When Stephanie Jocius was in Grade 11 – the Canadian equivalent to a student’s junior year in high school – she led a “Celebritrees” guided hike in a local provincial park, telling attendees all about the park’s types of trees.
Jocius admits that the dozen or so adults walking alongside her had good, tough questions, but she also had good answers. She had always loved being outside, as she worked in the local Erie Gardens as early as 2010 and started working for the park in 2015.
But after the guided tree tour, it started to resonate with Jocius just how much she might enjoy a career in horticulture. That’s when she applied to the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, which accepts only 12 students per year.
“When I applied, I submitted an application and then they contacted me for an interview. Then we had a one-hour exam to write,” Jocius says. “I definitely thought after the interview that I completely messed up my chance to get in. When they finally got back to me, it was amazing.”
Now, after completing her ornamental horticulture degree in March, Jocius is looking at a turbulent job market: The COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated several positions and internships for which she might’ve otherwise applied. She’s weighing between going back for further plant studies education at a school in Alberta, working in botanical gardens anywhere in North America, or even working for some of her former classmates at their landscaping companies back closer to home.
In other words, she’s keeping her options wide open.
“It’s all that you can really do,” she says.
Jocius says that despite her next career step being a bit unclear at the moment, she learned plenty in school that will carry over nicely in a professional setting. As president of the NPCSOH Student Association, Jocius volunteered to help drive the fundraising initiatives for the school’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition team. She organized anything from plant sales and garden cleanups to golf tournaments to help raise money for the team. On the NCLC team, she competed in the hardscape installation, irrigation troubleshooting and compact excavator operation events.
She can tout plant identification skills and leadership positions alike, but Jocius says the number one thing she learned in college was time management.
“One of the biggest takeaways that I’ve learned is time management, in both the practical component of the program — taking the time to organize myself and the crew that’s with me — and also in the in-class, academic setting,” she says. “I think time management will translate into a professional setting when I’m leading a crew. Good time management would be especially important if the crew has tight deadlines we need to meet, and important in everyday settings to make sure we get what the crew needs to (accomplish)."