Students from the two-year Landscape Contracting associate degree program welcomed Chancellor Reyes to the planting of a class tree intended to welcome students entering this Fall 2024.
Like the entering Class of 2027, Chancellor Reyes is also a new student of sorts, eagerly learning the many features that make UMass Amherst a special place. So it was fitting that he should be invited to participate in the planting of this tree. It also gave the Chancellor an opportunity to learn about the Landscape Contracting program offered through Stockbridge.
The Landscape Contracting curriculum structures the professional art in three stages: land forming, plant selection, and hardscaping (e.g. patios, walkways).
The Class of 2027 tree planting, along with planned tree plantings for the Classes of 2026 and 2025, are perfect real-world projects for students to participate in.
“How [the planting] is done is critical to the survival of the tree. We’re planting an organism that’s, hopefully, going to live for hundreds of years and it takes a lot of care and a lot of talented people, skilled people, to do that properly,” said University Head of Grounds Todd Cournoyer.
These projects demonstrate aspects of plant identification, selection, and installation, and directly involve students in important elements of this skilled occupation, including teamwork, communication, and exposure to inclement weather.Stockbridge rewards hands-on learners with an education style suited to their natural strengths.
Landscape Contracting students spend time in their drafting studios inside the ultra-modern Olver Design Building, learning to design landscape space. In the building's dedicated assembly space, students learn how to build landscape elements which they install on campus in collaboration with the University's professional Landscape Management department.
Students receive close attention due to a low student-faculty ratio, and are advised by Mike Davidsohn who is both an alum of the program and it's long-time director.
Davidsohn, an experienced landscape designer and builder, and owner of his own company, also teaches several classes in the major, including Introduction to Landscape Design, Residential Landscape Design, Grading and Surveying, Construction Materials, Small Business Management and Site Engineering. He also co-chairs the university's Arboretum committee.
As with all Stockbridge majors, an emphasis is placed on issues of sustainability, backed up by scientific evidence. But Davidsohn and his students also hold equal reverence for the aesthetics that trees provide.
“The trees sequester carbon, they produce oxygen, they provide shade and we end up with one plant that offers so many ecological services to our campus,” said Davidsohn. “But for the average student, it’s really about the beauty of the plant, the shade it provides, [and] the color it provides.”
Reyes was quick to join in with the shoveling work needed to plant the tree. He also thanked the students and groundskeepers for their work to beautify the campus as a welcoming gesture to new students. "You’re making it a canvas," said Reyes. "Everyone can feel represented here.”
Planting the Class of 2027 tree this Fall represents a conscious decision by the Arboretum committee to break from the tradition of planting trees in the Spring that a class graduates and departs campus.
Going forward, each class will see their class tree planted in their first Fall semester, allowing students to enjoy the tree for their four years on campus.
“It’s more inclusive bringing it in at the freshman year,” said Certified Arborist and Stockbridge alum Brady Yacek. “From here on out, they will all be fall plantings. Watching the young tree grow alongside them will also give students an incentive to return as alumni and see the continuing growth of the tree as they advance their careers.
“This is your tree," said Yacek. "For the four years that you’re here, come visit it. Spend some time under the tree, come back 20 years from now… it represents your class,” he added.
Moving this project from Spring to Fall is advantageous to our students for another reason as well.
Just seven weeks into the Spring semester of their first year, Landscape Contracting students leave campus for a paid internship experience that lasts through the summer. The internship earns them academic credit, and they graduate with actual field experience on their resumes, as well as a relationship with at least one employer.
Many Stockbridge internships are provided by Stockbridge alumni who have gone on to start their own landscape companies. The Stockbridge alumni-employer network is just one advantage produced by the school's century and a half providing skilled workers to the green industries.
In their second year, the top landscape contracting students, along with students from several other majors, are invited to join the UMass competition team, which this year will travel to Utah over Spring Break to compete in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition—a conference featuring hands-on competitive events that are judged by active landscaping employers. The College of Natural Sciences Career Center helps students prepare resumes beforehand, and our Stockbridge students often return from their Spring Break with post-graduation jobs in hand.
The Class of ’27 tree is a green gable black gum, the first of its kind on campus. “This is an underutilized landscape tree," said Head of Grounds Todd Cournoyer. “It has beautiful fall foliage. It’s also a native tree and produces a small fruit that birds love.” Cournoyer added that the team is “always striving to increase the campus catalog of trees."
The UMass Amherst campus has also operated since 1944 as home to the Frank Waugh Arboretum—a collection of 8000 trees maintained by certified arborists. The collection includes several champion trees, which are the nation's largest or oldest specimen of a tree type. An online Campus Tree Finder offers an overhead GIS view of the campus where visitors can click on a tree to learn its species, size, and history.
Learn more about the Stockbridge School of Agriculture's two-year associate degree in Landscape Contracting.