Working from 3 to 11 a.m. isn’t what most college students hope for their summer jobs. Yet for University of Maine environmental horticulture graduate, Ryan Urquhart, 22, working at Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida last summer was the perfect opportunity.
“Disney is a magical place and everything gets fixed and brought back up to expectations before sunrise,” says the Greene, Maine, native.
Urquhart was one of 33 interns chosen out of 20,000 applicants to work as a Horticulture Professional Intern. Working in all Disney parks, hotels and vacation spots, aside from physical labor, Urquhart learned 250 new plant species and landscaping techniques, and managed job sites from design phase to finished landscape.
“The biggest rule at Disney is you’re there to make the guest happy. For some people, they save their whole life to make one trip to this place. It’s your job to make them happy and feel welcomed. So guest interactions and public relations is what I really enjoyed the most,” says Urquhart.
Urquhart, who was president of the Horticulture Club at UMaine, graduated in December and is currently working at Plainview Farms in North Yarmouth, Maine, as a landscape foreman and will begin full-time landscaping in March.
The business minor plans to work at smaller-sized landscaping businesses in Maine before opening his own landscape company either in Maine or New England.
“I want to get the fundamentals of landscaping and the methods to owning a business down pat before I get involved with something of my own,” he says.
How did you find out about your internship at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida?
I found out about my internship simply by looking online at unique internships in horticulture. Most students in environmental horticulture look in state for a summer internship. I wanted to broaden my skills that I learned at UMaine and use those tools to benefit myself outside of the state. Since we are from a colder climate, we only get to learn so much due to the shortened seasons. This includes plant material, construction techniques, designs and cultural facts about horticulture. I wanted to get more than just the same education as I did at UMaine. This ultimately made the decision to go to Florida much easier, and I’m glad that I did.
How did UMaine prepare you for your internship?
UMaine prepared me by teaching me the fundamentals of horticulture. I use what I learned in the classroom and put it in real-life situations. The amount of people you meet and the contacts that you make at UMaine really help to broaden your horizons and think outside the box. I think that is why I had such a great time in Disney, because of the skills that I learned at UMaine. In environmental horticulture you are required to do an internship at least 400 hours long. Having UMaine require this as part of its curriculum ensures that students will have a positive and beneficial impact on the field they are pursuing.
Being a busy student, president of the Horticulture Club and having good grades is a full-time job, how did you make an internship work with your education? Are these types of unique experiences available for anyone at UMaine
Yes. Indeed, I definitely had a very busy career at UMaine. I believe that these experiences are available to anyone that wants to find them. People who have the ambition, work ethics and motivation, and are willing to do something different, all have that opportunity at UMaine.
Why did you choose UMaine?
I chose UMaine because it was affordable, it was in state, and its campus offers much more than just an education. I wanted to be a part of something better, something that was different than your daily school grind. I balanced my work, club activities and extracurricular activities as well as school workload to the best of my abilities. UMaine was the place for me, and I’m glad I chose to be a part of something so great.
Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, if so how?
All of the professors in the Horticulture Department helped in every way possible. Meeting with me and talking to me about classes, personal experiences, or simply just asking how I was doing; that is what I liked the most about UMaine teachers. They care and are there to offer any assistance you may need not just during regular hours but during the weekends and at all hours of the night as well.
What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine? Why?
I think a class that everyone needs to take would be finance. This class explains all of the basic accounting, payrolls and other essentials needed for life. This class taught me how to be prepared for the real world. That is one thing that many schools lack: teaching students how to become successful in the real world once they are done with college. This class offers this, and much, much more.
What difference has UMaine made in your life, helping you reach your goals?
They offer classes that are beneficial to me in my field as well as other aspects of life. I believe that my goals are obtainable and my future has endless possibilities because of the University of Maine.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
I would give two pieces of advice to incoming students. The first — join as many clubs that interest you and participate in anything that you may be interested in. The worst that may happen is you won’t like it anymore. But if you love it, then you will meet so many new people that you will be grateful you did so in the end. My second piece of advice would be that college is tough and aggravating, no matter how hard you think it is and how easy it is to quit, in the end you will be satisfied with who you have become.
What is your favorite place on campus?
I would have to say my favorite place on campus would be Alfond Arena. Every time I go there the atmosphere is like no other. Everyone that attends games and other functions are so upbeat and proud to be there. I got the opportunity to work in the ticket office for four years while going to school; I cannot say that I had one bad experience doing that. Everyone was proud to be from Maine. Sometimes I would even run into a proud alumni fan that was just coming back to relinquish their college years.
Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
Yes. UMaine has a great degree of diversity and culture. Interacting with different people from around the world, different religions and different ethnicities really opened my eyes. A good example of this would be the Horticulture Club. We had 12 members that I would interact with on the daily. Learning and getting to know each one of them outside of the classroom was a unique opportunity for me to broaden my skill sets. This is also why, I believe, I was able to interact with everyone at Disney. Everyone from all over the world comes to Disney and wants a great experience and I was able to relate and tell them firsthand stories about my life, college and the skills that I have learned at such a young age.