For Dietz, landscaping is an art form and nature is his canvas
Milwaukee Area Technical College
Joe Dietz has always considered himself an artist. Although he graduated from UW-Stout with a degree in graphic design, he now uses nature as his canvas as a full-time instructor of Landscape Horticulture at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). “Landscaping to me is an art form where you are using plants and other landscape materials to create artwork that will change over time as the plants grow,” he says.
It’s an industry that he gained some familiarity with as a child. “My grandpa was an avid gardener, and he always had beautiful garden beds in his backyard,” says Dietz. “That’s probably what planted the seed in my head years ago. Then, by chance one summer, I ended up working a job in landscaping and I fell in love with the industry.”
He went on to get his degree in horticulture at MATC and worked as a landscape designer in the Milwaukee area for several years before taking a position at MATC. He worked as an educational assistant there for 10 years and also taught part time for eight of those 10 years. Last fall, he was hired on as a full-time instructor in the Landscape Horticulture department.
With sustainability being a growing concern to the industry as well as the general public, one of his proudest accomplishments to date is creating a sustainable construction class. “We need to be concerned about the way we handle water in the landscape, and we also need to be concerned about the way our yards and landscape practices affect the environment and human health,” Dietz explains. “It's been rewarding to prepare the students with knowledge and skills to implement and perform sustainable practices at their workplace and install green infrastructure projects within their communities.”
In this class, his students have built several green infrastructure projects on campus including rain gardens, permeable paving, green roofs and installed many native plants.
The industry he has such a passion for is rising in demand, and he and others are doing their best to promote it to the general public, especially to students and parents, as a viable career. “(We) want people to know that this is a respectable, professional career with lots of opportunity for growth, satisfaction and decent pay,” says Dietz. “It's a great career where you get to work outside, work with your hands, be around plants, be creative, build amazing outdoor spaces, work with great people and make a good living.”
He knows awareness starts on a local level, and he and his colleagues are making it a priority to get the word out. “I think MATC needs to continue to work with middle schools and high schools to expose students to the landscape industry, but also partner with them to create opportunities for students to earn college credits while taking their high school classes,” he says.
In the meantime, Dietz is reaping the rewards of being able to see current students grow. “(They) will come in very green (pun intended) and sometimes still not knowing exactly what they want to do with their lives,” he says. “After their time in the program, they enter the industry as knowledgeable, passionate, excited individuals ready to make a difference.”