How important are internships in shaping students’ future endeavors?
This summer, three students from the Cal Poly Pomona Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture participated in a rotational internship program developed by wholesale nursery giant TreeSap Farms, doing business as TreeTown USA.
The interns shared what the opportunity has taught them so far.
Huston Albachten, a plant science senior assigned to the nursery’s 200-acre growing facility in Perris, enjoyed the fact that his supervisors regularly assigned him to work in a variety of functional areas.
“No day is the same,” he said. “I’ll be in the office learning about sales and production, then I’ll be on the nursery grounds learning about plant health and scouting. I enjoy interacting with different departments and understanding the complexities of each task.”
Working at the nursery allowed Albachten to apply the knowledge he gained through plant science coursework to a field technology application acquired by the organization. “The app helps TreeTown USA accurately assess pest pressure in the field and make better planning decisions.”
Albachten’s internship with TreeTown USA, the entity that recently acquired Village Nurseries and Hines Growers, also led him to consider a post-graduate career in the nursery industry.
Neil Pathak, a plant science senior, learned about the business side of agriculture at TreeTown USA’s 270-acre growing grounds in Fallbrook.
“I get to experience a nursery operation from an insider’s perspective,” he said. “Each week, I’ve been assigned to a different business unit—from finance to production. What I’ve learned along the way is that the horticulture industry is very detailed.”
Looking back at his experiences, Pathak says his time at Fallbrook surprised him.
“What I love most is the amount of science involved behind the scenes. I never realized how much biology could affect almost every aspect of an organization like TreeTown USA. This internship experience has given me a lot to consider, and I can definitely see myself working in the nursery industry more than I did before the internship.”
When Sam Broderick, a plant science senior, first interviewed with TreeTown USA, he shared his keen interest in arboriculture. As a result, he was assigned to the company’s 200-acre facility in San Diego under the supervision of Jim Barnes, the general manager and a certified arborist with more than 20 years of experience. Despite Broderick’s interest in arboriculture, Barnes gave Broderick a specific summer assignment: to increase the nursery’s productivity rates.
“I’ve been working on ways to improve the efficiency of our canning operation,” Broderick said. “For weeks, I’ve collected data on how the canning machine impacts production. Initially, the machine was a total alien to me, but after working the line long enough, I gained a thorough understanding of the process.”
Broderick said that Cal Poly Pomona Plant Science Professor Tracey Takeuchi’s enthusiastic teaching initially piqued his interest in tree care. “My love for arboriculture grew from there,” he laughed.
Thinking about the impact the internship has had on him, Broderick said this summer’s hands-on learning experience has become a way of life.
“What’s been invaluable is the expertise and knowledge I am getting in the field. Now that I’ve learned proper pruning techniques, I walk around my neighborhood and look at trees very differently.”
TreeTown USA’s rotational internship program gives Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture students critical experience that refines interests and changes their perspectives on what a degree in the plant science field can look like in the real world. The participants were embedded into the TreeTown USA employee team and corporate culture and will make a formal presentation with process improvement recommendations to the company’s leadership at the program’s conclusion.
“When our interns finish their summer with us,” said Terri Cook, TreeTown USA’s senior vice president of human resources, “we hope they will walk away with an understanding how practical, hands-on experience in the workplace can add life lessons that can’t be taught in courses.”
TreeSap Farms, doing business as TreeTown USA, is a privately-owned business founded in 2001 and headquartered in Houston with 14 growing facilities totaling more than 6,000 production acres across Texas, Florida, Oregon and California. With the addition of a West Coast Division, including Village Nurseries and Hines Growers, the combined company now has a coast-to-coast footprint for its broad mix of high-quality plant materials that includes more than 5,000 unique plant selections and variations.