Paul Smith’s Arboriculture & Landscape Management student practices safe tree climbing and pruning skills.

Randall Swanson has been the Program Coordinator for Paul Smith’s College Arboriculture & Landscape Management (AALM) program since 1989. 

Can you tell us about your own educational trajectory and career? 
Randall Swanson: I attended the University of Michigan and received a BS in Forestry and a MS in Natural Resources Management with a focus on Urban Forestry. I worked for the City of Ann Arbor forestry department for two summers while finishing my college course work and then went to work for Davey Environmental Services division for nearly two years. I also worked at landscape nurseries in three different states while still in my 20s, so that experience definitely helped me to make the coursework for my students very practical. I have had a consulting business since 1997, and I often use the experience from consulting jobs to augment my course instruction at Paul Smith’s.

Arboriculture & Landscape Management (AALM) Program Coordinator Randall Swanson in 2019.

When was the AALM Department founded at Paul Smith’s, and what are some highlights of its history?
RS: The degree program at Paul Smith’s College was started in 1987 and has had over 200 graduates since then. It was first called the Urban Tree Management Program which was changed to Arboriculture and Landscape Management Program in 2002. The enrollment has fluctuated over the years but for a few years in the mid-90s there were over 40 students enrolled in the program in a given year. For the last five years we have averaged about 20 total students enrolled each year. There are currently nine freshmen and eight sophomores pursuing the AAS Degree in Arboriculture and Landscape Management.

AALM program students in the greenhouse at Paul Smith’s. Photo ©Nancie Battaglia

Students in the two-year degree program are required to take two Arboriculture courses that focus on individual tree care and include practical tree climbing and tree surgery methods, and the students also take a course titled “Urban Forestry Issues.” That course is a catch-all for urban forestry planning issues as well as the business aspects of running a tree care business such as insurance, taxation, and legal concerns.

We’ve done an Arbor Day tree planting on campus every year since 1990. Most of those trees are still alive and doing well. It is really satisfying for me to walk by some of those trees that have grown quite large.

AALM program students practicing their pole pruning skills.

What do graduates go on to do? 
RS: Graduates of the program have pursued successful careers in many different areas related to arboriculture. Many have gone to work for commercial tree care companies and quite a few have started their own companies. Some have gone to work for municipal forestry programs, and quite a few others have jobs in the utility forestry field.

Have you noticed an increase in AALM students’ interest in urban forestry over the years?
RS: Sadly, although job opportunities have always been fairly plentiful, we have rarely reached our enrollment capacity for the program. We are not sure if that is because some students only want to focus on a four-year degree program, or if it is due to a perception issue for careers in forestry and arboriculture.

Randall Swanson (right) accepting a donated chip truck on behalf of the Paul Smith’s AALM Department from Steve Nagy of Davey Tree Experts in 2009.

Do AALM and Forestry Departments students migrate back and forth? 
RS: The students enrolled in the AALM degree program do take other forestry courses that have a mix of students from various other forestry programs. And some students at Paul Smith’s do take just one or two of the arboriculture courses that may interest them rather than completing the whole degree, and that is fine. A surprising number of students get jobs in the tree care industry by just taking a few of the core arboriculture courses. I think that points to the real need for educated, interested young people to enter the tree care profession.

2019 Arbor Day tree planting ceremony at Paul Smith’s.

What gives you extra pride about your department and about Paul Smith’s at large?
RS: What attracted me to Paul Smith’s in the beginning was the emphasis on hands-on practical learning. For the most part, we have managed to maintain that approach over the years, although the COVID-19 pandemic created some serious challenges at times for delivery of the field training. The most satisfying aspect of my job is getting updates from past graduates who are leading successful careers and, in some cases, supporting growing families. ?