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Horticulture student Heather is having a TOP time during her internship in Florida


Heather McEwan TOP internshipHeather McEwan studied HNC Horticulture at SRUC Oatridge Campus and went on to complete her HND and BSC in Horticulture at Edinburgh before being accepted into The Ohio Program (TOP). Heather is now 3 months into her TOP internship in Florida working as a crop scout.

The TOP internship began in 1973 and has since matched 8,000 interns with a placement opportunity. George Gilchrist, SRUC Horticulture Lecturer was the contact between Ohio State University and SRUC on this occasion.

George said: “Over the years we have had a few students taking up this opportunity especially within the Greenkeeping section but I would like to encourage more students to apply. I was lucky enough to benefit from a similar programme earlier in my career.”

“TOP is a great opportunity for students to expand on their practical skills and greatly increase their knowledge in their area of study as well as developing personal skills and expanding horizons – that only working in another country can develop.”

TOP manages up to 500 placements a year for individuals aged 19-28 from all over the world. It is specific to individuals that have studied in academic land-based insinuations in Agriculture, Equine, Horticulture and Turf Grass.

Heather said: “Horticulture wasn’t a career that I considered on first leaving school. I came into it by chance while travelling – I was offered the opportunity to work in a large hydroponics farm. It was a big change to anything that I had done before and I realised I didn’t want to stop once my working VISA was over!”

“Studying at SRUC has provided me with a solid base of knowledge. When I first started I was daunted by the long Latin names and the sheer number of different plants to remember, but on leaving I realise I had learnt a lot. I can apply a lot of concepts I learnt in the classroom to things that I see and do in the job.”

“When I was applying, the advisors over at Ohio State told me that they don’t get many applications coming in from Scotland so it would be nice to let more students at home know about this amazing program.”

“For the past three months I have been working as a crop scout in Florida as part of TOP. In my position I trained alongside a number of other interns to scout a selection of crops including: corn, lettuce, citrus and beans to name a few. As scouts we act as the farmers eyes to alert him to any fluctuations in pest and disease pressure within the fields, which for some farms can number in the hundreds. A normal workday includes driving between farms and walking the fields before compiling a personalised report for the grower.”

Heather McEwan crop scout

“The placement has been exciting and unpredictable, from driving on the right hand side of the road, witnessing whole fields taken over by a disease which started as a few spots on one plant through to the first time I saw an alligator sitting in my field. Every week brings some new experience.  I would definitely recommend anyone considering an internship abroad to look into the TOP programme. From the beginning I have felt very well taken care of and found everything that I hoped for in joining the program.”

“The placement should be finished around the end of May and after the VISA allows you an additional month to travel as you please before you have to go back home. Sadly I haven’t had any chances to travel yet, the season in Florida starts to really pick up around November so we have been working really hard but I’m still trying to think of some places to visit after the placement is over.”

Heather says her time at TOP it has given her a lot of memorable moments: “Some of my favourite times have been working with other students from around the world. I’ve had the chance to meet and work with people I would otherwise never have met, learn about other cultures and make likeminded friends.”

Heather plans to travel across America with the remaining time on her VISA after her placement is finished. She is currently writing some of her applications for possible graduate schemes for her return, including a MDS food and fresh produce program.

Recently, Michael O’Keeffe, programme manager for the TOP internship program came to SRUC’s Oatridge and Elmwood Campuses to speak more about TOP to the students. Find out more about the TOP internship by following this link

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