Congratulations to Dustin Trychta, a West Virginia University horticulture student who was selected as WVNLA’s 2018 Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarship winner. After graduating from high school in 1998, Dustin entered the army and was stationed as a cook in Budingen, Germany, for nearly seven years. He was honorably discharged in 2005 as a sergeant. He then worked as a civilian in security and quality control before settling into a 10-year stint in appliance installation.
Dustin’s interest in horticulture began with cleanup of the yard of his first home, which had been neglected by the previous owner. After removing weeds and stumps, and regrading his yard to solve some runoff issues, Dustin tackled his first full-scale landscape project in his own yard. Then, learning as he went, he began planning and installing residential landscapes for coworkers and family.
Later, his horticultural interests broadened beyond general landscaping to giant vegetable gardening. This interest would later lead to his display of his giant gourd, “Pebbles,” in WVU’s student union as part of Mountaineer Week festivities. Dustin also provided additional oversized gourds, which were hollowed out to be “boats,” for the first Giant Pumpkin Regatta Boat Race, held in Morgantown last fall.
Below, Dustin offers more information about his interesting background and future plans.
What brought you to WVU?
My wife, Kirsha Trychta’s, career as a law professor was a catalyst in our decision to become Mountaineers. She was offered a job here. A large factor in the decision was that I could finally pursue a degree in horticulture. It was a decision for two careers, rather than just one.
How do you think your experience as a nontraditional student with military background prepares you for a career in horticulture?
My military experience is a tremendous help in both completing my education and starting a career in horticulture. As a former cook in the military, I am familiar with working long and varied hours while performing strenuous tasks. The military taught me the value of waking early and resting late when deadlines are fast approaching. The military, in general, requires a broad set of skills, much like the horticulture industry. It also matured me and instilled leadership qualities that will be necessary when I expand my work into the employment of others.
How is your college experience different from that of traditional students?
Most notable is my understanding that I only get out of my education what I’m willing to put into it. Most college students are here because their parents told them they had to go to college, while others want to be here but are unsure what they want to do in life. I am fortunate enough to have lived some life prior to school and to know exactly what I want to study. I also very much appreciate coming home to my peaceful backyard garden every day, rather than a dorm room.
You have expressed an interest in starting a small-scale nursery specializing in the grafting of ornamental hardwoods. That is a very specific goal. How will you get there?
I have been giving that question a lot of thought. My educators and mentors tell me that is not the most logical idea, especially in Morgantown, where I live. However, my heart tells me that there is nothing I cannot accomplish, once I am determined to do it. The answer probably lies somewhere in between. If I pursue that dream, I know it will take dedication to my craft and long hours, often without a paycheck. It will take support from my wife and family, as well as continuing relations with industry professionals and members of organizations such as WVNLA, who can provide valuable insight.
You mentioned volunteer activities. Where do you volunteer?
The main place I volunteer is at WVU in the organic farm, where I display giant pumpkins for school activities. I also volunteer for various projects at school and through the WVU Horticulture Club. I partnered with North Elementary School in their fourth-grade gardening program, and I have helped build or repair high tunnels and raised beds, and amend soil. I helped erect a high tunnel for Operation Welcome Home in Mylan Park, which is designed to teach local veterans how to extend the growing season and increase self-sustainability. I also auctioned off a party in my giant-pumpkin patch to raise money for a program in WVU’s College of Law. Agriculture students from Trinidad and Tobago attended the party, and I taught them about techniques we use to increase efficiency and yields.
What are your hobbies/interests?
My wife (who is a teaching associate professor and director of the Academic Excellence Center at WVU’s College of Law) and I love to travel together. We like to visit new places but also enjoy amusement parks and thrill rides. We enjoy puzzle games and trivia, and the occasional bingo night with her mother. We are planning a dream vacation when I graduate to tour the West Coast and see the majestic redwoods.
Do you think it is likely that you will remain in West Virginia after your 2019 graduation?
As of now, I have no intention of leaving West Virginia. When we moved here, we bought a home and intended to put down roots. Morgantown has been very kind to us and West Virginia is a beautiful state. I can’t promise that I will be here in five years, but if you had asked me five years ago where I would be, I wouldn’t have thought it would be here. No matter where life takes me, I will always hold West Virginia close to my heart.
I would like to thank WVNLA for supporting me and my education, and also for its support of the WVU Horticulture Club. It is in great part due to WVNLA that WVU students compete annually at the National Association of Landscape Professionals Collegiate Landscaping Competition. The opportunity there is great for industry exposure and networking practice at the focused job fair. Employers at the job fair offer actual job and internship opportunities. Thank you for your continued support.
