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Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes (sixth from left) leads the official groundbreaking for the college's Ornamental Horticulture renovation project on August 22. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Ornamental Horticulture Groundbreaking Cultivates Career Opportunities

With the turn of 11 gleaming shovels, groundbreaking took place on August 22 for a $16.7 million project to renovate and improve indoor and outdoor classrooms and facilities for Cuyamaca College’s Ornamental Horticulture program.

Thousands of students have graduated from the program since its launch in 1980. Many have gone on to careers in landscape design and sustainable landscaping, irrigation technology and turf management.

The renovation will allow the program to provide a hands-on training experience reflecting current industry standards.

“We are a career technical education discipline and we strive to help students get jobs, so it is very important that we are able to replicate what’s currently used in industry,” said Leah Rottke, program coordinator for the horticulture program.

Rottke said she hopes the new facilities will increase program enrollment, one of her long-term goals.

“What I let students know is that it’s an interesting time to study horticulture. There are more opportunities available than qualified graduates,” said Rottke.

Green industry faces shortage of qualified employees

A banner depicts a rendering of the new Ornamental Horticulture complex when completed in 2022. Photo: Cuyamaca College

A banner depicts a rendering of the new Ornamental Horticulture complex when completed in 2022. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The green industry continues to grow, but is battling a serious labor shortage. Statistics from the IBIS World November 2018 Landscaping Services Industry Report show employment of more than one million people with annual revenue of $93 billion.

Along with its Center for Water Studies, Cuyamaca College hopes to expand opportunities for its students in these flourishing career fields.

Many of the program’s faculty are also employed in the industry, another benefit for the students, and their prospective employers.

“This gives students the opportunity to learn really practical information and experience about what the industry is like,” said Rottke. “It is also often their first networking opportunity.”

Rottke said her greatest challenge is reaching people who aren’t aware of the excellent career opportunities in the green industry.

The two-year program at Cuyamaca College offers eight degrees and nine certificates in arboriculture, floral design, golf course and sports turf management; irrigation technology; landscape design; landscape technology; nursery technology; sustainable urban landscapes; and basic ornamental horticulture.

Students can earn either a degree or a professional certificate in all eight programs. 

Cuyamaca’s programs also offer paid internships where students can start working in their chosen career field while pursuing their education.

Popular retail nursery remains open during renovation

A rendering of the Ornamental Horticulture program's new Building M, where classrooms and new lab faculties will be housed. Courtesy Cuyamaca College

A rendering of the Ornamental Horticulture program’s new Building M, where classrooms and new lab faculties will be housed. Photo courtesy Cuyamaca College

The renovation will include updated classroom and lab facilities, well-equipped greenhouses, an outdoor instructional area, expanded retail space and much-needed storage space.

Rottke said the new greenhouses and retail space will be a boost to the program’s popular retail nursery. Proceeds from nursery sales fund scholarships and class trips outside of the region. About 30,000 plants are sold annually, including nearly 25 percent of annual sales at the popular Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival.

Larry McLemore, Cuyamaca College dean of career and technical education, views project renderings at the groundbreaking event with GCCCD Chancellor Cindy L. Miles. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Larry McLemore, Cuyamaca College dean of career and technical education, views project renderings at the groundbreaking event with GCCCD Chancellor Cindy L. Miles. Photo: Cuyamaca College

“Ornamental Horticulture has a storied past at our college and it is long overdue for a renovation,” said Cuyamaca College President Dr. Julianna Barnes. “With the modernizing of facilities and the new greenhouses in particular, students have a lot to be excited about.”

The 2017 Spring Garden and Butterfly Festival at The Water Conservation Garden. Photo: Water Conservation Garden

Water Conservation Garden Awarded SDG&E Environmental Champion Grant

The Water Conservation Garden’s Ms. Smarty-Plants program received a $25,000 Environmental Champion Grant in June from SDG&E.

The award comes as The Garden, at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, celebrates its 20th anniversary.

“SDG&E has been a long-time supporter of The Garden and its innovative Ms. Smarty-Plants education program,” said Jennifer Pillsbury, executive director/CEO of The Water Conservation Garden. “In fact, SDG&E was one of the first funders to provide seed funding that allowed the program to have the widespread impact it has today. We are grateful for their support.”

Support from water agencies help fund innovative education program

Support from the San Diego County Water Authority and from several other water agencies also was critical to establishing and growing the program, which reached over 80,000 children and adults a year by 2016.

The six-acre garden is governed by an independent, nonprofit board of directors and receives funding from the San Diego County Water Authority, City of San Diego, Cuyamaca College, Helix Water District, Otay Water District and the Sweetwater Authority. Memberships, donations, grants, facility rentals and gift shop sales also support The Garden.

Conservation education program in 11th year

Water agencies created The Garden to demonstrate water conservation techniques and to provide environmental education.

