Sometimes, the education that takes place off campus is the most memorable and life-changing.
Hailey Tucker and Megan Muesse, both sophomore students enrolled in the turfgrass sciences program in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, got an opportunity of a lifetime recently when they were selected to be a part of an all-female grounds crew for the Little League Softball World Series, LLSWS, in North Carolina.
Tucker is in her second year in the turfgrass science program, and Muesse is in her first year as a turfgrass sciences student, with her freshman year started as a plant and environmental soil science major.
The students work at the Turfgrass Research Lab for Weston Floyd, a research specialist, and Chase Straw, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass scientist and assistant professor, both in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.
Floyd and Straw helped the young women get this opportunity to attend and work on the LLSWS grounds crew, where they spent four days gaining field staff experience and making connections in the industry.
“We strive to put our turfgrass science students in situations that will benefit them outside of the classroom to gain hands-on experience and network with professionals across the industry,” Straw said. “Megan and Hailey have taken full advantage of these opportunities early in their undergraduate career and it will no doubt benefit them after graduation.”
The grounds crew was made up of 16 women with different backgrounds in the turf industry, which is predominantly made up of males.
As a part of the crew, they were responsible for maintaining the field for the players. That included packing the pitcher’s mound, bullpens and home plate with clay as well as helping paint foul lines and batter and catchers’ boxes before games. Additional duties included dragging the field and switching bases after the third inning of the games.
Tucker and Muesse share their experiences and insights in the following Q&A:
What was the highlight of your time on the grounds crew?
Tucker – My highlight was meeting all the women in turf and hearing their stories. It was so amazing to learn from them and gain industry knowledge. Being a part of that group made me hopeful for my career in the industry and gave me confidence, knowing I had a community behind me.
Muesse – The highlight of my time at the LLSWS was painting the lines for the championship game. As the younger students on the grounds crew, we had practiced painting the lines and had done the lines for the scrimmage game at East Carolina University. It was such an amazing experience as well as a confidence-booster to have veteran groundskeeping women trust us with leading the setup for the championship game.
What was the biggest thing you learned that will help your future career?
Tucker — The biggest thing that I learned is that there will always be people there to guide me on my journey. All the volunteers were so insightful and made it very clear to both of us that they were just a phone call away.
Muesse — Aside from learning new skills that deal with sports/softball fields, something I learned for my career is the importance of the connections I made. I talked to so many women with backgrounds in sports fields, golfing, research, as well as other positions within the industry. It was amazing just to hear their stories and experiences, considering I am new to this world. It was very eye-opening, and I know that I will have friends in these women for the rest of my life.
Did you share any of your Texas A&M knowledge with the grounds crew?
Tucker — Most of the knowledge I have gained at Texas A&M has been in the field of research. Being that this is my first semester as a true turf student, I am excited to gain more knowledge, grow, and network with other people in the industry.
Muesse — I have taken a couple of classes specific to my turf major, which helped me understand what certain things are and why we did certain things. Like I knew that when we cut a chunk out of the grass to pump standing water away, when that chunk of grass was replaced, it would live and be just fine because of the soil, rhizomes and stolons. I also had the opportunity to volunteer and work at the Baseball Regionals and Super Regionals under Nick McKenna, Texas A&M assistant athletics director. It was there that I had my first experience with sports fields, and I learned from him and the other Texas A&M field staff. I was able to apply what I learned at the LLSWS and teach others there about what I knew.
What’s your dream job?
Tucker — My dream job is to be a sports field designer. I would love to move on to receive my master’s in landscape architecture after my undergraduate degree. Being a sports field designer would allow me to travel all over the world and be in the field as well as the office.
Muesse — If I’m being honest, I’m not quite sure what my dream job is. I am just starting out in this industry, and it has been utterly fantastic. But if I give an answer, it would be to either become a golf course superintendent or work as the head groundskeeper of a sports field, specifically baseball, because it is the sport I enjoy the most.
How has your time at Texas A&M prepared you for that job?
Tucker — My time at A&M has given me the confidence to network with important professionals in the turf industry. I have learned basic skills at the turf farm that I know I will use for the rest of my life. Things as small as learning how to operate a large mower, measure fertilizer and collect data are useful skills I can build on to make me a better professional.
Muesse — Texas A&M has prepared me in so many ways for either of those jobs. In my classes, I learn the foundation of information and what everything is. Then, through working at the Turfgrass Research lab, I can apply what I have learned in a real-world setting, whether it be mowing, fertilizer applications, watering or even growing conditions of grasses.