IA scholarship winners 2022: Graham, Nelson

Learn about Kade Graham and Megan Nelson, two of the 18 winners of the IA's 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program.
Discover what brought the 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program recipients into the green industry, their career plans and industry experience.
Learn about Kade Graham and Megan Nelson, two of the 18 winners of the IA's 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program.

In this series, learn more about the 18 recipients of the Irrigation Association’s 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program sponsored by Rain Bird, given to college students studying and pursuing careers in the irrigation field.

The scholarships, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, were awarded based on the candidate’s letter of intent, financial need, resume, list of irrigation courses and letters of reference.

Since the program’s inception in 2016, 107 students have been awarded scholarships.

Kade Graham

Undergraduate student at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Graduation date: May 11, 2024

How and why did you get involved in turf/landscape?

The No. 1 reason that got me involved in turf/landscape was most definitely my grandma. Ever since I was a little kid, I have helped her with yard work and started to realize how passionate she was about her yard and flower beds. This passion grew onto me and soon led me to have a passion about turf/landscape also.

What experience do you have in the turf/landscape industry?

Experience that I have had in the turf/landscape industry consist of me running my own lawn maintenance business since I was 13 years old. After mowing for years, I started to branch off in the landscape industry, such as brush removal, leaf removal and building a couple of flower beds and retaining walls. I have also worked for the landscape management team at Oklahoma State University. I intend on taking part in an internship in 2023 at the Big Cedar Lodge Golf Course in Branson, Missouri, to expand on this experience.

What is a personal accomplishment within the turf/landscape industry that you’re proud of?

My biggest achievement that I am most proud of in the turf/landscape industry would have to be the amount of clientele I was able to pull in at young age while running my lawn maintenance business. I had a collective 32 clients by the age of 15, 30 of these clients being residential yards and two being local businesses. Having all of these customers was good, but what was even better was getting their support. This support made it possible for me to go to Oklahoma State University to major in horticulture concentrating on turf management.

What kind of career in turf/landscape are you working toward?

Currently I am furthering my education in horticulture at Oklahoma State University, and plan to take part in an internship in the summer of 2023 at Big Cedar Lodge Golf Course in Branson, Missouri. After finishing my studies and taking part in this internship, I will for sure know what career path I want to take. If I enjoy working at the golf course during the internship, I am going to work at a golf course to continue to learn and eventually work my way up to golf course superintendent. I am also going to continue to have my own landscape business but expand on it and provide irrigation installation as a service.

What does smart irrigation mean to you?

When looking at smart irrigation, there are a lot of different aspects involved. Some of these aspects may be reducing the amount of wasted water when irrigating or irrigating enough water so that the plant stays healthy. After attending my landscape irrigation class, I have learned both of those things, and there are many sensors involved to help encourage those things. Smart irrigation to me is similar to those reasons, but I would also include the customer in this. So smart irrigation to me consists of applying the right amount of irrigation to reduce runoff, help plant health and making sure the customer is satisfied.

Megan Nelson

Undergraduate student at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
Graduation date: May 18, 2024

Recognized as a 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra scholar, a special designation awarded to the top two winners each year.

How and why did you get involved in turf/landscape?

My family has always been “outdoorsy” with camping, hiking, gardening and farming. In high school, I was particularly active in Future Farmers of America where I competed in the nursery/landscape and floriculture career development events. These really sparked my interest in learning more about landscaping and horticulture. Originally, I wanted to be an agriculture educator but found that horticulture was my passion. Since then, I have plunged headfirst into the green industry and, oh man, is the grass greener!

What experience do you have in the turf/landscape industry?

I have found that the best way for me to learn is by doing. Therefore, I have had many industry-related jobs. My first one was for a local market, Eastside and Westside Markets, that sold fresh produce, annuals, perennials, bedding and houseplants. After the markets closed, I started working for a local wholesale greenhouse, Kaw Valley, and still work for them seasonally at their production facilities. I have also worked for the Division of Facilities at K-State as a member of the grounds team, with the Konza Prairie Long-Term Ecological Research teams, and am currently with the K-State greenhouses where I work within and with the interiorscapes around campus.

What is a personal accomplishment within the turf/landscape industry that you’re proud of?

This scholarship is definitely my biggest accomplishment. This tremendous honor has and will continue to open doors for my education and career. I would also say that I am pretty proud of the reverse osmosis system that I modified in the greenhouses over winter break. It was not a big job, but it was my first time running solo, and now three hydroponics houses have easy access to distilled water!

What kind of career in turf/landscape are you working toward?

I am not set on anything in particular; I have enjoyed all my work in this industry. At the moment the front runner is greenhouse operations as it is a best-of-both-worlds scenario and it’s warm in the winter! My only requirements are working with plants, people and definitely irrigation. Even though I am not an education major anymore, I still do enjoy fielding questions and educating about horticulture.

What does smart irrigation mean to you?

To me, smart irrigation is as simple as thinking it through before you do. This can be as simple as always keeping in mind that the hydraulics of a system directly influences system performance through water pressure to as difficult as “righty tightly, lefty loosey.” Smart irrigation must encompass the correct design and component selection that utilize the flow and pressure of the site. Additionally, the system must be routinely maintained, whether the irrigation system is in a landscape, greenhouse, growing field or a golf course. You cannot always anticipate everything that could go wrong, but the more you are prepared for, the less trips you have to take to the supply store!

Read about the other 2022 LaFetra Scholarship winners.

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