April 1, 2019
Fueling a passion to help others
As a second year student at the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, Lacasse received a $2,000 Cullen Family Scholarship earlier this year as part of the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation’s annual scholarship program.
Now a third-year, Lacasse says the program at Niagara Parks is in many ways a unique and truly priceless opportunity.
One unique aspect of the program is timing. Lacasse explains the school year mimics that of the landscaping season: “Our year starts from March to March, or as I like to say, spring to spring,” explains Lacasse. “It works perfect because as a first year you start with the practical component, so from March to September we are outside maintaining the botanical gardens, and then as the fall hits, we are outside less and less and we transition into our academic studies until March.”
While in high school, Lacasse got wind of a two-year horticulture program offered by the Niagara Catholic District School Board as part of the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program. With a recent interest in gardening and horticulture, Lacasse enrolled in the course. “The course was actually offered on the grounds of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture property,” Lacasse explains. “What a fantastic opportunity for a high school student. I got to work in the gardens and when we did plant ID it was all real samples and I wasn’t stuck in a high school.”
Lacasse credits Darren Schmahl, a Niagara Parks Alumni and one of her instructors, with fuelling her passion for horticulture. “He could really see my personality and my passion and talked me into looking more into the school.”
Co-op placements at Vermeer’s Greenhouses in Welland and at Niagara Parks have helped to provided Lacasse with a variety of work experience. “I planted on the Floral Clock for only one day. That was a cool experience, but I can say I made it.”
“At home, mid-way through high school I discovered I loved sowing seeds and watching the plants grow and then putting those plants into the garden around the house. The fact I could take something that looked really horrible and turn it into a really great garden.”
“I love that when I work in a garden, you do get into your own relaxation of working with the plants, hearing nature, being out in the sun, it increases your mood and your positivity.”
Because students spend 36 months together, Lacasse says a big learning experience is also how to build relationships and work together with people with different personalities and how to be professional. “It’s great because we learn and feed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses and as a team we learn how to pull the strength of the team.”
Having just started her third year at the school, Lacasse says her role now shifts to that of a supervisor, responsible for running a crew of up to six students. “There’s constantly learning opportunities. I have to do paperwork, keep track of tasks, explain everything and make sure everyone is wearing PPE.” Having the experience of change constantly is one of Lacasse’s favourite things about the school.
Spending 40 hours per week in school, plus homework and other initiatives, Lacasse says another big thing she has learned is time management and scheduling. Lacasse is part of a contingent from the school headed for a landscape competition being held in Fort Collins, Colo., facilitated through the National Association of Landscape Professionals in the United States. Niagara Parks is the only accredited school in Canada for the competition that includes about 70 schools from the U.S. Later this year, she is looking forward to a study tour to Hawaii that will include horticulture and agriculture tours.
After graduation, Lacasse would love to work in horticulture therapy. “As long as I’m able to help and show people the incredible benefits of plants, I would like that — perhaps pursuing a horticultural therapy business in Niagara to help seniors, youth, people with a disability or anyone in need.”
For more information on the various scholarships offered under the Foundation, or to apply, visit OHTF.ca.
Scholarship applications close June 30
Each year, the Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation awards over $50,000 in scholarships to high school and post-secondary students across the province. The funding goes to the best and brightest horticulture students who are the future of the profession, and it provides a real boost right when they need it most.
Created in 1979, the Foundation’s mandate is to ensure a healthy future for the horticulture industry through financial support for research and scholarships. With dozens of recipients each year, the foundation makes a major impact on the lives of future green professionals.
Under the Foundation umbrella, the Cullen family scholarship program also sees some $30,000 awarded to students each year.
The deadline to apply for scholarships is June 30. Applying is easy, and generally requires students to send their transcripts and a short essay describing their interest in horticulture.