NESTMA – Member Spotlight on Vickie Wallace Extension Educator • University of Connecticut • Storrs, CT
New England Blade – NESTMA and The TurfZone.com
- NESTMA member for 30 years
- Past President of NESTMA
- Past STMA Board Member
- Chair of STMA Environmental Committee
- Chair of STMA BMP Task Force
- Undergraduate Degree Ornamental Horticulture: Penn State University
- Graduate Degree Plant Pathology/Entomology: University of Rhode Island
What was your first job in the industry?
When I graduated from URI, I worked as a sales representative for Lofts Seed, Inc. and handled retail and professional accounts for Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Where did you go from there?
I moved away from my regional sales position and became more involved in the professional turf division, providing technical agronomic support for distributors, as well as national lawn care, sod, sports turf, and golf accounts. I also served as the agronomist that worked with the advertising agency to develop marketing pieces for the professional turf division. The company was sold and became a part of a larger turf seed/forage company. In that new company, I continued in my role as the agronomist for the company’s marketing support and handled sales training for the landscape and sports turf markets. After that company folded, I joined Turf Seed/ Tee to Green as an agronomist/sales rep covering distributor support for the northeast states and eastern Canada, eventually I went back to a regional sales role with Valley Green, Inc. for a couple of years before joining the faculty at UConn. I have been at UConn for 10 years, coordinating sustainable turf/landscape programs.
Who was your mentor when you were first starting out in the business, and why?
There were 2 people that definitely supported me early in my career: Dr. Richard Hurley, the Director of Research for Lofts Seed, and Dr. Noel Jackson at URI.
I met Rich the summer between my sophomore and junior year in college, when I applied for a summer position to work at the Lofts’ research facility. The following summer, he recommended me to work as an intern in Holland with Barenburg Seed, one of Lofts’ European seed partners. He encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree and career in turf.
Noel Jackson was a preeminent turf pathologist and my major professor at URI. I learned a lot from him while pursuing my graduate studies. And, I can acknowledge, he was instrumental in my meeting my future husband.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
If you are asked a question and don’t know the answer, don’t make something up. Get the answer and follow up with the person that asked the question.
Always try to treat people the way you would like to be treated. Be honest and respectful to those you work with and you should expect to be treated in the same fashion.
What advice would you share with people starting out in sports turf management today?
Two pieces of advice:
To quote a person that was one of my dearest friends, the former sports turf manager at University of Tennessee and past president of STMA, Bobby Campbell, “This in an industry where, if we do our jobs correctly, we help create memories. As professionals and caretakers of the fields, it is our responsibility to remember that as we complete our tasks. We do not want that memory to be based on a bad playing field. We need to pay attention to every detail in everything that we do.”
To professionals starting in the sports turf industry… this industry is a great industry in which to be involved. I have met sports turf managers from across the country and if anyone asks for help to solve a problem, or share equipment or recommended practice, every one of the sports turf managers I have met will not hesitate to take the time to help their fellow sports turf professional. So, make an effort to get to know others in our profession, attend the NESTMA Field Days or Workshops, and network every time the opportunity presents itself. You will come away from each event excited because you learned something of value or met someone that shares your passion for athletic field management.
Since the beginning of your career, what is the biggest change you’ve seen in the sports turf industry?
I see advancement in the professionalism of sports turf manager as a positive change. The Certified Sports Field Manager (CFSM) is the national certification program that many in the profession attain to advance themselves professionally. With the advancement of environmental sustainability, sports turf professionals also are advancing the environmental stewardship of their facilities. We are becoming more involved with measures that preserve the environment.
What is the next “game-changer” you see on the horizon for the sports turf industry?
The ability to use cell phones/internet to communicate and problem solve has been a game changer for turf professionals. Being in the middle of a field and using the phone to take a picture of a pest problem, an irrigation concern, or a piece of equipment just makes the STM more efficient.
I am amazed at how drones, and the new technology associated with them, have positively impacted the industry and advanced their use as a diagnostic tool.
I am also pleased to see advancements in the use of biological control products that support turf pest management and address some regulatory concerns.
What have you enjoyed most about being a NESTMA member?
Friendships formed is the thought that first comes to mind. Friendships are renewed each year at Field Days and Workshops. Networking opportunities have been invaluable. I feel I can reach out to any NESTMA member at any time to discuss any issue. I have benefitted from serving on NESTMA committees and the NESTMA board. I was glad to be a part of the board that brought in our new management team.
As a longtime member of STMA, I have expanded my ability to network with STMs across the country. I have been able to work on committees that strengthen my professional skillset and support my genuine passions and interests. Currently, I am Chair of the Environmental Committee. It has been exciting to be a part of the development of the STMA Environmental Certification Program. This program will help define STMs as environmental stewards and provide great credibility to the association and the profession. In 2020, I am part of the task force that will develop a national template for Sports Turf BMPs. That document will be another game-changer in advancing our industry’s professionalism.
Can you share a bit about your family life and what you enjoy doing in your free time?
My interests outside of work are pretty simple. I love to cook, fuss with my plants (both in the house and garden), and go antiquing. In the summer I enjoy kayaking on Narragansett Bay or taking walks along the shore line of Rhode Island. An occasional game of golf is fun, too. Many in the industry know my husband David. He also has been in the turf industry for many years, most recently as owner of Tartan Farms, providing sod primarily to the golf and landscape sectors of the industry. Dave and I have two adult children: our daughter, Kate and son-in-law Matt, and our son, Andrew.READ THE ISSUE