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For the Love of the Garden: Pam Mills Completes Horticulture Co-op Experience on MCCC Campus


West Windsor, N.J. – East Windsor resident Pam Mills, a substitute teacher in the East Windsor Regional School District who has four grown children, is back in school herself at Mercer County Community College (MCCC). After studying computer technology at Mercer decades ago, this time around, Mills says college is all about personal satisfaction.

An avid gardener, Mills is pursuing her associate degree in Ornamental Horticulture. “I am back for my own benefit in order to become a better gardener. I want to learn how to do things right,” Mills said, noting that gardening is a passion she shares with her 85-year-old mother, who lives in Lawrence Township. 

Mills is also becoming a go-to expert for neighbors and friends and in her more official capacity as president of the Garden Gate Garden Club in Lawrence. “People want to know what plants and flowers will work best in wet conditions, in lots of sunshine and in high heat. They want to know whether to plant a tree or shrub in a particular place and when is the best time for pruning,” she said.

Mills started off with a Plant Science course in Fall, 2014, and then took Ornamental Horticulture and Woody Plants. This summer she is finishing up a 270-hour cooperative education course.  While most students work at area nurseries or gardening centers, Mills is focusing her considerable energy right on MCCC’s West Windsor campus, under the guidance of senior technical assistant Marie Wszolek. Wszolek says Mills is one of the most dedicated students she has ever worked with.  

Program Coordinator Amy Ricco, who originally met Mills and her mother when Ricco was a guest speaker for the Garden Gate Garden Club, is pleased to count Mills among her students. In addition to her hands-on assignments around the campus, Mills has been helping Ricco digitize slides of insects and plant diseases for instruction in various courses.

Clearly, Mills has plenty on her do-to list. “I water plants, weed, trim trees. I worked on the garden in front of the library before Commencement. There is always so much to take care of, because everything keeps growing. There is never enough time,” Mills said, adding that most people do not appreciate how much work is involved and how constant the process is of keeping landscapes well-groomed and healthy.

Mills is in it at MCCC for the long haul. “I will be one of those long-term students,” she says of her plan to take one or two courses each semester until she completes her degree. “I have a full-time job, but I still look forward to coming here for classes in my favorite topic – plants and gardens. I love gardening and I want to do more. I am having fun.”

Mills says that being back in school has had the unexpected benefit of making her a more effective teacher. “As a substitute teacher, I am often assigned to science classes and I am able to draw on my knowledge from my Mercer classes,” she said. And, as a student herself she is able to dispense better, more authentic advice to students. “I know how much effort the studying, the note taking and the homework takes.”

Surrounded by plants at the MCCC Greenhouse,
Pam Mills, right, with instructor Marie Wszolek.
Trimming plants and removing dead leaves are part of the ongoing upkeep around the Greenhouse and the campus.
Mills, right, and Wszolek work together most days of the week.

Next up for Mills are courses in Basic Landscaping and Herbaceous Plants this fall.

Mills says it’s all a labor of love for her. “I am excited about being in the classroom.  I will do more to make sure I understand, not just what I need to know for a test.  I really appreciate what I am learning.”

While returning adult students are not uncommon at Mercer, Ricco notes that MCCC’s horticulture program has a particularly wide age span.  “Our students range from 18-years-olds to folks in their 70s.  For a student like Pam, who loves gardening and especially wants to learn more about pruning, using the Mercer campus as her learning lab is great way to provide a co-op experience that will truly be valuable.”

Ornamental Horticulture and Plant Science Programs

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