PLANET, the Professional Landcare Network, is an international association serving lawn care professionals, exterior maintenance contractors, installation, design and build professionals, and interiorscapers.
The college has scored high in the competition, taking home first place in 1995, 2008 and 2010, placing third in 2009 and also having a CTC student, Jessica Logan-Watters, be named "Superstar" in 2010. A "Superstar" is a student who competes in five categories and has the highest cumulative score of all students.
"This is not your ordinary academic competition," said Rebecca Long, public relations specialist for CTC. "Students do take written tests, learn to identify plants, lay out plans for landscaping, but there is a very interactive portion of the competition with students competing against each other in tree climbing, plant installation, small engine repair and irrigation."
Long said students have been preparing for months for the three day-long competition, which also features a career fair and seminars.
She said what sets the competition apart is that it allows CTC students to compete not only with other two-year institutions, but allows for national and international competition with four-year colleges and universities.
"One of the big things we want is for students to network with students who are studying similar things and for our students to network with potential employers," Long said. "We've had students walk away from the competition with job offers and scholarship offers."
Shane Evans teaches Environmental Horticulture at CTC and has helped the college compete in PLANET since 1991. The program is exclusive to the North Metro campus in Acworth.
"We've been in the top 10 the last 18 years in the competition and are always number one in the state," Evans said. "We are the largest horticulture program in the state, and I think that says a lot about our accomplishments."
Evans said the majority of students in the program are considered "non-traditional" students, meaning students who are returning to school after several years and often have careers and families.
"We have students who are working full time competing against students who are going to school full time," Evans said.
The program itself has 132 students and teaches elements important to horticulture and the horticulture industry such as irrigation, plant identification, design and enhancement.
"We have a wide variety of students, some that have began careers in the [horticulture] industry and are wanting them to grow," Evans said, "and some who are in the program for general interest."
The work of these students can be seen throughout campus in the form of a well for irrigation and other practice irrigation projects, a greenhouse, green rooms, beautification projects and garden areas.
Logan-Watters graduated from the program in 2010 and has a history of competing in PLANET. She said she became interested in horticulture because her mother always maintained gardens.
"That got me interested, but then I went on to take classes on landscape design, plant identification, horticulture construction and irrigation," Logan-Watters said.
Logan-Watters said she enjoyed how the program and competition encourage active involvement, saying it helped her grasp some of the more difficult concepts of environmental horticulture.
"I really liked we had more hands on learning than book learning," Logan-Watters said. "It prepares you to enter the job force as a competent professional."
She now works for Evans, doing grounds maintenance and training other students for the competition.
"I do a little bit of everything now," Logan-Watters said. "I'm in (horticulture) for the long haul."
Humzah Khraim is a partner of SeasonsWood Group in Marietta, a business specializing in landscape management. He also is an environmental horticulture student and active participant in the PLANET competition.
This year he will be striving to be named "Superstar," and will compete in areas such as landscape maintenance, paver patio installation and irrigation assembly.
"My favorite part is the paver patio competition where we're timed and graded," Khraim said.
Khraim said the program itself offers students opportunities for growth not only for their knowledge and ability, but for their futures as well.
"Just from personal experience running a business, I've seen exponential amounts of business growth since I started the program," Khraim said. "I've also had lots of great job offers."
Students competing in the event will travel too Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., from March 17-19.