Perseverance pays off for CALS student
When Justine Carlson first enrolled in classes at the University of Idaho, she knew that her experience would be different from a typical college student. After all, she was at least four years older than the majority of her classmates and needed to get back into the student mindset.
Then an unexpected pregnancy forced her to step back from her two-year plan of earning a degree in horticulture and urban agriculture. But she didn’t give up. Now the mother of a 2-year-old girl, Carlson is preparing to graduate this December with her bachelor’s degree — and the determination that comes from succeeding against steep odds.
When Carlson graduated from high school in Boise, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her future. She began working various jobs and, after four years, decided to look into higher education. She enrolled in classes at the College of Western Idaho and discovered horticulture.
“I have always been interested in plants, I just didn’t realize that you could actually make a career out of it,” Carlson said. “My dad encouraged me and told me that he would help me out if that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t really doing anything that was going to lead me anywhere.”
After a year at CWI, Carlson transferred to the U of I horticulture program in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Her interest is in propagation.
“My favorite thing is propagation — starting plants from seed or cuttings and seeing them grow,” Carlson said. “I want to go into nursery production. The field is a lot broader than I realized.”
An unexpected surprise
During her junior year at U of I, Carlson found out that she was pregnant. The pregnancy wasn’t planned and the father wasn’t involved. Carlson left in the middle of the spring semester, moved back to Boise to be close to family, and gave birth to her daughter.
“It was really hard at first,” Carlson said. “I was really down about it and it took a lot to get used to. When I had her, I made a promise to myself that, no matter what, I was going to go back to school. That helped a lot, just having that focus and a goal.”
Carlson stayed in Boise with her daughter for a year and a half before returning to Moscow to fulfill the promise she had made to herself. She contacted her advisor, Bob Tripepi, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, and he helped her figure out a plan to return.
“Bob has helped me a lot. When I first came here, he helped me do a two-year plan of my whole schedule,” Carlson said. “When I had to leave, he was completely understanding. Bob cares a lot and he’s really very helpful. He just told me when I was ready to come back to let him know and he’d help me. So we redid my schedule again and here I am.”
Coming back to campus with an infant to take care of was difficult, but Carlson kept her goals in mind.
“It was hard, but not hard,” Carlson said. “Now I’m returning with a kid and I had to leave my mom who had helped me with everything at that point. It was really hard to come back, but I was going back for a reason and with a goal. I could have just as easily not come back.”
After returning to campus, Carlson had to learn how to balance her time between her studies and her daughter.
“When they are little, you want to give them all your time,” Carlson said. “She goes to daycare while I’m in school, and other than that I spend all my time with her. I feel bad sometimes, but I spend all my weekends with her and all my free time goes to her.”
The college has supported Carlson’s education, and for fall semester she had a directed study course that allowed her to get hands-on research experience.
“Right now I’m doing a directed study, working with fire chalice, and we’re trying to use different methods to see if we can make it into a floral crop,” Carlson said. “It’s been kind of time consuming and I have to juggle it with my time, but it’s fun and interesting to start something and see where it goes.”
Carlson is preparing to graduate in December. She plans to find a job at a nursery and hopes to one day be a nursery manager with a focus on propagation.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot here,” Carlson said. “Now, reflecting back, I can’t believe there is so much stuff on plants that you never would have thought. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself too, like how far I can push myself. Because it’s been a hard two and a half years.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I think if I had just stayed working I would be as old as I am know and be like, what am I going to do? I think it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if I didn’t have my daughter, but that changes your whole perspective on everything. I went back to school and I’m finishing, because of her.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences