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How do YOU become a Turf student?

Step 1: Love working outside
Step 2: Enjoy challenges, science and/or athletics​
Step 3: Follow the UT Turf Team on Social Media - @UTTurfgrass​ or on Facebook 
Step 4: Review the classes you might take here​
Step 4: Apply for admission to University of Tennessee 
Step 5: Start your journey in the world of Turfgrass Science

Contact our faculty and staff​ to find out more about this challenging and unique career field! 

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UT Turf program nearly doubles in 2 years
By MJ Slaby, Knoxville News Sentinel

During a Friday afternoon class, associate professor Brandon Horvath handed whiteboards to pairs of students, asking them to write key facts about significant people and places in the history of turf grass. The 12 students were scattered in the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture greenhouse classroom that could accommodate more. But 12 students is a sign of growth.

Increasing enrollment is nothing new at the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, where the number of undergraduates is up 86 percent from a decade ago to 1,472 undergraduates. Retention is nearly 90 percent for freshmen, and eight students transfer into the college from elsewhere at UT for every one that leaves, said John Stier, associate dean and professor at the college.

The continual growth is bucking a national trend for some areas, like plant sciences where the turf grass science and management is based. Two years ago, leaders of that concentration decided to take the program’s visibility into their own hands and hired a communications coordinator. Scott Boyle, a Navy veteran, brought with him the Navy’s recruitment strategy of “enhanced targeted visibility.” Enrollment has nearly doubled to almost 40.

Misunderstood as a career in cutting grass, turf grass management is a science-based field that includes research about improving grasses as well as making athletic fields safer to prevent injuries. It has high job placement and students intern at places like Fenway Park and Wimbledon. But the traditional pipeline of students is dry.

Students like Mitchell Riffey, a sophomore who decided on turf grass because of working at Holston Hills Country Club, are now rare when they used to be common. Fewer high school students have jobs at golf courses and that means less visibility for the career, faculty said. Colleagues at other university turf programs had already experienced an enrollment dip when it became noticeable about two years ago at UT, Horvath said. At the time, there were 18 students in the UT program and two-thirds were juniors and seniors. That meant only six underclassmen for future course offerings, Horvath said.

But the students were still out there, and with advice from advertising agency Tombras Group, Horvath said the program decided to make room in the budget for a communications coordinator. Boyle, who worked in Navy communications, ramped up social media and also applied the Navy’s strategies to find SEAL and special warfare candidates.

“We not only want more students, but the right students that will finish the program,” he said.

Using an annual survey of students and recent alumni, Boyle searched for what turf students had in common beyond summer jobs. He found turf students like science, played sports in high school and grew up around golf courses and other sports fields. They know that they are not going to play sports in college, but join intramural teams, continue to watch sports and want a career in a related area, Boyle said.

And that’s why the program has borrowed slogans like “stay in the game,” he said. Boyle said he’s also noticed a growing interest on the environmental safety aspects from potential students. So to find these students, Boyle is going to the typical places like career fairs, but also wants to go to atypical places like golf tournaments and other high school sports tournaments as well as meet with high school coaches.

He also wants more high school classes to visit UT — a visit from one science class last year led to at least one student enrolling in the program. The goal is to reach students, but also their parents and coaches, he said. And the enrollment increase is already evident, Horvath said. Class size is growing and the turf club is starting again because there are students to keep it going. And he hopes enrollment continues to grow to around 50.

Riffey said he was led to the turf concentration by working at the country club, but also enjoys the research aspect. And ultimately, it’s a career where the sophomore said he can work outside and have something to show of it.

“You get to see the results of your work,” Riffey said.

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AP Science students visit the UT Turfgrass Team

April 7, 2015

Students from Anderson County, Tennessee’s Powell High School visited the University of Tennessee’s Turfgrass Science and Management professors and students at the East Tennessee Research and Education Center to learn about the turf program. The 17 Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science students performed several experiments exploring putting green speed and consistency tests, turf hardness research, and turf core samples.

“The high school students had a chance to interact with professors and grad students via hands-on activities in small groups,” said Will Roberts, Powell High School AP Environmental Science teacher. “The activities allowed for each of the students to be engaged and use some of the equipment rather than just simply be shown the equipment on a passing tour.”

The visit, designed as a hands-on event rather than a standard tour of the facility, challenged the students to record data, come up with theories, and explain their reasoning.

“As the high school students worked with the professors and grad students, there were discussions about the activities, programs, majors, and career opportunities on a personal level that would not have been as easy for a large group, question-answer session,” Roberts said. “While they were simple activities, the high school students left this field trip feeling as though they worked with a professor rather than simply being on a tour.”

For the turf staff, the visit was much more than a tour. It allowed for the kind of interaction most often seen in a college lab.

“It was great to have these engaged high school students out there learning that science is a living, evolving thing,” said Brandon Horvath, Associate Professor Turfgrass Science and Management.

The idea for the hands-on visit came about after the UT Turfgrass team talked with Powell High School leadership at a college fair last fall.  


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 Game On: Students Rack Up Points in UT Professor’s “Gamed” Classroom

Jan. 27, 2015


Turfgrass Science and Management Associate Professor Brandon Horvath works with Kyle Talley to identify turf grasses in Introduction to Turfgrass Science Laboratory.

Taking one of Brandon Horvath’s classes can be fun and games.

That’s because Horvath, turf pathologist and plant sciences professor, has integrated elements typically found in games into two of his undergraduate courses, History and Impact of Turf Grasses and Turf Grass Pathology.

Students start out the semester with a zero and work their way to an A by earning points, just as in a game.

Points can be earned in a number of ways— quizzes, tests, and challenges outside the classroom. All coursework is voluntary, giving students the freedom to decide how they earn their points.

Horvath said this type of classroom approach increases self-motivation and participation. It also gives students who may not test well the opportunity to prove their knowledge in a different way.

“I wanted students to engage with the material and get involved,” he said. “The stuff I teach they’ll be dealing with the rest of their lives. I wanted them involved and working on it on a regular basis.”

Horvath also grades his students on a binary system, meaning either their work is acceptable or it is not. That way, students cannot calculate the minimum exam score they’ll need to pass.

“That’s not how it is in the business world. You can’t do a halfhearted job on something because you’re doing well otherwise,” he said. “Everything is expected to be good. I tried to instill that quality in my students by taking that mindset.”

Besides “gaming” his classroom, Horvath also has completely flipped his History and Impact of Turf Grasses class. Students watch lecture videos online and then come to class prepared to discuss questions and complete assignments with teacher and peer support.

Michael Medley, a senior in turfgrass science and management, enjoyed learning in a flipped classroom.

“We all looked forward to attending Dr. Horvath’s class because the discussions were always lively,” said Medley. “The key point is we were learning, but we weren’t cognitively aware that we were learning.”

Horvath is impressed with his students’ success and change in attitude stemming from his teaching methods.

“I’ve seen students who many instructors would say are not engaged become enlivened by the various game dynamics that I infuse into my classes,” Horvath said. “I am most intrigued by these students because when you engage them in conversation, or they write an app for an iPhone, or they author a video on YouTube or tweet at you on a topic, it is clear that they know and understand the material being covered.”

Medley says Horvath’s teaching style has helped him remember the material he learned even after the class was over.

“He seeks to shake the dust out of the old lecture hall system and create an open environment where students want to meet him halfway,” said Medley.

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The Olde Farm Golf Course