Jessica Stortenbecker, Crew Lead of Landscaping, Tree Trust

Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture student Jessica Stortenbecker’s connection to the land and nature runs deep. She grew up in Nebraska where her family owned a few acres of land and grew a lot of their own food. Every summer they would pack up the car and drive to Minnesota or Wisconsin to visit the state parks or go camping.

When it was time to decide on a bachelor’s degree, Jessica wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to focus on. “So I was hiking by myself one day, and I was like, this is what I really want to do,” she says. “I decided to make ‘outside’ my job, and I'm really grateful that I did.”

Enriching Lives through Plants

Jessica studied Urban and Community Forestry as an undergraduate here at the University of Minnesota. She was looking for a summer internship when she heard about the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s scholar’s program, a paid internship with a scholarship awarded at the end of the summer.

Jessica Stortenbecker stands in front of a dogwood tree with white blossoms

“I ended up getting that in 2019,” Jessica says, “and that's when I realized that I really enjoyed ornamental gardens and horticulture in general, more than just trees.” This experience led her to add a minor in Environmental Policy and Horticulture to her undergraduate degree and later apply to the MPS in Horticulture program.

During her internship, Jessica got to work with experts in different areas of the Arboretum and gained exposure to the variety of careers in public gardening.

“Some weeks we would be working with the forestry team taking down trees or a team that’s just dedicated to restoration. We got to go over to the Horticultural Research Center and see what they were doing, and we went and checked out a commercial growing operation.”

“It's like the perfect balance of office work mixed with field work.”

Now in her graduate Horticulture program, Jessica is focusing on plants as therapy and taking classes through the University's Center for Spirituality and Healing. These courses build upon the skills and knowledge she gained while working at the Autism Center of Nebraska, where she used art as a therapeutic and vocational tool.

“So when I started to dive more into horticulture,” she says, “I remembered how enriched people's lives were through alternative therapies, and I think that plants can really do that, too. I really see that with my current job.”

Training Tomorrow’s Caretakers

Jessica’s current job is as a crew lead of landscaping with Tree Trust in the Career Pathways Program. Tree Trust mentors young people through employment training programs with the goal of creating “a thriving workforce living on a healthy planet.” They offer a variety of professional pathways with certificates to pre-apprenticeship programs.

Photo of tree canopy taken from below

Jessica works with individuals aged 18 to 28, introducing them to different green and skilled trade careers, like landscaping and tree care. “It's awesome because we see people come in the very first day and they’ve never worked outside, you know, never worked in a garden or ever really been interested in it,” she says. “Then by the end of it they don't even need me.”

In this role, she gets to keep doing traditional tree care while making a positive impact in young people's lives. “We have several people from the last cohort that are working in tree care now, and it was something that they had never even considered before, which is always good to hear.”

Just as she was exposed to gardening careers through the Arboretum, she is now able to provide career options to the next generation of land and tree care specialists.

Jessica admits that this is pretty much her dream job. “For the time being I'm very happy with staying here,” she says. “It's like the perfect balance of office work mixed with field work.”

Major Takeaway

Take a variety of classes. When I was in undergrad it was very focused, you know, everything was just related to forestry. But with this (program), you kind of have to figure out your own way. I've definitely taken some classes where I thought, ‘I'm not going to enjoy this,’ and then it ends up actually being super interesting. ‘Choose your own adventure’ is scary, but it’s also what you make of it, so it can be really fun.”

Memorable Course

Integration of Sustainable Agriculture Concepts (APS 5103)


Jessica is a recipient of the Ceil T. Victor & Ingrid Lenz Harrison scholarships.

All photos of Jessica courtesy of Brieana Davison