Zackary Grossl, a junior majoring in landscape architecture at West Virginia University, was recently selected as the 2017 recipient of the Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarship. Zack graduated from Greenbrier West High School and is the son of Dale Grossl and Tina Grossl.
Zack didn’t start his college career in landscape architecture, but childhood memories and teenage work experience drew him to it.
“I enrolled at WVU in the pre-pharmacy program in 2013, and by mid-semester I knew that I didn’t belong there. I then found landscape architecture,” Zack said.
On his scholarship application, Zack described his early experiences and growing interest in landscape architecture this way: “Throughout my life, I was always up and doing something outside. Being outside ranged from being in the woods hunting with my father to playing football in an open field. I worked at a landscaping business throughout high school, and seeing a project completed was very rewarding, but I knew there had to be more to this than just placing the plants. I wanted to know who was making the bigger decisions.”
Zack finds the variety of work in the green industry appealing. He is interested in all aspects of it, including design, installation, plant production, and sales.
According to WVU landscape architecture Assistant Professor Elisabeth Orr, Zack has earned a reputation among his instructors for being an intelligent problem solver, as well as an attentive, friendly student. His mastery of course work and his good rapport with fellow students led Orr to ask him to be a teaching assistant. Competition is stiff for these positions. Orr said it is a “significant honor” to be chosen.
“As a native West Virginian, I am very proud of exceptional in-state students like Zack. I expect him to continue to excel in our program and to be an accomplished professional in the field after he graduates,” Orr said.
Upon graduation, Zack hopes to find a position in a firm with strong ecological design principles, in which he can work on a variety of projects. “My desire in landscape architecture is to design everything from large-scale urban design to small-scale projects. In the everyday world, everyone is influenced by the surrounding landscape. I hope to find a position in a firm that allows me to be as creative as I can be, so that I can help create a more beautiful landscape.”
We wish him every success.
Congratulations to Amanda Hamilton, who was recently selected as the 2016 recipient of the Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarship. A junior horticulture major at West Virginia University, Hamilton grew up in Raleigh County and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. She was chosen for the award based on her excellent grades, involvement in student activities and glowing teacher and employer recommendations.
Hamilton’s interest in plants started when she was a child. She loved playing outdoors and in her family’s gardens, where they grew lots of vegetables, herbs and flowers. In high school, Hamilton excelled in biology. Her teacher, Ms. Clark, encouraged students to excel and to consider careers in the sciences. For Hamilton, she recommended agronomy or horticulture.
“After some investigation of what the field of horticulture included, I fell in love. It was the perfect mix of biology, chemistry, art and hands-on work,” she said.
Hamilton encourages other students to consider careers in the green industry. “Any student who doesn’t want to spend their working career in a cubicle from 9 to 5 should consider horticulture or the green industry,” she said. She finds cultivation particularly rewarding.
In addition to succeeding in her course work and being involved in activities such as the Horticulture Club at WVU, Hamilton has held two enriching internships. At The Greenbrier resort, she developed an interest in public grounds maintenance. She credits her employers there with giving her both hands-on skills and lessons about management.
“I learned that every garden had a history and a value to cherish. I learned how to cherish it through my coworkers and the guests at the resort, who would approach us just to tell us how beautiful the grounds were,” Hamilton said.
Her second internship was with Bob’s Market and Greenhouses in Mason County. This large-scale production facility gave her a new perspective on the industry’s demands and challenges. After working there, she saw “what it takes to produce the petunias, and all the hands required to grow and harvest the seeds we buy in paper envelopes each year. We saw why the costs keep rising and all of the sacrifices our very own planet makes just so we can enjoy these delicate delights.”
After she graduates in 2017, Hamilton hopes to land a job maintaining public or historic grounds, or a botanic garden. She is interested in helping people understand a garden’s history and how plants connect to the past, the environment and to people.
WVNLA is pleased to announce the selection of Jesse Poe as the Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarship winner for the 2015-16 school year. Jesse is a junior Horticulture major at West Virginia University. He is from Charleston, WV, where he graduated from George Washington High School.
Jesse began his college career at West Virginia State University, where he worked in the greenhouses, helping graduate students collect fruit data for gene mapping. At WVU, Jesse interned at the Plant and Soil Science Farm, where he planted seed, installed drip irrigation, mulched, weeded, mowed and harvested crops. Currently, he works in the greenhouse that contains the University’s extensive plant collection. His duties range from propagating plants asexually to washing pots in the workroom.
