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Chicago Master Gardener

A blog for Chicago Master Gardeners providing information on volunteer opportunities, training, workshops and resources.

Chicagoans Can Earn U of I Horticulture Degree on their Own Turf

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Like many college students, Matt Dingledein didn't follow a straight path academically to a career. "I started my undergraduate career as a music performance major at DePaul University," said. "Then I went on to complete an AAS in Ornamental Horticulture at the College of DuPage." After getting his associate's degree, Dingledein went into business for himself as owner and operator of a small landscape contracting business in Naperville.

Dingledein wanted to continue studying and work toward a bachelor's degree in horticulture, but moving or commuting to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was out of the question. "My being away would have made maintaining my client base very difficult and the investment required was also a large deciding factor," said Dingledein.

Dingledein is now taking horticulture classes in a new U of I degree program being offered in the Chicago area.

In fall 2006, the University of Illinois began partnering with Chicago area community and city colleges to offer a bachelors degree in horticulture. Students who have completed an associate degree such as Dingledein can complete their final two years of coursework taught by resident faculty in the Chicago area or faculty from campus and earn a bachelors degree from U of I at Urbana-Champaign -- without relocating.

Most of the courses are offered at the Multi-University Center in Oak Brook, Morton Arboretum in Lisle and the Chicago Botanical Garden. In the future, classes will meet at the University Center at Lake County and satellite locations in the collar counties such as Chicago's Center for Green Technology.

The program is particularly helpful to non-traditional students -- typically working professionals who are managing school, work and family. The University, community, and city colleges hope this will provide an opportunity for students to pursue their horticulture degree without "pulling up roots." The majority of courses are offered in the evening and weekends in order to accommodate student workday schedules. Some courses may be offered on-line or via video conferencing when appropriate. But, because the program results in a diploma from the U of I at Urbana-Champaign, the curriculum requirements and course quality will be the same as if the courses had been taken at the main campus.

"Jobs in the green industry are abundant," said Wesley M. Jarrell, head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences on the Urbana-Champaign campus. "A 2003 Green Industry survey conducted by NRES cites a $4.72 billion dollar industry employing over 15,000 people in Illinois, so it's important to the state."

The program will be directed by landscape architect Greg Pierceall, who has 30 years of experience with environmental education and landscape design. "I got an undergraduate degree in horticulture from SIU and a master's in landscape architecture from U of I, but I'm also a product of the junior college program, having started my education at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights -- so I've come full circle," said Pierceall. "He said that non-degree seeking students can also take courses in the program, purely for enrichment; if they are admitted to the degree program later, they can petition to count those courses.

For information, contact Piper Hodson (800-252-1360, ext 45761; or visit

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