“In its 11th year, the Ms. Smarty-Plants programs have touched nearly 350,000 children and adults, focusing on youth from disadvantaged communities who have limited access to safe nature spaces,” Pillsbury added.

Pam Meisner is Ms. Smarty-Plants

Pam Meisner started the conservation program in 2008 at the Water Conservation Garden. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

Pam Meisner, also known as Ms. Smarty-Plants, started the conservation program in 2008. Meisner is a lifelong educator with more than 30 years teaching experience advocating for fun and interactive learning in nature as well as bringing conservation into the classroom.

Upcoming events at The Water Conservation Garden

  • August 23: Nature Nights with Ms. Smarty-Plants
  • August 24: Water System Consultation with Brook Sarson of CatchingH2O/H2OME
  • September 28: Backyard Composting Workshop

On November 16, The Garden is hosting a 20th anniversary concert. The event begins at 5:00 pm with a reception featuring food and drink stations, music and unique auction items.

For more information on these and other events go to:  https://thegarden.org/events/

Cuyamaca College officially dedicated its new Center for Water Studies and welcomed several dozen guests to an open house at the technology rich learning hub during the recent Women In Water Symposium. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Opening the Doors to Careers in Water

El Cajon, Calif. – Cecilia Bernal came looking for a career. Essie Mae Horne was focused on occupational advancement. Michaela Maddox-Gomez wanted to explore her options before she graduates from Mt. Carmel High School.

Bernal, Horne and Maddox-Gomez were among the approximately 250 people packing the Center for Water Studies 2nd annual Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways symposium on Jan. 17 at Cuyamaca College. The event included nearly two dozen speakers, a half-dozen panel discussions, inspirational messages from water and wastewater industry administrators, a day’s worth of networking opportunities and a bevy of information tables.

“I’m already learning so much,” said Bernal, 30, who has worked as a waitress, retail clerk and pharmacy technician. “Water and wastewater is an important industry, and it’s definitely more interesting that what I’ve done in the past.”

Retirements create room for job growth

Women In Water symposium attendees take a tour of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Women In Water symposium attendees take a tour of the Cuyamaca College Center for Water Studies training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

The opportunities are ample due to an imminent glut of retirements by an aging workforce. Forecasts call for between 1,200 and 1,500 open positions in the next three to four years in San Diego County alone, said Sandy Kerl, the San Diego County Water Authority’s deputy general manager. Forty percent of employees at the Padre Dam Municipal Water District will retire within the next three to five years, said Lisa Sorce, human resources director. Representatives from other utilities presented similar numbers.

“Our industry is experiencing a record number of job openings,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “At Sweetwater Authority, we recruited for almost 10 percent of our workforce just this past year. In addition, water and wastewater jobs are recession-proof, especially working in the public sector. I am excited to show young women that there are great opportunities throughout our industry.”

Maddox-Gomez said she was excited to explore those opportunities.

“This is an area that is really important to our future and to my generation, and I want to learn more about it,” said Michaela, 16, who heard about the symposium from an aunt. “I want to see what kind of options I have.”

Symposium’s success a team effort

Sandy Kerl, deputy general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, was a featured speaker at the Women In Water symposium at Cuyamaca College.

Sandy Kerl, deputy general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, was a featured speaker at the Women In Water symposium at Cuyamaca College. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways, was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation to promote the career advancement of women in the water industry through community college programs, industry internships, curriculum development, and outreach to high schools, transitioning military and military veterans.

Kerl, the keynote speaker, detailed the technological advances in recent years and noted there are more than 200 unique occupations in the water industry.

“If you want an exciting career, be a part of water,” Kerl said. “If you want to be a part of the future, be a part of water.”

Lisa Sorce, human relations director at Padre Dam Municipal Water District, echoed that theme. “There are so many careers in the water industry. You really have to figure out where you want to go.”

Sorce made the comment during a presentation on preparing for career advancement and promotions. For those looking to advance, Sorce said getting ready to be ready is a must. Among her suggestions: Keep an eye on who is getting promoted and find out why; secure the certifications required for positions drawing your interest; and seek out a mentor.

“Make sure your boss knows what your career plans are,” Sorce added. “Look for ways to pitch in.”

The suggestions were helpful to people such as Horne, who was so inspired by last year’s inaugural event that she recruited friends and co-workers to attend this year’s event, too.

Said Horne: “I’m looking to move forward in my career, I’m looking to network, I’m looking to see what opportunities are out there.”

Forum topics something for everyone

Women In Water symposium participants get a close look at the Cuyamaca College water and wastewater program training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Women In Water symposium participants get a close look at the Cuyamaca College water and wastewater program training facility. Photo: Cuyamaca College

Discussions throughout the day ranged from a question-and-answer session during a general manager’s form, to building leadership skills, to internships, cooperative experience and volunteerism. Following a lunch break, Cuyamaca College officially dedicated its new Center for Water Studies and welcomed several dozen guests to an open house at the technology rich learning hub.

