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1-Minute Mentor: Zachary Johnson

September 4, 2014 -  By

Associate professor (in landscape business and landscape design & contracting) at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.

Zachary Johnson. Photo: PLANET/Philippe Nobile Photography

Zachary Johnson

Who’s your mentor?
His name was Todd Williams, president of Terracare Associates. We lost him too soon. He was a great guy. We were both on the board of directors of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Also, we created a professional practices class together for students at Colorado State University (CSU). The class is now a required course for our students, with topics ranging from contracts and negotiations to marketing and risk management. It’s a great opportunity for industry professionals to really see what we were doing within our program and build those relationships. Todd was a key piece of that. He and I had this idea. We built it together, and he helped get funding from our state association to make that happen.

You’re also the owner of Green Ink Designs. How does that coincide with your teaching?
I founded that in 1999. We have ongoing projects with residential and commercial design, both in landscape architecture and irrigation. At this time with my full-time responsibilities at CSU, it’s a one-man band. Prior to that, it was doing larger volumes of work. The benefit of doing work privately and with the university is I get to provide a current taste to students of what’s going on in the industry. It’s not dusty academia. It’s real stuff. I carry a lot of the projects I do professionally into the classroom so students have opportunities to look at current projects versus theoretical pieces.

You received the 2014 Outstanding Educator of the Year Award from the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) Academic Excellence Foundation. What’s the value of a college education in this industry?
It can be looked at a lot of different ways. Many people have been successful with going straight out of high school. I had a business in this industry in high school and I guess I could have gone straight into that business without the degree. The important part to me was education of any type is beneficial. Having degrees connected to this industry gives you increased credibility and deeper understanding. For students entering the workplace it gives them increased opportunities as they move on professionally, recognition by the industry and clients, which will help your business thrive.

Do you have any pointers for landscape companies looking to recruit college students?
A formal education is just a piece of the education students are going to need to be successful. What that means for companies is students want to continue to learn and move forward. I would advise companies looking to recruit students—for the growth of their company, for the long-term health of their company—set up a clear path. It’s not just one of those, ‘Well, if you work hard, we’re going to treat you right.’ It’s chronological milestones or accomplishments, having those in place so students recognize and see their future.

Off the clock

You received the PLANET AEF Educator of the Year award at Student Career Days this year. Did you ever participate as a student?
I did participate. My first time, I think, was 1992 (held at Cal Poly Pomona). The event was much smaller then.

What’s the best part of your job as an educator?
Being around young people. They’re full of energy and excitement. It keeps you young, engaged and excited for the next day.

Do you have any hobbies?
I’m an avid cyclist. I do a lot of bicycle tours. Colorado is a great state to do these. There are a lot of weeklong tours where you ride 70 to 100 miles a day and do that for five or six days. I’ve done all kinds.

Do you recall the first landscaping equipment you bought?
A 21-inch Briggs & Stratton push lawn mower.

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About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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