Student Stories: Elaina Blankenhagen

Elaina Blankenhagen

Major: Horticulture

While Elaina Blankenhagen comes from a long line of nature lovers, she discovered her interest in horticulture during high school.

“When I was a little girl I would go on nature walks with my dad, his dad, and his dad’s dad. On our walks they would teach me all about plants, rocks and animals,” she said. “When I was a freshman in high school, I took an Introduction to Horticulture class, which is where I truly discovered my passion for the field. As a junior, I took a more advanced horticulture class through the Fox Valley Career Center, in which we did landscape designs. The first design I ever made won second place in the high school hand-drawn segment of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA) landscape design contest. After that I decided landscape design was something I could imagine myself doing till the end of my days.”

Blankenhagen enrolled at College of DuPage after completing her general education requirements at her local community college, which does not offer a horticulture program.

“I had heard amazing things about COD and visited during high school. It was an easy choice to make,” she said.

Blankenhagen said she was thrilled with her experience in COD’s Horticulture program.

“COD was unlike any educational environment I have ever been in,” she said. “The entire staff was determined to help you reach your goals. I was given so many amazing opportunities l, such as two nights at a hotel in Bloomington for InvigorateU cost-free, a week-long trip to Colorado for the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, career fairs, competitions and hands-on education. We had an amazing friendly community in our Horticulture department where everyone was focused on helping each other succeed. The program heavily encouraged student involvement in career, educational and community activities.”

Serving as president of the Horticulture Club at COD, Blankenhagen took full advantage of those opportunities. She won first place in the individual category in a video competition hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), first place in 3D Landscape Design Computer Generated Presentation from the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association Landscape Design Contest for College and High School Students, and third place in 3D Design in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

She also was recognized by the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) as an outstanding undergraduate student in horticulture.

Blankenhagengraduated with a 3.8 GPA and earned two Associate in Applied Science degrees—in Landscape Contracting and Management, and Horticulture—and four certificates, including Landscape Design and Construction, and Nursery and Garden Center Management. She currently works at Plandscape, Inc., primarily as a landscape designer specializing in 3D rendering. She designs landscapes and hardscapes for various high-end properties in St. Charles and its surrounding communities.  

She also serves on two ILCA committees and is a resource for future COD horticulture students.

“I encourage existing students to attend ILCA events, such as iLandscape and young professionals day in/night out outings,” she said. “The ILCA does a terrific job at organizing events that can introduce students to their first green industry experiences, where they get to network with current green industry professionals, learn about different companies/career paths, and can even find career opportunities. Attending these events are a great first step into our inviting industry of passionate landscape professionals that will help guide you with open arms!” 

Blankenhagen also hopes her work will help promote female leadership roles in the industry.

“When I was speaking to a female landscape architect at the Horticulture department’s career fair, she said, ‘You have no idea how many times I’ve been asked if I am someone's wife. They are amazed when I say, “No I am the boss!”’ My goal is to be a well-renowned female landscape architect and change the industry's primary male standards. I hope to inspire other young women like myself.”

Learn more about the Horticulture program at College of DuPage