Approximately one-third of the attendees at the symposium were girls from local high schools, and scores sought advice from other attendees from the industry.

“I’ve been doing this kind of work for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Tisa Aguero, a water systems tech supervisor for the City of San Diego Public Utilities. “This event is just amazing.”

‘Women in Water’ Conference Aims to Expand Career Options

It boils down to bringing more women into the water and wastewater industry.

That’s the central message from organizers of the second annual Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways conference set for Jan. 17 at the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon. Registration for the day-long series of workshops and panel discussions is open through Jan. 15.

Sandy Kerl, deputy general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, will be the keynote speaker. Speakers also include Cari Dale, water utilities director for the City of Oceanside; Vicki Quiram, general manager of the Carlsbad Municipal Water District; Tish Berge, general manager of the Sweetwater Authority; and Lan Wiborg, deputy director of long-range planning and water resources for the City of San Diego.

The Center for Water Studies is working with the National Science Foundation to boost the number of women entering the industry, and Women in Water is among its initiatives. Target audiences include women contemplating a career change; women in the water and wastewater industry looking to advance their careers; military veterans transitioning to civilian life; and high school girls seeking to learn more about career opportunities as they near graduation.

Pending retirements offer opportunities

An unprecedented number of retiring workers in the next few years opens the opportunity to recruit new talent to the water industry. Photo: Cuyamaca College

“The local water industry is anticipating losing between 1,200 and 1,400 people in critical jobs in the coming years because of pending retirements, which provides a tremendous opportunity to further diversify our workforce,” said Don Jones, a conference coordinator. “Anyone interested in a good-paying career that is making a difference in people’s lives might want to consider registering for Women in Water.”

Conference supporters include the Water Authority, the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association, the California Water Environment Association, and the Association of California Water Agencies. Lunch, refreshments and parking are included in the $25 registration fee. Students are free. Cuyamaca College is at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway, El Cajon.

 

 

 

 

Don Jones, the veteran water industry professional who is overseeing the transition of Cuyamaca College’s Water and Wastewater Technology program into the Center for Water Studies. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Center for Water Studies Moves Into New Home at Cuyamaca College

The transformation of Cuyamaca College’s trailblazing Water and Wastewater Technology Program into the Center for Water Studies is all but complete.

Among the premier water and wastewater training facilities in California, the Center for Water Studies relocated in late August to a renovated complex complete with new classrooms, a water quality analysis laboratory and a workshop for back flow, cross-connection controls, and related skills-based courses. The complex sits next to a state-of-the-art field operations skills yard that opened in January, with an above-ground water distribution system and an underground wastewater collection system. The facility aims to simulate the challenges that students will face on the job in advanced water and wastewater facilities.

“With the completion of these new facilities, our Center for Water Studies is now the flagship water and wastewater technology program in the entire California Community Colleges’ system, and one of the premier programs of its kind available anywhere in the western United States,” said Don Jones, the veteran water industry professional overseeing the transition of Cuyamaca College’s Water and Wastewater Technology program into the Center for Water Studies for the past decade.

The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District’s Proposition V construction bond provided $1.2 million in funding to reconstruct the building. Funds from the college’s National Science Foundation’s “California WaterWorks: Building the People Pipeline” grant helped pay for tools and equipment to foster a learn-by-doing environment. The Field Operations Skills Yard was built through approximately $200,000 from a California Community Colleges Strong Workforce grant, more than $70,000 from the National Science Foundation grant, and approximately $130,000 in pipe fittings, valves, meters and other equipment donated by water industry manufacturers and distributors.

Producing the next generation of water professionals

Don Ogul in the new water quality analysis laboratory at the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College, which opened last week. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority.

Don Jones in the new water quality analysis laboratory at the Center for Water Studies at Cuyamaca College, which opened last week. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority.

The Center for Water Studies is already making a difference in a region where water industry professionals are needed to replace the more than 1,200 industry employees who are at or nearing retirement age. The Center has been reaching out to high school students in STEM fields, transitioning military, women, and other traditionally underrepresented populations to explore water and wastewater technology careers. The Center collaborates with Grossmont Union High School District science instructors and water industry experts to develop specialized lesson plans related to water and wastewater management skills.

In January 2019, the Center for Water Studies will host the second annual Women in Water: Exploring Career Pathways symposium. Recently, nine Center for Water Studies students were among 17 selected to participate in the 2018-2019 San Diego Region Water and Wastewater Internships program supported by the Water Authority, its member agencies, and community college water and wastewater technology programs.

