Newspaper article News Sentinel

UT Turf Program Nearly Doubles in 2 Years

Newspaper article News Sentinel

UT Turf Program Nearly Doubles in 2 Years

Article excerpt

During a Friday afternoon class, associate professor Brandon Horvath handed whiteboards to pairs of students, asking them to write key facts about significant people and places in the history of turf grass.

The 12 students were scattered in the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture greenhouse classroom that could accommodate more. But 12 students is a sign of growth.

Increasing enrollment is nothing new at the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, where the number of undergraduates is up 86 percent from a decade ago to 1,472 undergraduates. Retention is nearly 90 percent for freshmen, and eight students transfer into the college from elsewhere at UT for every one that leaves, said John Stier, associate dean and professor at the college.

The continual growth is bucking a national trend for some areas, like plant sciences where turf grass science and management is based.

Two years ago, leaders of that concentration decided to take the program's visibility into their own hands and hired a communications coordinator. Scott Boyle, a Navy veteran, brought with him the Navy's recruitment strategy of "enhanced targeted visibility."

Enrollment has nearly doubled to almost 40.

Misunderstood as a career in cutting grass, turf grass management is a science-based field that includes research about improving grasses as well as making athletic fields safer to prevent injuries.

It has high job placement and students intern at places like Fenway Park and Wimbledon.

But the traditional pipeline of students is dry.

Students like Mitchell Riffey, a sophomore who decided on turf grass because of working at Holston Hills Country Club, are now rare when they used to be common.

Fewer high school students have jobs at golf courses and that means less visibility for the career, faculty said.

Colleagues at other university turf programs had already experienced an enrollment dip when it became noticeable about two years ago at UT, Horvath said.

At the time, there were 18 students in the UT program and two- thirds were juniors and seniors. That meant only six underclassmen for future course offerings, Horvath said. …

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