CAFNR provides real world business and laboratory experiences

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series highlighting various businesses and services within the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri that provide job opportunities for students. 

> Tiger Garden

Tiger Garden and the University of Missouri Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory are two services offered through the College of Agriculture Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) that offer job opportunities for college students. 

According to the Division of Plant Sciences, Tiger Garden is a predominately student run business that offers a variety of floral services to the MU community. According to its website, Tiger Garden has a mission to “expand the educational process by combining traditional textbook learning with hands-on small business experience in an entrepreneurial environment.” Tiger Garden works closely with the floral design program on campus to employ student workers each semester.

In CAFNR’s Division of Plant Sciences, there are five floral design courses and five landscape design courses offered to university students.

Tori Lock, science and agricultural journalism senior, has taken a handful of the floral design classes and explains that the curriculum is set up in two parts: the first day of class each week is an introduction to the arrangement and teaching of the various design principles, while the second day of class each week is when students are challenged to apply those principles and actually design the arrangement.

Lesleighan Cravens, former student manager of Tiger Garden and teaching assistant during her undergraduate studies, is the quintessential example of using the experiences at Tiger Garden to move into a career. For her, that career is one that allows her to teach others through Tiger Garden as the instructor of floral design courses.

The 18 paid positions allow the students to experience what it takes to operate and maintain a real-world business.

Jake Trachsel, a Tiger Garden “grower” and former teaching assistant, started his own family farm and provides locally grown fresh flowers to the shop almost every week, according to Lock.

At Tiger Garden, students are in charge of everything from ordering flowers to running the social media sites.

Regan Obermann, a senior student manager at the store, believes that her experience has prepared her for a career after she graduates in May. She noted customer service skills and personal interactions in a business setting as two main takeaways from her position. The experience is “more than I’ve learned in two summers working under [other] places,” Obermann added.

Lock, who is also a student manager at Tiger Garden, agreed. She was initially drawn to the idea of working at the student-run businesses after an MU graduate student-taught at her high school and strongly encouraged her to take advantage of the opportunity.

“It’s convenient and seemed like a lot of fun,” Lock said.

Students do not have to be plant science majors to work at Tiger Garden.

“Tiger Garden has every career opportunity … there is something for you to do here,” Lock said. “I do creative things with floral arrangements, but more importantly, I do all of the promotional things at Tiger Garden to revamp sales.”

Her duties include managing a professional website, updating social media accounts, and creating advertising materials.

“All advertising is done on social media,” Lock added, including a current promotion for $1 roses on select Fridays. “A lot of journalism students don’t get this experience as their first job on campus and I’ve been very fortunate,” Lock said .

Obermann and Lock agreed their positions have been beneficial beyond the intricate world of floral design. Lock, for example, mentioned that she has learned how to run a business and manage advertisements.

“There are so many aspects of business I never realized until I worked here,” Lock said.

Customers are often so grateful for the work of Tiger Garden floral designers, they find creative ways to express their thanks.

“One day I made an arrangement for a woman — it was her 90th birthday,” Lock said. The woman later called her, using the delivery driver’s cell phone, and thanked Lock for how beautiful the flowers were.

“The classes and time spent here pays off for moments like that,” Lock said.

Unusual requests require innovative solutions. Obermann recalled a time where the Tiger Garden employees were asked to make a floral design for a dolphin fanatic. They made an outline of the dolphin with wire and spray-tinted some of the flowers to make a blue coloring.

“Everyone always wants something different…you learn to give the customers what they want,” Obermann said.

At that moment, a University of Missouri student walked into Tiger Garden making a “random request for chopped greenery” to use in one of her classes; Lock and Cravens soon found themselves searching the facility and discovering fresh greens in the trash can that the student could use.

“It keeps you on your toes,” Obermann said. “It’s a great learning experience that I’m grateful for being a part of.”

> Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory

A short walk from Tiger Garden is a CAFNR service of a more scientific nature. Manjula Nathan, associate professor of plant sciences, several student workers and researchers all share an infectious passion for agriculture, soil sampling and science.

Nathan, director of the MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory, takes great pride in the self-sustaining laboratory.

The operation strives to provide a safe and economically viable risk management system through unbiased and research-based recommendations for farmers, individuals, researchers, businesses and entities, according to Nathan.

According to Nathan, 35,000 soil samples are analyzed each year with approximately 75 percent of the samples coming from farmers.

“[Soil samples] eliminate the guesswork and not knowing what the plant really needs,” Nathan said.

While the MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory primarily deals with soil samples, the facility has a number of other tests including: plant samples for fertilizer and lime recommendations, field crop specific recommendations, plant analysis and nutrient diagnosis, water testing, composting and manure sampling, greenhouse media and environmental soil tests.

Nathan believes that the Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory provides a great on-campus job opportunity for students.

“Students get good training and good recommendations and get good jobs right away,” she said.

Having student employees is also a benefit to the lab.

“We love having young people,” Dr. Nathan said. “They bring a fresh perspective and young minds.”

Student employees, many employed as Soil Lab Technicians, often work alongside scientists in a relatively quiet environment. Four to five students work in the lab per semester and gain experience in soil testing, how things are done in a lab, processing samples and logging information into a system.

Nick Ciaramitaro, a former student employee at the laboratory, noted that patience and focus are two key skills that you gain from working in science.

“Testing soil samples is very repetitive and on a busy day there can be up to 200 soil samples that need to be tested,” Ciaramitaro said.

Hannah Tonner, a junior pre-med student at the university, has worked as a soil lab technician for several months and described her experience as a great job for people who do not rely on social interactions with others. To Tonner, one of the main perks of the position is the flexibility in hours.

“The hours are fantastic! You can work any time from 8 to 5,” Tonner said.

Tonner had “absolutely no experience” coming into the job and has since learned good lab techniques and how to be more efficient with the scientific method, skills she will continue to apply on her journey to medical school.

Ciaramitaro had a similar experience. In his opinion, learning the different techniques of analysis in the lab was a transferrable skill that led to his current position at the freshwater mussel laboratory in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife on campus.

“If you are wanting to get into any science field then it looks good to have lab experience on your resume,” Ciaramitaro said. The MU Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory provides that opportunity to students each semester.

“It’s not just soil … it’s how you measure the best results for your customers,” Tonner said.

Students have numerous opportunities at both the MU Soil and Plant Laboratory and Tiger Garden to hold student jobs and gain real-world experience.

The laboratory is currently interested in hiring a student to work on a small research project with the primary duty of organizing and logging samples. For inquiries, please contact Manjula Nathan.

Holly Enowski

About the Author Holly Enowski

I am an Eldon, Missouri, native, best known for being “too busy” and for the circumstances of my birth – I am the only girl in a set of triplets! Born and raised on a family farm, agriculture has always been a large part of my life and growing up, that was not something that I always appreciated as I do now. Since the age of 5, I’ve been chasing big city dreams that led me to pursue a degree in science and agricultural journalism, and hopefully minors in rural sociology, agricultural economics, leadership and public service. I am interested in international food insecurity, policy, nutrition and a whole slew of other topics.