AMES, Iowa — It was hot. The kind of heat that clung like a blanket, and made even the breeze blowing across the fields feel like steam from a shower. Cicadas provided their vibrating soundtrack as the four interns began planting. Despite the summer heatwave hitting Iowa, Brooklyn Vaske, Abigail Schlotfeldt, Jordyn Kloss and Sydney Ziesman were looking forward to their day of work in the sun.

For the past six years, Iowa State University students have had the opportunity to intern with the Hubbell Realty Company’s community management division. Through this program, landscape architecture students get hands-on experience in design and conservation in communities across the Des Moines metropolitan area.

This past summer, the intern team included three landscape architecture majors — Vaske, from West Des Moines; Schlotfeldt, from Waukee; and Kloss, from Badger — and one agricultural studies major, Zeisman.

Real circumstances

They spent about 85% of their time outdoors, said Vaske, planting, replanting and fulfilling service requests from community members. It was hard work with long hours, and it wasn’t glamorous. But the four students said they wouldn’t trade the experience for any other.

“I learned a lot about how plants are actually implemented in real life, instead of in a 2D model,” Schlotfeldt said. “Designing something on paper is one thing, but to actually see how they will perform in real circumstances is beneficial to how I’ll design things in the future.”

The other interns echoed her statements. “I found that experiencing the amount of maintenance it takes to keep a residential community in check helped me realize the mistakes that I have made in the past with my project designs,” said Kloss.

In the early morning light, the interns stopped at a local nursery to pick up supplies for the day: trees, grass seed, shovels, dirt and water. Lots of water. During the 8 a.m.–5 p.m. shift, it was important they stayed hydrated. Their agenda consisted of planting trees, removing tree posts, weeding landscaping beds and seeding dead grass spots in yards.

“It got kind of hard in July, because there was a week or two where it was so hot we just couldn’t do anything,” Vaske said.

The plant book

On those dog days of summer when it was deemed too hot for outdoor work, the interns were tasked with creating a list of all the plants Hubbell typically uses in its communities. They meticulously recorded everything they could about the variety of plants and their uses in prairies and conservation areas. They completed research on the different species, ideal growing conditions and more, compiling it all into one handy book — the plant book, they called it. It was a project they were all proud of, as it would continue to serve the employees at Hubbell even after their internship ended.

“I took advantage of this opportunity to learn as much as I could from [the landscape architecture majors], asking them what types of trees were planted and why were they planted in this specific area,” Ziesman said.

Kate Hightshoe, director of Hubbell Realty’s community management division who developed the internship program, said that’s what this opportunity is all about. Learning with a purpose, and a goal to become better.

“I want to create valued opportunity for students. I have a personal and professional interest in their education, and I enjoy seeing them learning through real experiences,” Hightshoe said. “It’s a chance for students to test the day-to-day real-life skills that they’ll use after graduation.”

Balancing ideal with realistic

Twenty-four students from Iowa State have completed the internship to date, some of whom participated more than once. Majors have ranged from horticulture and ecology to community and regional planning and landscape architecture. Hightshoe and the students agree it’s an amazing opportunity for anyone who wants the experience.

“The biggest takeaway is understanding the balance between ideals and realistic potential. How to be creative within an ethical paradigm, and mixing that creative dreaming with realistic application based on budgets and laws and everything like that,” Hightshoe said. She encourages students to reach out to her at any time for more information or to apply.

This year’s interns had the opportunity to share their experience with the company in a presentation at the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA) Iowa conference on Sept. 17.

The heat has abated, but the knowledge and experience they gained through this internship will stay with them well beyond one summer.


Abigail Schlotfeldt, Landscape Architecture student, ajschlot@iastate.edu
Brooklyn Vaske, Landscape Architecture student, bvaske@iastate.edu
Sydney Ziesman, Agricultural Studies student, sziesman@iastate.edu
Kate Hightshoe, Hubbell Realty, kate.hightshoe@hubbellrealty.com
Hailey Allen, Design Communications, hallen15@iastate.edu
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289, hsauer@iastate.edu