The Center’s National Science Foundation grant, which totals almost $900,000, will cover the cost of curriculum development among the participating agencies and educators.

Water industry professionals supportive of program’s goals

The Center for Water Studies evolved through discussions with the Cuyamaca College Water and Wastewater Technology Program’s Industry Advisory Committee, which comprises water industry professionals from the Water Authority and many of its member agencies. Support from local water agencies has been strong. The Otay Water District’s Board of Directors presented Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes with a $5,000 check for the new center in August.

An official dedication ceremony for the new complex is tentatively set for January.

Paul Redeker surveys displays at The Water Conservation Garden, located on the campus of Cuyamaca College. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Inspiring Change at The Water Conservation Garden

Horticulture director embraces educational mission

WaterSmart landscapes are transforming San Diego County’s neighborhoods in part due to the work of Paul Redeker and his colleagues at The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon.

“We’re a learning center, not just a place where you’re surrounded by beautiful plants,” said Redeker, who recently returned for a second run as director of horticulture and facilities the garden. “All of our exhibits are geared toward teaching. We are all about educating the public to be inspired to make changes in their lives because we’re literally at the end of the water pipeline.”

Driving that point home is a giant pipe protruding from a landscaped embankment with water trickling from its opening into a lily pond near the entrance to this one-of-a-kind, six-acre conservation showcase on the campus of Cuyamaca College.

“I love the educational element,” Redeker said. “The learning that goes on in this garden regarding low-water options is wonderful.”

‘Wonderful’ low-water options

The Water Conservation Garden feature a Native Habitat Garden, the Compost Exhibit, the Veggie Garden and the Succulent Garden. Take a free, docent-led tour the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. Illustration: The Garden

The Water Conservation Garden feature a Native Habitat Garden, the Compost Exhibit, the Veggie Garden and the Succulent Garden. Take a free, docent-led tour the first Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. Illustration: The Garden

Opened in 1999, The Water Conservation Garden is owned by a joint powers agency comprising the San Diego County Water Authority, the Otay Water District, the Helix Water District, the Sweetwater Authority, the City of San Diego Public Utilities and Cuyamaca College. From the start, the garden was seen as an important conservation tool in a region with few natural water resources.

More than 30,000 people visit each year, and the garden’s programs reach an additional 80,000. It is the educational element that lured Redeker back. “The learning that goes on in this garden regarding low-water options is wonderful,” he said.

Born and raised on a Sonoma County ranch, Redeker earned his bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture, with a focus on landscape design, from Cal Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. He worked at several Northern California nurseries before exploring other career interests overseas.

Redeker returned to California and was designing landscapes for a San Diego company when he fell in love with public gardens and landed a position as The Water Conservation Garden’s director of horticulture more than 10 years ago.

After five years in El Cajon, he expanded his professional expertise at the San Diego Botanic Garden, another regional showcase garden in Encinitas. “It gave me a wonderful understanding of how larger gardens operate,” said Redeker.

A constantly evolving gem of a garden

Plans are underway for new displays including an interactive irrigation exhibit, watershed exhibit, and a new outdoor classroom. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Plans are underway for new displays including an interactive irrigation exhibit, watershed exhibit, and a new outdoor classroom. Photo: David Ogul, Water Authority

Redeker returned to his “little gem of a garden” last fall, and he is thrilled with the opportunities to innovate. “We are always looking to improve the experience so that when people come back, they can see something new and fresh,” he said.

Projects under way or in the planning stages at The Water Conservation Garden include:

  •  An interactive irrigation exhibit to help visitors understand and appreciate different types of water-saving technologies.
  •  A watershed exhibit with a “follow the raindrop” feature that illustrates the benefits of strategic stormwater management.
  •  More than a dozen strategically placed, drought-tolerant trees – including the Silk Oak , Blue Atlas Cedar, Sweetshade, and the Variegated Brisbane box – have been planted throughout the garden to help keep summertime temperatures in check.
  •  An expanded indoor classroom that will more than triple capacity to nearly 100.
  •  A new outdoor classroom, covered with a shade structure, will replace the current outdoor class space.

“The new classroom is going to be huge for us,” said Pam Meisner, the garden’s director of operations and programs. “We simply don’t have the room to accommodate demand for all of our adult-education landscaping and gardening classes.”

Among the permanent features is a Retrofit Backyard Exhibit that includes a traditional backyard lawn – complete with a depiction of a homeowner struggling to mow a greenbelt that drinks some 28,000 gallons of water annually – adjacent to a more visually appealing, and less labor-intensive garden featuring drought-tolerant plants that uses just 6,000 gallons of water each year.

“People are being smarter and much more creative with what they’re doing with their landscape,” said Redeker. “We’re seeing smarter plant choices, more hardscape, more patios, more mulch, dry streambeds and the like, and it’s making a difference.”