Student Stories: Carolyn Gange

Carolyn Gange

Major: Horitculture

Growing up in a home practically across the street from College of DuPage, Carolyn Gange has been familiar with COD since she was a young girl.

She remembers being impressed with the facilities and teachers when she took a photography class at the College while a student at Glenbard South High School. After graduating from Glenbard South, she attended Butler University in Indianapolis, where she earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and went on to a successful career.

"After working for a few years at a promotional marketing agency, I moved to Houston, where I started my career with McDonald's Corporation," she said. "I spent 11 years with the company, managing the regional marketing for the Houston and Washington D.C./Baltimore regions, and then returned to the Chicago area to lead the global Happy Meal business and U.S. McCafé brand."

Adult Student Admissions at COD

In 2016, Gange had the opportunity to make a choice: continue a marketing career or pursue her passion for design and flowers. After exploring area programs, she enrolled in the Horticulture program at COD and started her first full-time semester in 2017.

"I remember feeling a sense of excitement and a little bit of humor at being a student again," she said. "I really didn't know what to expect. I had a four-year degree, but a technical degree is different, and I was essentially starting over entirely.

"A few weeks in, I knew I had made the right decision. The classes were interesting, challenging, different and even fun. That semester I took an architecture course to learn the styles of homes I'd be dealing with as a landscape designer and I don't think I've ever taken a more challenging course."

Gange was particularly pleased with the hands-on learning she received through the program. She had the opportunity to propagate plants, formulate real-life estimates and bids, learn floral design, help construct a pond-less waterfall feature, and enter a state-wide landscape design competition, in which she won first place in the College Hand-Drawn Designs category.

“Each class was designed to provide hands-on experience specific to the industry while exposing you to the variety of opportunities the green Industry has to offer,” she said. “The program also requires an internship, while the focus and direction of the work was entirely up to you. COD hosts career fairs and highly encourages participation in student roundtables and meet-and-greets at major industry events. Your exposure to industry professionals and opportunities is focused, effective and highly relevant. I felt these experiences were truly curated to enhance my prospects of finding meaningful work after graduation. I would even go so far as to say COD excelled at this more so than my alma mater.”

Each class was designed to provide hands-on experience specific to the industry while exposing you to the variety of opportunities the green Industry has to offer.

Carolyn Gange

Having completed her Associate in Applied Science degree in Horticulture and a certificate in Landscape Design, Gange opened her own design firm, Turning Leaves Landscapes. She is enjoying her career and thanks COD for the strong foundation she received.

“We were not learning just through textbooks and lectures, but we were in the field identifying plants and understanding planting combinations or designing landscapes for existing construction,” she said. “Often, when a need in the community arose for gardening or design help, students were encouraged to work directly with community members and provide these services. For example, a fellow student and I created a master landscape design for the Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville, and the design was installed.

“The program advisor and staff listened and responded to what the students felt they needed to be successful. It was a two-way conversation that only a smaller, nimbler program can offer. I may never actually physically build a water feature at a client’s home, but at least I know how, and while I won’t be propagating my own plants, I have a much better understanding of the costs behind plant material and how a greenhouse operates. The breadth of exposure was tremendous, and I intend on continuing my education long after graduation, since the Horticulture program at COD is always evolving with the industry.”

Learn more about the Horticulture program at College of DuPage