On the pathways leading to May’s Commencement ceremonies at The Quad, the groves of sycamore trees that give the campus its distinct ambience also have the potential to put the safety of thousands of celebrants out on a limb.
Spotting such hazards lurking in trees is part of the job of gardener Jose Mireles, who is a certified arborist and has the knowledge to detect overextended branches, dense canopies, and decayed or dead limbs. He walked and inspected those pathways weeks before Commencement.
Mireles was able to receive his arborist certification because of professional development opportunities that are promoted and offered in Facilities Planning & Management (FP&M). Mireles is one of 13 staff members in Landscape Services who have earned certifications.
“With a tree in the forest, there is no risk if no one is around. We’re in an urban setting so you need to determine occupancy rates, which fluctuate on campus, to assess risk,” Mireles said. “These certifications and trainings are helping me do my job better. They’re helping me become a critical thinker. There are a lot of facets to gardening and trees.”
To qualify for his arborist certification, Mireles had to learn about tree biology, soil science and urban forestry. He also earned another qualification within the arborist certification called Tree Risk Assessment Qualified, which required three days of training at Griffith Park.
Professional development opportunities in FP&M consist mainly of classes, seminars and retreats that are open to all staff members in Landscape Services and other departments. The training and classes sometimes must be undertaken outside of work hours.
To earn his license as a qualified applicator of pesticides, Mireles studied two hours a day for two months. That meant hitting the books after work and on weekends while balancing being a husband and father to a 4-year-old son. He said that sacrificing family time was difficult, but the certification was worth the effort.
“Going to these courses and seminars, going to these educational retreats are very insightful to me as someone who is passionate about horticulture. For someone who wants to keep growing in this career, it is encouraging to know there is pathway here for me,” Mireles said. “Cal Poly Pomona has done a lot to encourage me and my colleagues to attend these educational opportunities and grow as professionals.”
University administration has highly encouraged professional development by staff members in departments across the campus. In FP&M, a budget has been established for education and seminars and certifications are paid by the department. As part of professional development, several staff members attended the annual Landscape Expo in mid-November.
Members of Landscape Services hold certifications that range from Environmental Protection Agency certified water manager to International Society Arboriculture tree worker certifications to qualified pesticide applicator to forklift operator.
Mireles is one of seven Landscape staff members who hold a qualified applicator’s license for pesticides. The license allows the holder to not only spray pesticide but to also purchase pesticides and supervise others to spray pesticide.
“Staff members have really embraced the professional development opportunities, whether for certification, training or classes,” said Brian Lake, the manager of Landscape Services. “We encourage any staff member who wants to learn about other aspects of their jobs or want to be certified in specialty to make the most of professional development opportunities.”
Although Mireles’ primary responsibilities involve gardening, he is also involved in tree operations. Mireles trims most of the trees that are on campus and assists with tree removals. He also responds to emergency calls such as when as limbs break off. Old eucalyptus trees are prone to limb droppings.
The professional development opportunities have not only helped him perform his job and take on added responsibilities, but the certifications are helping him see a clear path toward a career objective.
“Getting the certifications, getting the qualifications is broadening my knowledge,” Mireles said. “I want to be a decision-maker, I want to be somebody at the table talking about landscape planning and design. But all in due time. I’m an eternal student.”