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Turf MD: A unique graduation for this year’s turfgrass seniors

By |  June 15, 2022 0 Comments
Karl Danneberger

Karl Danneberger, Ph.D

On Mothers Day, I drove by The Ohio State University campus as the class of 2022 was graduating in the stadium. On that beautiful day, family and friends filled the stadium to honor 12,345 graduates. As part of honoring the graduating class, our department initiated a ritual where faculty members wrote handwritten notes on cards for our graduating seniors.

As I wrote my messages and cards to the turfgrass graduating seniors, I couldn’t help but think about what these students experienced since arriving on campus as either incoming freshman or transfer students.

The switch to virtual

Many of these students spent the majority of their academic careers engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic. During spring break in 2020 — which at the time was the middle of March — the university prohibited students from returning to campus. The shock of not coming back impacted everyone, but it must have been especially difficult for students whose home was halfway around the world.

The majority of courses taught face to face converted to online in a week. These online offerings continued through the 2020-2021 academic year.

Continual testing, quarantines, safe spacing, inability to attend sporting events, lack of personal contact with fellow students and faculty and closed campus restaurants and bars characterized the 2020-2021 academic year. Basically, students faced a degree of isolation not associated with normal college life. In addition, given the immense impact the pandemic had on the country, with one million Americans dying, students faced personal death or severe sickness of family members, friends and colleagues.

As these graduating students emerge from the prolonged pandemic that had campus restrictions into March 2022, I wonder what will happen as they move forward. One sign I observed this spring was that many, not all, of the graduating seniors opted to forego a portion of their senior assignments.

Many students did extremely well on a quiz and exam section but did not complete the cognitive writing part of the course, which resulted in a significant grade drop. This happened occasionally in past classes, but not to the extent it occurred this spring.

Speaking with a few students across campus, I learned seniors were tired of school and just looking to get out. This is hardly a scientific study, and I consider it anecdotal, but I can appreciate the general feeling. Fortunately, given the current job market not only in the golf industry and across various career paths, most students already secured a job upon graduation, and those final grades were not important.

Future implications

Over the coming years and decades, researchers will conduct studies and surveys on various subgroups of that population that went through the pandemic. One group will be college students who survived the pandemic and came of age during this period. It is these studies that will be most interesting to me. It is like this group went off to war for 2 1/2 years, and we will follow what happened to them over their lives.

Although I do not think this year’s college graduates got the full academic and personal experience as their predecessors, the commitment to finish their degree during a tough time reflects strong character traits.

Graduating turfgrass students had a few advantages during this pandemic due, in a large part, to many golf course superintendents. At a time when golf started a new boom, students completed internships. Working outside in a relatively safe environment, with implemented COVID-19 protocols, helped maintain the enthusiasm students need to become turf industry professionals.

As we see graduating students enter our profession, they bring a perspective of sacrifice and a graduation enthusiasm that will shape our industry well into the future.

Hail to the class of 2022!

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