'93 Landscape Contracting; Vice President, PGC Landscape

Why I Give

"Penn State's landscape contracting program did so much to prepare me and springboard my career, that I've always wanted to do what I could to help the students. I see giving back as an investment in the future, not only for you and your business, but also your industry. It will return big dividends when you help improve student lives in the College of Agricultural Sciences. There are many future leaders in all industries who come from our College. It's probably one of the best investments you can make for your business."

Matt's Story

For alumnus Matt Owens, investing in people has always been where it's at. A 1993 graduate of the landscape contracting program, Matt has spent his career contributing to the success of his colleagues in the landscaping industry - that includes co-workers in his own company, those he's met through industry events, and students who are following in his footsteps in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Growing up in a rural community near Scranton, Pennsylvania, Matt enjoyed working at a local orchard during high school, and his early career aspirations were to find a job where he could work outdoors. While considering Pennsylvania colleges with agricultural curricula, he traveled to Penn State to learn more about its horticulture program. When Matt visited the campus, he says he knew Penn State was the right place for him - and he discovered the College of Agricultural Sciences had begun offering a new major - landscape contracting.

As a student, Matt enjoyed the program's coursework, professors, and opportunities to pursue practical experiences in field classes and community projects. Matt says he enjoyed collaborating with his fellow students and the reward of seeing the lasting improvements they made, including a handicapped access ramp they built at a Centre County facility, and a courtyard landscape installation at the Nittany Lion Inn.

"I remember the comradery as a student. Those practical experiences were very rewarding, and they helped my abilities in my first job after college," says Matt. "And the culture of the company I went to work for lined up with my own values, which were polished at the University."

Matt's first job was with the Chapel Valley Landscape Company in Woodbine, Maryland - a summer internship with Chapel Valley led to the company making him a full-time job offer. Matt expanded his professional experience over a span of 16 years with the company, working first as a foreman and estimator, then managing accounts, and then expanding his duties into business operations and serving as the company's Chief Operations Officer.

"I worked hard and improved the company's opportunities, and brought in new people. My company also offered me the opportunity to stay involved in the College, and I seized every chance," says Matt. "Giving back to Penn State's landscape contracting program was something on the top of my priority list. I literally can't say enough great things about the program and the College of Agricultural Sciences."

Over the years, Matt has frequently returned to campus to participate in the College's student and alumni events. He has been a company representative at the agricultural career fair nearly every year since its inception, hiring several Penn State graduates to work at Chapel Valley.

"It's a win-win situation. I learned early in my career, how valuable it was to come to events like student career fairs, to hire my own employees, and to spend time to train them. I've seen individuals start out when they're young and inexperienced. Through working with them and helping them become successful personally and professionally, that also drove the success of the company branches I ran. And I got it, it made sense to me."

Matt has invested in continuing his own professional educational as well. As his business operations and budget management responsibilities grew, he made a personal commitment to return to school for his MBA, which he earned from Hood College in 2009. He chose Human Resources as his MBA specialty, to support his interests in helping his fellow employees grow. The skills and knowledge he honed through the program also served him well in a subsequent career opportunity, when he took on his current position of Vice President of PGC Landscape, in Urbana, Maryland, in 2010.

Matt continues to attend the College's agricultural career fair, now representing PGC Landscape, though his involvement with the College of Agricultural Sciences extends beyond this event. He has maintained relationships with several of the Penn State landscape contracting professors over the years, and has welcomed opportunities to stay involved in the program. He regularly provides classroom presentations to landscape contracting and horticulture students, and has participated in events like student mentoring luncheons and local landscape tours for students.

"It's the greatest thing for these students to get involved at professional events, and opportunities to learn about the industry," says Matt. "I think having an interaction between alumni and the students on a regular basis is a positive thing. I enjoy coming back and getting to talk to students about things happening in the industry that will affect them."

Giving back to the College and its students has great importance to Matt, who says he's valued the support the College has given him both as a student and an alum. "The College's scholarships helped make college possible for me - and I'll always remember meeting the donors at the scholarship banquet - it was an incredible experience as a student. And currently, I don't know a lot of other industries or universities that do what the Ag College does from an alumni relations standpoint. The opportunities the College organizes to bring alumni together are incredible. I've never felt the College or University is reaching out to my pockets - I think they just genuinely appreciate supporters of the College in whatever fashion they can give. And I am happy to contribute to the College, and to give my time to working with students."

Matt was honored for his commitment to supporting the professional development of his alma mater's students, with Penn State's Outstanding Alumni Award in 2008. He says he has deeply enjoyed sharing his Penn State experiences with his family, including his wife (who he met at Penn State) and children, when they've accompanied him to campus for events such as the awards ceremony and other alumni programs.

Matt's alumni involvement is continuing to expand - he was recently elected to serve as a board member for the Ag Alumni Society, and is eager to get started. "I'm excited about my new role on the board and enjoyed my first meeting," says Matt. "It's a great group of volunteers who are looking for ways to improve the college experience for the students, which lines right up with my interests in helping out. I embrace opportunities to work with these kinds of people - it's the people who keep me coming back."

In his current professional role at PGC Landscape, Matt wears a lot of hats, and still maintains many customer-contact responsibilities as the Vice President of a moderate-sized company, building relationships from sales and contracts, to overseeing the final stages of landscape projects for his clients. He is training additional staff to share in the company's customer relations work, and looks forward to devoting more of his time to employee development and training within the company.

"At the end of the day, I'm in the landscape industry, and I've gotten to do lots of incredible things from huge tree installations to completing million-dollar landscape projects filled with beautiful plants. I like that, but that's not what drives me," he explains. "It's seeing the employees grow personally and professionally, and how that drives the success of the business. And the business's success also helps each and every one of our employees. My experiences have helped me develop an appreciation for the huge importance of helping and investing in people."

Matt says he hopes others in his industry, and across the agricultural sciences, will share in the rewarding experience of investing in their staff, and also in those who are preparing to follow in their career paths. He encourages his fellow agricultural alumni to consider helping the next generation of students however they can.

"I see giving back as an investment in the future, not only for you and your business, but also your industry. It will pay big dividends when you help students have the best learning experience and the best scholarship opportunities. There are many future leaders in all agricultural industries who come from the College of Ag Sciences. It's probably one of the best investments you can make for your business."

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