A Student’s Internship Experience in the Tree Care Industry
By Megan Kacenski, student, and Rick Harper, Professor – UMASS

One of the most rewarding experiences as Extension Faculty can be our role as classroom instructors. The enthusiasm, optimism, and energy of students can help us see some of the things that initially attracted us to the world of trees, years ago. Megan’s story about her summer experience was unique and worth telling to a broader audience – as you enjoy the read, remember those early experiences that brought you to the world of arboriculture & urban forestry.  – R.H.

At times, arboriculture and urban forestry-related work can be difficult, dangerous, and involve long hours that require professional dedication and even personal sacrifice. Being a woman in this industry comes with its own set of challenges, but adding both a family connection and an ambitious career path can raise the bar even further. My uncle, Robert A. Bartlett, Jr., Chairman and CEO of F.A. Bartlett Tree Experts, is not only my best friend, but also an incredible mentor to me, in business and in life. As a student of Resource Economics at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, I hope to be involved with the corporate side of our business, and this family connection provides a unique opportunity to participate in all aspects of what makes Bartlett an internationally successful tree care company. Some of my diverse experiences have included representing the company at trade shows, participating in several field internships, performing client visitations, and working with administrative, management, and executive staff.

Megan Kacenski Moves a Large LogDuring the summers of 2015 & 2016, I left the comfort of the Bartlett Corporate Office in Stamford, CT, to learn more about the tree care industry and the role that Bartlett plays as one of its leading organizations. During the summer of 2015, I worked in the Nantucket, MA office. The first week was stressful, as I knew I would be pulling a hose and dragging brush. Over time, however, I gained valuable field experience, and I began scouting, spraying and even climbing. My colleagues in the field supported and constantly challenged me by quizzing me on that various plants, insects, and diseases that we would encounter. Thanks to their mentorship and patience, I learned an incredible amount of information in a relatively short period of time. I also made some lasting friendships along the way.

During the summer of 2016, I sought a different atmosphere and new people to learn from, so I landed in the Seekonk, MA office. Seekonk is one of the few locations where both the local office and divisional office are housed together. Even more unique, they are managed by brothers Paul and Chris Fletcher. Having known the pair since I was young and understanding what was expected of me, I felt very comfortable and even excited to be there!

Seekonk begins nearly every day with a meeting to keep everyone on track. The topics vary from safety discussions to ordering supplies for the shop. For nearly four weeks, I spent each day scouting and treating for winter and gypsy moth caterpillars. I worked with Tom, a recent graduate from the University of Rhode Island. By the end of the month, we had our own language of head nods and hand signals telling one another what to do. We worked most efficiently when Tom set up the hose and I spoke to the clients, letting them know our reason for being there and answering any questions they may have. Over the last two summers, I have noticed that clients generally respond well to my interactions with them. I believe that my understanding that “the client is always right, even when they are wrong” helps quickly foster a good relationship and readily builds trust. Leaf-eating caterpillars were heavily concentrated in the Westport and Dartmouth, MA areas, a territory held by David Mendell. I have come to consider Dave as the “Dad” of the office. He would draw little maps on our work orders to help us quickly navigate a property, and even periodically bring us doughnuts! He has a quality that is truly commendable: a great appreciation for the crews that work for him. Dave acknowledges that they work hard day after day and help make him money. His encouragement and gratitude promote a positive work environment and I really enjoyed being a part of that.

Since I was on an island (Nantucket) the summer of 2015, I remained in virtually one location for the entire season. In 2016, however, I travelled to other offices, providing help with work-related backlogs, and forming new relationships. I spent a week in the Osterville/Orleans, MA office working with Bartlett’s long-time Division Safety Coordinator, Rich Herfurth. Although we treated for caterpillars throughout the week that we were together, I learned so much more under Rich’s experienced hand, ranging from drift management to plant identification. Rich’s job is not only about training employees, it also requires him to respond to many safety calls throughout the workday. While he was tied up with important calls, I was allowed the opportunity to speak with clients and treat properties by myself. Doing so gave me the confidence to potentially run my own spray rig in the future – something that I would not have necessarily considered before this experience. Working in Osterville for the week also exposed me to the different management styles among offices. Bartlett has many policies that help ensure the safety and success of their employees, however, a local office has the freedom to use any management style that they see fit. This allows for an array of diversity throughout the company’s 111 offices. I find that visiting and working at various locations helps me learn about different aspects of the company, including the ways in which many employees became successful in their positions.

The greatest highlight of the summer of 2016 was the Newport Flower Show. I spent the whole week setting up the display designed by Karen Barbera of Inspired Design. I underestimated the difficulty of hauling 30 yards of mulch, moving 20 root balls, adding 2 pallets of sod, and way too many plantings to count! After four days of adjusting everything 1 or 2 inches to perfection, we were ready to go live. Friday morning, I was featured on “The Rhode Show,” a local news series where I spoke about Bartlett’s participation in the Flower Show. Bartlett’s 20th year of involvement was big news! That evening, I spoke a few words at the opening ceremony about how proud I am to represent my family in this capacity. Following this, I was finally able to take in and enjoy the other exhibits that I had been oblivious to all week. By the end of the weekend, I had been introduced to an overwhelming amount of influential people in the agriculture/green industry and made many good friendships.

These two summers have not just been about learning how to do field work, but also learning about successful management strategies and fostering new relationships. Many of the people that I have met have modeled an incredible work ethic for me. For example, Seekonk hires three additional workers to manage the heavy summer workload. These men, Jose R., Luis, and Cesar, are all from Mexico and leave their families for eight months to provide a better life for them. Similarly, Jose V. and Angel moved from Guatemala and Puerto Rico to become US citizens. These five men work as hard as anyone I’ve ever met. They rarely stop for breaks, always see a job through to the end, and they are some of the most humble and kind people that I know.

I have learned the value of my work through Reggie, the Seekonk Local Office Safety Coordinator, and Matt, a tree crew foreman. Both entered the industry through unlikely ways, but they have stayed for more than five years because they fell in love with watching how their hard work in Integrated Pest Management can bring new life to someone’s property. Tom and Nick are the “newbies" in the office and, having just been in my shoes, always lent a hand to help me figure out the ropes. I also have expanded my management knowledge through my interactions with Jeremy, Dave, and Chris. Watching each sales representative plan their days with their respective crews has allowed me to witness what works and what doesn't, based on the personalities of both the sales representative and the field crew.

I believe that there is likely a pretty prominent presumption surrounding my title as “niece of the CEO,” who might simply sit in a truck and wait until she gets her degree to take on a high-level, corporate position. This simply isn’t me. Despite my small stature, I want to earn my keep wherever I am. I will continue to make a commitment to whatever office that I may find myself in, and to my fellow crewmembers to support them as much as I can. I enjoy getting my hands dirty and crushing whatever expectations people have of me with a smile on my face. When I was four, I told my entire family that I wanted to be CEO in our family business. Now I know that if I stay focused and work hard every day, there is nothing stopping me from becoming a highly successful woman in arboriculture. Until then, I will learn - and lead - from the ground up.

I would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for guidance, words of encouragement, and friendship: Professor Rick Harper (University of Massachusetts); Tierney Bocsi (University of Massachusetts); F.A. Bartlett Tree Experts and the Bartlett offices of Nantucket, Seekonk, Osterville MA; Rich Herfurth (Bartlett); and of course, my uncle Robert, without whom, I never would have found a career path that I am so passionate about.