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Horticulture seminar plants major thought
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most high school students who attend Mississippi State University’s horticulture summer seminar do not become plant scientists or landscape architects, but the experience often shapes the way they approach their future vocations.
“It’s really cool to realize that the presence of plants in a space can affect perception of the world,” said Christian Crews, 16, a junior at Hernando High School. “I want to be a social worker, and this idea has given me new insight into ways of helping people. If you need to have plants around as part of your work, you have to know how to take care of them.”
Robyn Whitsell, 16, a junior at Grenada High School, wants to study landscape architecture, so his presence at the seminar is not surprising.
“I’m interested in design, I like plants, and I want everything to fit together,” he said. “I’m in my element here.”
Forty years ago, the university joined forces with The Garden Clubs of Mississippi, Inc. to sponsor a four-day event each summer for high school students to explore the world of plants. Participants learn how plants create a healthy, functional environment for life on the planet.
“Our goal is to get students to focus on plants, and there are always going to be students who participate because they are interested in horticulture or landscape architecture,” said MSU Plant and Soil Sciences professor Richard Harkess, the seminar’s coordinator. “We also have students who plan to major in business, engineering or veterinary medicine. These students enroll in the seminar because they took a vocational education class, enjoyed the experience and developed an interest in plants.”
Faculty from the MSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Department of Landscape Architecture present lectures on subjects ranging from plant propagation and floral arrangement to landscape contracting and architectural design.
“We are encouraged to unleash and explore our creativity, which is a great introduction to college life,” said Damion Poe, 17, a senior at Starkville High School. “Sometimes, high school learning is like being inside of a box. Here, the professors expect you to step out of the box and think for yourself.”
The professors also encourage independent thinking by taking students on field trips to commercial blueberry and tomato farms, and campus plant research plots. Students then try their luck at manipulating plant materials, drawing plans for a design or completing a campus landscaping project.
“High school students attending this year’s seminar built benches that we placed in landscaped areas around campus for outdoor seating,” Harkess said. “They successfully left their mark upon MSU.”
Financial support from The Garden Clubs of Mississippi, Inc. allows many high school students to participate in the seminar. The 150 clubs that make up this organization spend considerable time each year raising scholarship funds because their members believe education goes hand-in-hand with beautification of the environment.
“We operate with the philosophy that anyone who plants a garden is a person who believes in the future,” said Gay L. Austin of McComb, statewide president of The Garden Clubs of Mississippi, Inc. “The more we expose our children to plants, the more they can appreciate what plants do for our world.”