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Associate Professor Amy Ricco Is
MCCC’s Distinguished Teacher for 2013


West Windsor, N.J. – When Mercer County Community College Associate Professor Amy Ricco of Hamilton got the phone call that she had been hired to teach horticulture on the college’s West Windsor Campus back in 1998, she recalls it as being a pivotal moment in her life.

“My dream job ended up being my first job out of college,” said this year’s proud recipient of the MCCC Distinguished Teaching Award.  Introducing Ricco at Commencement on May 23, MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue read comments submitted by the students and colleagues who nominated her.  They described her as “passionate, very involved with the college and loved by students” and “very student centered and dedicated to student success.”

Ricco began her college education by earning her associate degree in Horticulture Production from the State University of New York at Morrisville in 1995.  She continued for her bachelor’s degree in Plant Science from Cornell University and then decided she wanted to combine her passion for all things green with a career in teaching.  She stayed on at Cornell, earning her Masters in Arts and Teaching, with a major in Agriculture Education, in 1998.

Addressing the enthusiastic crowd at Commencement, Ricco described her strong connection to the community college system. “I wanted to teach at a community college because I knew first-hand all of the wonderful opportunities they offer their students,” she said.

She concluded her comments by thanking her students.  “Because of you, this isn’t just a job – it is a career that I love.  Watching you succeed makes all of the hard work and sacrifice worth it.  I encourage you to not be afraid of all the challenges life will throw your way in your pursuit of finding a career that you love,” Ricco said.

Distinguished Teaching awardee Amy Ricco addresses grads and guests at MCCC's commencement May 23.

From left, Board Chair Gwendolyn Harris, Distinguished Teacher Amy Ricco and President Patricia C. Donohue.

Ricco’s teaching philosophy is rooted in creating an environment where students want to learn and succeed.  She accomplishes this by continuously trying to be innovative during her lectures and labs. 

“If I can’t successfully prepare my students for entering the workforce or transferring to pursue a baccalaureate degree, then I am not doing my job,” Ricco said.

As coordinator of the Ornamental Horticulture and Plant Science programs, Ricco carries out a wide variety of tasks in addition to teaching, including supervising faculty and staff, advising prospective and current students, and maintaining an active Advisory Commission whose members have been very helpful as students look for jobs.

In keeping with her goal to provide hands-on learning activities and utilize the West Windsor campus as a learning laboratory, she oversaw the creation of the Mary Hayes Tribute Garden that was unveiled in May.  The 18-month project allowed her students to design plans, purchase materials and carry out the installation of paving and plants for this special memorial to a beloved MCCC professor emerita.

“When I see students going above and beyond, like they did with the Mary Hayes project, I know that I am making a difference.  These students are fully engaged and ready to take on the challenges of jobs in the field,” Ricco said.

Ricco has also thrown herself into projects that extend beyond her academic discipline.  She plays a leading role on the college’s Sustainability Committee and has been Mercer’s coordinator for the American Heart Association Heart Walk, held annually in September.
For the past two years, Ricco has coordinated the New Jersey High School Horticulture Expo in cooperation with the NJ Department of Agriculture in March, an event that brings approximately 500 high school students to the West Windsor campus from around the state to display their horticultural work and compete in design competitions.

Rating her own job satisfaction at nearly 100 percent, Ricco also says she feels great about the careers for which she is preparing her students.  She notes that horticulture jobs are plentiful in settings such as nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers, landscape firms, golf courses, flower shops and more.  Many of her students head directly to the workforce; others transfer to four-year schools to earn their bachelor’s degrees in the field.

Ornamental Horticulture/Plant Science Webpage

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