First Place Finish in National Horticulture Competition Bolsters College of DuPage Student’s Confidence in Career Choice

Elaina Blankenhagen Icon

By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage Horticulture student Elaina Blankenhagen recently won first place in the individual category in a video competition hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP).

“Winning this contest is a great accomplishment,” she said. “Knowing hundreds, maybe even thousands of people in the industry will get to hear my story is so amazing. The fact that the NALP chose my video to be shown at the National Collegiate Landscape design competition’s opening ceremony is truly honorable. In addition, the landscape architect industry consists of a majority of males. Being able to share my female voice among the industry is a small step in my goal to reach the finish line.”

Click here to view Blankenhagen’s winning submission.

Representing nearly 100,000 landscape industry professionals in the U.S., Canada and throughout the world, NALP is a national trade association committed to helping members succeed through education and training and by increasing professionalism across the industry through certification and accreditation. Blankenhagen received $250 for her winning video, which will be featured on The National Association of Landscape Professionals #whyilandscapesocial channels.

A resident of Sugar Grove, Blankenhagen completed general education classes at Waubonsee Community College before starting at COD in fall 2018. She hopes to one day become a licensed landscape architect and to help promote female leadership roles in the industry.

“A female landscape architect at the COD Horticulture Career Fair said to me, ‘You have no idea how many times I’ve been asked if I am the wife of someone at the company. They are amazed when I tell them I am the boss’,” she said. “My goal is to be a well-known female landscape architect and change the industry's primarily male standards. I hope to inspire other young women like myself one day.”

President of COD’s Horticulture Club, Blankenhagen said that while she initially planned to create the video entry with the other club members, unavoidable circumstances led to a different result.

“I scheduled a Horticulture Club meeting designated to making the video, but the meeting unfortunately was cancelled due to bad weather and it was too near the contest deadline to reschedule,” she said. “I ended up making the video entirely by myself using IMovie. I snapped a few photos of some of my classmates after our soil and fertilizer class one day to add to the video. I used clips and videos I had already had on my phone for the rest of the content.”

Blankenhagen said she was drawn to horticulture through a lifelong love of nature and experiences she had in high school.

“I come from a long line of nature lovers. 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 this class, we did Landscape designs and the first design I ever made won second place in the High School Hand-Drawn segment of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association Landscape Design Contest. After that I decided landscape design was something I could imagine myself doing till the end of my days.”

Planning to graduate from COD in 2020 with an A.A.S. degree in Landscape Contracting and Management, as well as certificates in Horticulture, Landscape Design and Construction, and Nursery and Garden Center Management, Blankenhagen said she is thrilled with her experience in COD’s Horticulture program.

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

Accredited by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), the Horticulture program at College of DuPage offers Associate in Applied Science degrees in Horticulture, Landscape Contracting and Management, and Sustainable Urban Agriculture, as well as nine specialized certificates, including Landscape Design and Construction, Nursery and Garden Center Management, Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Landscapes.

For information about the Horticulture program at College of DuPage, visit