A Bright Future — Lauren Tuski 2013 By Raissa Rocha

With a passion for horticulture and strong leadership skills, the 2013 GPN/Nexus Intern of the Year, Lauren Tuski, is ready to take on the industry.

As a double major in horticulture and professional writing, Lauren Tuski knew she wanted to eventually complete an internship that would utilize her unique combination of skills. After spending the past summer as a marketing intern for C. Raker and Sons Inc., the Michigan State University senior is more eager than ever to begin her career in the horticulture industry. Now armed with valuable internship experience under her belt, Lauren looks to take on the future as the 2013 GPN/Nexus Intern of the Year.

An Unexpected Path

Unlike many previous GPN/Nexus Interns of the Year, Lauren didn’t grow up around the horticulture industry. “I don’t really have a family background in it at all,” she says. “I did grow up on a farm, but we grew soybeans and corn.”

So how did this budding horticulturist get her start? In the eighth grade, her parents decided to enroll her in music lessons. “I started taking flute lessons with this lady and we developed a friendship,” Lauren shares. “She asked me to garden for her over the summer, and that’s really where I was exposed to horticulture for the first time. From there, she taught me about gardening, and I just fell in love with it all.”

While she may have “just kind of” stumbled into horticulture, Lauren knows it was meant to be. Upon entering Michigan State University she met with the horticulture undergraduate advisor, who suggested Lauren join the university’s Horticulture Club. Though hesitant at first, she took up the advice and checked out the club in her sophomore year, where she then felt instantly at home. “It’s really where I’ve gotten the most involved with horticulture,” she explains. “After that I just was completely reeled in.”

Lauren also credits her other major, professional writing, for helping shape her current path. “I’ve always enjoyed writing. I was planning to minor in journalism,” she says, explaining that unlike typical degrees such as English, creative writing or journalism, professional writing focuses more on writing for different audiences through different media. In short, it was a major she knew she could make her own.

After discovering she could pursue the second major and still graduate within four years, Lauren knew she had a chance to really make the most out of her time at college. “[Professional writing has] been really useful in terms of ways to communicate with different hort majors and club members,” she says. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve found a professional writing niche in horticulture, but it’s made me a stronger person in the different roles that I have had.”

Looking to Get Started

With her passion for horticulture and background in writing, Lauren knew she wanted to begin her career with a marketing and/or communications internship in the industry. It was through a class at MSU that she first met Susie Raker, the sales and marketing team leader at C. Raker and Sons, as well as a GPN 40 Under 40 honoree. An MSU horticulture alumna herself, Raker was visiting Lauren’s marketing class with Dr. Bridget Behe to present a talk on the company and its marketing team. After expressing interest in an internship, Lauren was invited to head down to C. Raker and Sons’ headquarters in Litchfield, Mich., and see the company’s trial gardens. “When Lauren first sent me her resume and cover letter, I was intrigued by her educational path of a dual degree,” says Susie Raker. “I knew that there was some way we could develop an internship that could utilize her unique skill set.”

The visit left an impression on Lauren, despite the fact that it had been winter and the gardens were already covered with snow. “I came out of [that visit] so excited about that internship, I already knew that was the one I was going to take,” she remembers.

From the beginning Lauren knew Raker was a company where she could start gaining real experience. “I chose to intern there because I liked the flexibility [Susie] was willing to give me in terms of deciding what I wanted to learn and where I wanted to be involved,” Lauren wrote in her application essay. “Furthermore, the company culture at Raker was one I easily related to from day one, and I wanted the opportunity to see how a successful family business like Raker was run.”

An Eye-Opening Experience

During her internship, Lauren was responsible for much of the company’s social media initiative for the trial gardens. She developed a marketing strategy targeted at different audiences using different promotions on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Lauren also participated on the Raker trial garden blog.

One of the challenges Lauren came across during her internship, she says, was figuring out Raker’s audiences. After having only worked with businesses that had a direct connection to end customers, working for a wholesale greenhouse was a new experience. “It was a challenge, trying to figure out how to appeal to the retailers, which was our main audience, and then also apply that to the end audience,” Lauren says. “If we can bring in the end consumers [to the strategy], then that helps in the long run. It becomes a cycle of communication.”

In addition to social media marketing, Lauren worked on installing plants in the trial gardens, measuring height and width on the different varieties as well as rating them for overall performance. Along with fellow Raker intern and MSU horticulture student Arianna Wilcox, this past summer Lauren also attended the OFA Short Course, both as a Raker employee and an OFA scholar. “I was surprised at how much the Short Course was like one of my family reunions,” Lauren wrote in her essay. “I had the opportunity to meet so many accomplished people and hear so many stories.”

The overall summer experience became more than Lauren could have hoped for. “When asked how I felt after attending Short Course, all I could say was ignited,” she wrote. “Before, I was a student willing to fumble through the steps of finding a job. Afterward I [became] a crusader for this industry, eager to launch a career.”

Determined for the Future

With only a few months left of her senior year, Lauren is now busying herself with schoolwork, her duties as president of the MSU Horticulture Club, and the search for that elusive post-college dream job. While she knows that search may be difficult, Lauren sees it as another opportunity to try something new and challenging. “I’m applying to jobs right now, a wide variety of jobs,” she says. “I’m not really one to limit myself, but I’m really looking for a job that can challenge me and help me grow more and just keep opening my eyes open to the different things out there.”

Many of Lauren’s mentors are envisioning her in future leadership roles within the horticulture industry. “Lauren is well-organized, bright,
hard-working, proactive, a stellar writer and a plant fanatic,” says Behe. “She will be a tremendous asset to any company she joins because she has such a versatile skill set, works well with others or alone, and is one of the most responsible students I’ve known.”

“Lauren is a natural leader, an excellent communicator and extremely organized,” adds Marcus Duck, one of Lauren’s horticulture instructors and advisors at MSU. “She will clearly be one of the top leaders in our industry early on in her career.”

Wherever she may end up in the future, the 2013 GPN/Nexus Intern of the Year knows she’s ready to do anything to contribute to the industry she loves. Says Lauren, “I like doing a lot of different things and seeing as much as I can. Something that can give me new and fresh experiences to continue learning. Horticulture really is where my heart lies.”

Raissa Rocha

Raissa Rocha is an associate editor at Scranton Gillette Communications. She can be reached at rrocha@sgcmail.com.