“Greenhouse and farm work have given me the highest appreciation for plants and other people who love them as well,” Jesse said.
Jesse is president of the Horticulture Club at WVU.
Dr. Sven Verlinden, a WVU Horticulture professor who has worked with Jesse extensively, both at the organic farm and in his classrooms, recommended Jesse for the scholarship.
“I would rate Jesse in the top 10 percent of students I have worked with over the years when it comes to diligence and attention to detail. Jesse is clearly a hard work and does a great job balancing extracurricular activities, work and classes,” Sven said.
Congratulations and best wishes to Jesse Poe, West Virginia Nursery & Landscape Associations’ 2015 scholarship winner
Members of WVNLA’s board of directors were unanimous in their selection of Silas Childs as the recipient of the 2014 Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarship.
This hard-working student is an honors student in Horticulture at West Virginia University, and is also married with two small children at home.
Despite the challenges of balancing family, job and school responsibilities, Silas maintains a 4.0 GPA and was highly recommended for the scholarship by WVNLA members Pat Biafore, a former employer, and his professor Dr. Sven Verlinden.
“Silas is a one-of-a-kind student that we see in our program every 5 to 10 years. A devout Christian man, he works 20-plus hours while taking a full load of classes to provide for his family and to put himself through college,” said Sven in his letter of recommendation.
Interested in horticulture since high school Silas has worked in various nurseries and landscaping companies since then. He currently works for WVU’s Division of Plant and Soil Sciences in the greenhouse and at the farm.
Silas plans to use the scholarship to help pay for tuition, fees and living expenses.
“This extra money would enable me to concentrate more on classes and getting horticultural experience rather than working long hours to pay the bills,” he said.
Silas is scheduled to graduate in 2015 and plans to attend graduate school, studying plant breeding of ornamental or edible horticultural crops. Ultimately, he thinks he’ll pursue a career as a plant breeder.
Three deserving and hard-working horticulture and landscape architecture students at West Virginia University were selected as recipients of the Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarship for the 2013-14 school year.
Whitney J. Garton
Whitney is a Horticulture major, with a minor in pest management. She is a native of Jane Lew and developed an interest in horticulture after starting plants from seed and realizing their vulnerability to disease and fungi. She decided upon a career in research and collegiate instruction from which she hopes to develop solutions to disease and fungi that threaten plants.
Whitney has worked on research projects in the fields of organic mulches’ effects on tomato development, the efficacy of cocoa hulls, waste wool and living crop mulch as an organic weed suppression method and on effective ways to compost wool.
“I also helped a WVU graduate student with her research on biodegradable pots. I was specifically drawn to the diseases and ways to control them. Doing this research strengthened my desire to attend graduate school and my excitement about education and a potential career in research and teaching,” Whitney said in her scholarship application.
Erin is a Horticulture and Agriculture Business major from Poca, West Virginia. In addition to her good grades, Erin’s work ethic is evident in the summer jobs she’s held since she was 14 years old. Most recently, she interned at Gritts Midway Greenhouse in Putnam County, where she was hired as an assistant grower and offered a job upon graduation.
After graduation and some time spent working in the industry, Erin hopes to open and operate a flower farm, where customers may come and pick their own selections from her fields. “I plan on selling flowers that are not part of the “pick your own” section of the farm at the Capitol Market in Charleston and other farmers markets. Also at my farm, I would like to incorporate education classes and hands-on workshops for local people in the area to learn more about plants,” Erin said in her application.
Landscape Architecture student Leah Comerci impressed her professors, particularly Peter Butler, who worked with her in design studios, especially her work designing an outdoor classroom for a Wyoming County school?
Professor Butler recommended Leah, saying, “I believe that with her work ethic; commitment to intellectual growth and exploration; strong graphic and verbal communication skills; and leadership abilities that she is deserving of your organization’s scholarship. If she continues to progress academically and personally, I believe that she could contribute to the field of landscape architecture, especially with her specialized interest and passion for horticulture.”
2012 Rennix Memorial Scholarship Winners
West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association awarded two Marcus W. Rennix Memorial Scholarships in for the 2012-2013 school year. Megan Mahoney and Aaron Diedrich, both West Virginia University students, each received a $2500.00 scholarship.
Megan is a native of Morgantown, and studying Horticulture and plans to pursue a career in the plants about which she is passionate.
Aaron Diedrich, a native of Frazier’s Bottom, is studying landscape architecture and plans to focus on future innovative and creative designs that promote environmental friendly and sustainable systems.