Virginia Turfgrass Council – Virginia Tech Turf Team Expands Efforts in Youth Recruitment and Engagement in Turfgrass Science
Virginia Turfgrass Journal – Michael Goatley, Shawn Askew, David McCall, Tom Kuhar, and Sam Doak
During the month of June, the VT Turf Team hosted two youth-oriented educational and outreach events on the campus of Virginia Tech. These events served as great opportunities for Virginia Tech to tout turfgrass science as a two- or four-year major and utilize our highest profile sporting venues in exposing dozens of young men and women to this industry and the opportunities for education, jobs, and careers in turfgrass and allied green industries.
93rd Annual Virginia State FFA Convention. The first event we hosted on June 18 was the inaugural FFA Career Development Event (CDE) for Turfgrass Science, an initiative that has been in development for several years, and thanks to FFA administration and the efforts of the VT Turfgrass Team, became a reality in 2019. The Turfgrass CDE is one of dozens of coordinated student contests held during the state FFA convention on campus, and instead of turfgrass being a small part of the annual Floriculture contest, the subject area of Turfgrass Science had its own contest this year. Special thanks to VT Turfgrass Club Vice-President Tyler Morris and recent four-year graduate (and current MS Candidate) Emeline Daly for leading the development of the contest and to our industry sponsors that each contributed $650 in support of the awards and pins for all participants: the Virginia Turfgrass Council, the Virginia Golf Course Superintendents Association, the Virginia Sod Growers Association, and the Virginia Sports Turf Managers Association (who donated $1000).
This year’s contest hosted three high school teams from Atlee High School (Mechanicsville), Tunstall High School (Dry Fork), and Sherando (Winchester). The students participated in a general written turfgrass agronomic quiz to begin the day, transitioned to a 25-part identification quiz on turfgrasses and turf pests, and completed the contest with 12 ‘field problems’ designed to challenge their intuitive skills in problem solving in a variety of turfgrass issues. The half day event was hosted at Lane Stadium and the VT Track and Field Complex, and it would not have been nearly as successful without the support of our VT Athletics department colleagues that opened their facilities to us as unique testing venues for our participants.
As first-time contest hosts we learned quite a bit ourselves regarding how to conduct the contest, as we were just as green as our contestants were in terms of what to expect with the exams and exercises! All segments were designed to be challenging, but we were particularly very pleased with the comments from our participants that regardless of the difficulty of the tests, everyone eligible to participate in 2020 indicated they were definitely planning on representing their school again in 2020. The winning team for 2019 was Atlee High School, a multi-time winner of various high school field of the year awards from STMA (coached and taught by Certified Sports Field Manager Marc Moran). Tunstall High School finished second, and Sherando third. In the individual contest, Atlee’s Emmet “Trey” Wilkerson finished first, Tunstall’s Megan Pollock second, and Atlee’s Hunter McRay came in third. Atlee’s reputation preceded it as one of our state’s leading high school turf programs, so we very much appreciated Tunstall and Sherando for sending teams and sharing so much interest in the inaugural Turfgrass CDE as these schools do not have formal turfgrass programs at their schools (a big ‘shout out’ to Ms. Pollock in particular for her second place individual finish!)
What are we hoping for in the future for the FFA CDE? Significant growth in teams competing in the contest for sure. Based on feedback from other school faculty that learned about the contest while at FFA Convention this year, we are already expecting 7 teams for the CDE in 2020. From a national perspective, there must be 18 state contests before National FFA offers a National Turfgrass CDE in Indianapolis, but we are well on our way toward that objective, and this initiative is being championed by representatives from both GCSAA and STMA, as well as various university academics.
Beyond the formal CDE, perhaps our most successful part of the FFA State Convention in 2019 was an impromptu ‘turfgrass tour’ developed by Tyler Morris and Marc Moran for the opening day of FFA Convention; this spur of the moment educational opportunity brought over 100 students and teachers from FFA programs from all across Virginia together for a ‘turf training’ opportunity. It is our goal to formalize this event in 2020 and include our industry supporters in meeting and greeting with the students so that they can share more about job and career opportunities from their segments.
99th Virginia 4H Congress. The student members of the Virginia Tech Turf Team hosted 18 high school students from all across the state for a three-hour workshop entitled ‘Turfgrass STEMs’ on June 26, where they highlighted various aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in the management of turfgrass systems. Ph.D. candidates Caleb Henderson and Wendell Hutchens (Dr. McCall’s advisees), and VT undergrad and Baseball/Softball Field Manager Tyler Morris described and demonstrated the future of remote sensing in predictive turfgrass management strategies with a drone flight; discussed how GIS mapping and precision spraying are being used to combat Spring Dead Spot on bermudagrass fairways and athletic fields; and demonstrated a relatively inexpensive FLIR camera attachment for a smart phone that showed the students the visual effects of evapotranspirational cooling (by using an infrared thermometer) of natural turf when compared to synthetic (85º F vs 126º F on this particular day!)
MS candidate Emeline Daly (advised by Drs. Kuhar and McCall) gave the students hands-on training in the identification and management strategies of the major turf pest insects of Virginia using living, pinned specimens and specimens in vials. MS candidate Matthew Herrmann (Dr. Goatley advisee) detailed the unique modular field system of Worsham Field and the specialized cultural management programs employed in the management of such a coarse sand soil profile, and Ph.D. candidate John Brewer (Dr. Askew advisee) showed the students clumps of sulfonylurea-resistant annual bluegrass and perennial ryegrass on Worsham Field and discussed the mechanisms of herbicide resistance within plants.
As an industry, we already know that a big part of turfgrass management involves the management of stems, and as suspected, STEM is what turfgrass science and its management is all about. With the arrival of a new Collegiate Turfgrass Faculty member at Virginia Tech this fall and the continued support of all segments of the Virginia Turfgrass Industry and allied associations, the VT Turf Team feels that we are all poised for a surge in student interest in education, jobs, and careers in the turfgrass industry. Thank you for your current and future support of these efforts!READ THE ISSUE