Bzzzz … the steady hum of a lawn mower is heard throughout Beaver, Okla., on this hot summer day. The rural town, smack dab in the middle of the Oklahoma Panhandle, is sticky and sweltering as the summer sun shines down.
In the midst of it all, Mike Albert pushes a lawn mower across a well-tended yard. If only he had known where this summertime job would lead.
It was the spring of 1996 when Albert began a lawn-mowing business with
his mom, Vona Sue. Eager for extra spending money, Albert mowed more than
30 lawns in Beaver, often working from sunrise to sunset. At the end of
the summer, he had a profit of more than $3,000.
|Mike Albert's internship paired him with top landscape architects from around the nation. Albert critiques with Edward D. Stone and Associates Vice President Greg Kunak. (Photo by Bryan Pogue)|
| for information. Starting the business
proved to be an adventure with tough questions to answer.
"I asked myself, 'how in the world would it stay afloat? How do I start an actual business? Would people take a freshman in high school seriously?'" said Albert.
In August before his freshman year of high school, his parents took him to the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to receive his tax permit and license. Albert was only the third minor in Oklahoma to receive these documents. The business had begun!
In the beginning, Albert sold seasonal plants, such as poinsettias and Easter lilies, out of his home. However, as the business spread by word of mouth, he started supplying plants for funerals, birthdays and special occasions. Within the year, customer requests led to more expansions that included seasonal, house and bedding plants. Just six weeks into the operation, Albert had already made a profit.
As an active member of the Beaver FFA Chapter, Albert received the biggest honor for his ambitious business plan at the Oklahoma FFA Convention. During his senior year, Albert was standing on the convention stage with his agricultural education teacher, Tom Lamle, and his parents, Jack and Vona Sue, when he was named the State FFA Star in Agribusiness. His competitor's projects included high-profile horse, cattle and crop operations, but the young man from the Oklahoma Panhandle with a retail plant business took the top prize.
"It was a crazy experience," Albert said, "especially when you think of all the quality that comes from Oklahoma FFA members. To have the operation selected was truly an amazing and blessed honor."
The business is now in its eighth year. Albert has sold more than 17,000 plants across Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. He works with 11 plant nurseries in six states and was invited to the Dallas Gift Market and the Americasmart in Atlanta, Ga. Most importantly, he has developed a core customer base because of his business communication and service.
"It is important to listen to your customers and cater to their market," Albert said. "Without that, you are only killing yourself and your future."
But Albert's future was only getting brighter. Because of his business knowledge and success, as well as his strong connection to agriculture, coming to Oklahoma State University and majoring in landscape architecture was a natural decision.
|The landscape architecture program
lasts five years and includes classes in art, landscape construction, graphics
and design, said John Ritter, associate professor of landscape architecture.
He also said internships are an instrumental part of the program. Students
train for a variety of careers including urban planning, golf course and
resort design, and residential planning. The OSU program is given high marks
by both students and faculty.
"There's always something new," said Rebecca Bailey, landscape architecture senior. "You never work on the same project."
Program director Charles Leider said OSU provides real-life projects for students to gain experience.
"We get calls from all across the state to do things for people," Leider said. "We basically focus on people who are underprivileged and can't afford to hire a landscape architect."
In fact, every faculty member oversees a public-service project each semester. These projects integrate communication with clients, presentation skills and design elements into a live, hands-
|Mike Albert sketches layouts for Edward D. Stone and Associates. Some of Albert's designs are displayed at the E.W. Marland Mansion in Ponca City, Okla. (Photo by Bryan Pogue)|
| on project.
Preserving and designing landscaping for the E.W. Marland Mansion Estate in Ponca City, Okla., was one particular project in which Albert was involved. The building, listed as a National Historic Landmark, was researched and assessed, and then students developed a landscape plan. Albert said the final design presentations are on display at the estate to promote future development.
Thanks to this hands-on preparation, OSU has garnered national recognition from some of the nation's top landscape architecture firms. One such firm, Edward D. Stone and Associates, or EDSA, took a particular liking to OSU. EDSA specializes in resort and recreational planning, or as
Albert said, "all the fun stuff." The firm is located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with offices in Orlando; Los Angeles; Baltimore; Provo, Utah; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Beijing, China.
Ritter said several years ago a group of OSU students made a positive impression on EDSA representatives during an Oklahoma City design project. This created a bond that would serve future students well, said Ritter.
"[EDSA] liked the overall product they saw at OSU, so they started coming here every year," Ritter said.
When internship applications came out last September, Albert already knew he would apply with EDSA. He knew the international competition would be tough but was confident in the skills he developed at OSU and during two previous internships. However, he was a little hesitant about leaving Oklahoma and OSU behind to complete the eight-month internship program.
"I soon decided it was an opportunity that could not be passed up," Albert said.
