designed to foster: a skill-building production internship that allows the student to connect classroom knowledge to real world work, and then return to the classroom to enrich the experiences of other students by sharing that knowledge. My friend and colleague Paul Thomas would be pleased to see Renata named as the inaugural Intern of the Year, because she demonstrates so well the characteristics that he valued: passion for horticulture, pursuit of excellence, and a desire to make a difference in our industry.”

How AFE Internships Nurture the Future of Floral Industry

Two intern scholarship programs administered by AFE help to ensure that the best and brightest can enter the floral industry fully prepared and deeply passionate about the work they do. The Vic and Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship Program places students at leading floriculture growing operations for three, four, or six months, where they receive hands-on training during their undergraduate years. The Mosmiller Intern Scholarship Program allows interns to train at a retail, wholesale, or allied trades operation for 10 to 16 weeks. Both programs include a paid internship, along with a scholarship upon successful completion of the internship.

For more about both of these intern scholarship programs, visit: https://endowment.org/internships/

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