May 5, 2011
It’s a simple fact. The first day of school is intimidating…no matter that your age.
For Temple University Horticulture major Susan Fallon, 48, returning to the classroom wasn’t just a daunting endeavor, it was life-altering and career-changing. It wasn’t a decision that she in any way took lightly.
“For me, deciding to come back was a process. I wasn’t happy in my job, so I thought about what else I could do. I thought about horticulture, but how do I make a career out of it,” said Fallon, who was the School of Environmental Design Graduation Ceremony student speaker in May when she completed her degree in Horticulture. “I went to a horticulture lecture and asked the speaker how I would go about doing what he does. He said I needed a horticulture degree. I did my research, found Temple’s program, and made the appointment with Temple Ambler’s admissions office.”
Fallon said each part of the process for her fell in line one after the other, “and everything fell into place,” to achieving what she knew wasn’t just another job. She was on the path to pursuing her passion.
“I’m currently a medical laboratory technician for Aria Health. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said Fallon, who has two grown sons, Louis, 29, and Steven, 25. “My passion for horticulture came from my mother. We lived in the city, but there were always plants, always flowers in the house and on the porch — we always had the nicest lawn and gardens in the neighborhood!”
Fallon keeps that approach to urban horticulture close to her heart. Living in Philadelphia, she’s more than a little proud of her “house full of plants.”
“One thing that I’m particularly proud of is that I cultivated all of my plants,” she said with a wide smile. “If I see an interesting plant, I’ll ask if I can take a piece of it. Then I’ll nurture and grow it myself.”
When she began the Horticulture program in 2007, Fallon continued to work full-time for the first two years, taking courses as she could — she now works part-time while she completes her degree. Stepping into the classroom for the first time at Main Campus, she said, was pure “culture shock.”
“On my first day, I went to the wrong class,” she said with a laugh. “It was the same teacher, but at a different time and I didn’t even realize it until I was ready to go to my second class.”
Day two wasn’t much better, she said.
“Once I heard all that was expected of us — the research papers, correct citations, and everything else — I really started worrying about what I had gotten myself into,” she said. “It was January, there was snow on the ground and it was freezing. All I could think about was that I could be warm in bed right now. I thought I had died and gone to hell.”
As an adult learner taking classes with traditional-aged students, Fallon said she was more than a little intimidated by the effortless skill her classmates seemed to exhibit, particularly with technology.
“At that point, I had never done a PowerPoint presentation. Actually, I had never even heard the word PowerPoint before then,” she said. “Working in groups, it took some time to acclimate myself to this new experience but the other students were there to help me along. When I arrived at Ambler and started taking classes within my major, I discovered that there were a lot of other adults in the program — everyone, students and faculty, were all too willing to help me along and show me the ropes.”
At Ambler, Fallon has taken every opportunity to increase her knowledge base and get hands-on experience in the field, from readying plants for award-winning Philadelphia International Flower exhibits such as “METROmorphosis – Transforming the Urban World” from 2010 and “Écolibrium – French Traditions/Modern Interpretations” in 2011 to cultivating trees for an ongoing carbon offset project — a partnership between the Fairmount Park, the Philadelphia Zoo, Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, and the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University to add thousands of trees to the park.
“My goal for the future is to contribute to the health and well being of communities,” said Fallon, who is a member of the Ambler Campus chapter of Pi Alpha Xi, the national honors society for horticulture students. “I was particularly attracted to the Fairmount Park project since that is right in my own community; the greening of Philadelphia is very important to me.”
Fallon’s Horticulture Senior Seminar research helped the department and the Arboretum cultivate 100 trees for the reforestation project, trees that Fallon affectionately calls her “babies.”
“We need to provide people with green spaces and make our urban landscapes as eco-friendly as possible. I’m very happy with how well the trees have been doing,” she said. “Even after I graduate, I want to be involved in this project and I will definitely be there when these trees are planted. Should I ever have grandchildren, I’ll be taking them to Fairmount Park to visit these trees for years to come.”
Upon graduation, Fallon has a “wish list” for what she would like to do next, including an internship with Longwood Gardens.
“I’d like to pursue horticulture research, which I think would be a good blend of my current career in the medical field and my new career,” she said. “I think that is where my talent is and I want to go as far with it as I can.”
She has some key advice for other adult learners thinking about returning to the classroom to follow their passions as she has.
“Step beyond your fear and just do it. Take everything one day at a time and be sure to get something out of each and every day,” she said. “Before you know it, you’ll be in the classroom just like I was.”