After two rounds of interviews and a nerve-wrenching wait, he was notified he was one of two selected from around the world to intern with EDSA. He would spend January through April in Fort Lauderdale then go to Beijing for the summer months.
Upon arriving in Florida, Albert was greeted with a variety of projects that would make any landscape architect jealous. He started on a five-day project to redevelop the Guanica Sugar Mill, the world's second largest sugar processing facility. The mill, located on the coast of Puerto Rico, was converted from an old sugar mill warehouse into a festival and retail area. As part of the project, Albert laid out more than 250 residential units, an 80-room boutique hotel and a full-scale marina for cruise ships and yachts.
"During the week, employees were brought in daily for design reviews and critiques," Albert said. "By Friday, we developed our conceptual design site plan and presented it to the entire office."
Other opportunities included work on the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, Bahamas. He also worked on the Atlantis "The Palm" Hotel, located on a man-made, palm-shaped island off the coast of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. "The Palm" Hotel will house the world's largest open-air aquarium.
"With EDSA, there is the experience to assist on projects that one can only dream about," Albert said. "As one of the most respected and awarded landscape architecture firms in the world, EDSA has made it a point to give students an amazing opportunity and insight to their future careers."
After four months in Florida, Albert traveled to China in May to continue the internship experience. EDSAOrient was established in 2000 because of the growing population and the need to develop the landscape through community, recreational and urban design and planning.
Projects in China included work on Guan New Town (a new town just south of Beijing being planned for a population of 300,000), Hyatt Regency Resort Hotel and the Nine Dragons Mountain Resort located south of Shanghai.
Albert gained previous international experience to prepare for the China portion of the internship by participating in two CASNR study-abroad programs. In 2002, he went on the agricultural economics study trip to England and Scotland. In 2003, he went to Japan with the landscape architecture program.
"Exposure to international travel has truly been a passion of mine for numerous years," Albert said. "The learning experiences gained are lessons that aren't found in a textbook."
While interning with EDSA, Albert's passion for landscape architecture and enthusiasm for life captured the respect of EDSA employees. That same fire also has served him well at OSU.
"He's very enthusiastic," Ritter said. "He takes great pride in his work and is an inspiration and leader in the class."
Albert's leadership and dedication to landscape architecture have been equally matched by extracurricular activities on campus. Executive officer of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, a Top Ten Freshman and an OSU Top Three Outstanding Greek Male are just some of the honors he displays on his résumé. In 2003, he was executive director for OSU Homecoming.
"It was truly a humbling experience to understand the power of the Oklahoma State University student body and how it comes together every fall to welcome back alumni and continue this amazing tradition," Albert said.
Albert's involvement also extends to CASNR. He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and served as a CASNR senator and a Student Academic Mentor for AG 1011 Agricultural Orientation. Despite his extensive list of leadership activities, he has maintained an impressive 4.0 grade point average, amazing even his professors.
"I can't imagine how he does that," Leider said. "He's not detracted from his studies at all."
But his leadership abilities coupled with a genuinely caring attitude have made Albert a well-known personality at OSU.
"I admire him for his genuine personality and his ability to get along with everybody," said Macey Hedges, agricultural communications senior and a fellow Homecoming executive.
As Albert returns to OSU this fall, he said he hopes to continue the legacy he has started while continuing to prepare for his career. He will complete his remaining two years of undergraduate work at OSU and then pursue a master of business administration degree.
"I look forward to applying the knowledge gained through the internship back at OSU," Albert said. "Academics are still very important to me."
With the strong educational background from OSU plus his internship experiences, the job market looks promising for Albert. In fact, 25 percent of landscape architect interns at EDSA have accepted full-time positions upon completion of the internship. Of those, more than 75 percent now hold the position of associate or higher.
Those statistics have Albert enthused. After graduating, he would like to work with a respectable landscape architecture firm – perhaps EDSA – but ultimately establish his own firm. Albert said he hopes to return to the Oklahoma Panhandle eventually to continue his family's cattle operation and support agriculture, which Albert said is his foundation.
"For as long as I can remember, I have been brought up with agriculture playing a role in many ways," Albert said. "From going out with my father to feed the cattle at the ranch to being involved with organizations including 4-H and FFA, my most valuable education came from my agricultural background."
Albert is a young man grounded in his agricultural roots but dreaming big and achieving his goals. He illustrates that a boy from the Oklahoma Panhandle can be a success through hard work and sacrifice combined with a constant enthusiasm for life. While he speaks about landscape architecture, his lessons apply to everyone.
"Landscape architecture is truly a future one must be passionate about," Albert said. "It's about leaving Ag Hall at 6 a.m. after a night of drawing. It's about having a brilliant idea while sitting in a restaurant and sketching it on a napkin with the vision of making it a reality. Each project should be treated with its own possibilities."
For Mike Albert, the passion is contagious, the vision is clear and the possibilities limitless. By Elizabeth Kinney, Mooreland, Okla.