In 1999, James Kates stepped out a career of 34 years in government service and into the gardens at Temple University Ambler. In 2005, the 63-years-old Kates, who refers to himself as a true Temple Owl (Older Wiser Learner), stood with his fellow classmates, as he received his Associate of Science degree in Horticulture.
“When I signed-up for my first course, I never intended to earn a degree,” said Kates of Feasterville. “I have been gardening since I was 10-years-old and this was simply an opportunity for me to pursue my hobby.”
Kates credits one of his first professors, Dr. Val Libby, for her persistence in prompting him to enroll as a matriculated student. After receiving 79 transfer credits from his bachelor’s degree in economics from La Salle University, Kates was more inclined to turn his lifelong hobby into a college degree.
“I did not expect my credits to transfer 20 years later,” he said.
Although it had been several years since he was in the classroom, returning to college was not as difficult as one might imagine. Kates said that the understanding and assistance of his teachers along with the relationships with fellow peers made the transition possible.
According to Kates, the Horticulture major is comprised of a diverse group of students ranging in ages with many being non-traditional or adult students.
“The backgrounds also vary with one peer coming from a nursing background and another from human resources,” said Kates. “There is no prerequisite background except for an interest in horticulture to enroll in this program.”
He commented that some people join this program because they are looking for a new career option, others enroll for personal enrichment. For Kates, this program provided him with the chance to expand on his hobby while getting more hands-on experience.
Kates was a part-time student since the spring of 1999 and graduated with grade point average of 3.46. He is a volunteer for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Friends of Pennypack Park and he has participated in the Philadelphia Flower Show over the past couple of years. He is married with four children and 12 grandchildren.
So, one might wonder what type of plans Kates has for after graduation?
Well, as far as Kates is concerned, this is not a second chance at a career, but a pathway to retirement. His next project: a new “canvas” to design at his new home.
“I am what I call a perennial student,” he said with a laugh.