January 28, 2021
Carrie Zimmerman
Carrie Zimmerman
Carrie Zimmerman is the Landscape Technician Program Coordinator at Niagara College, where she has been teaching for the past 10 years. Zimmerman is a graduate of the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Guelph. She has worked as a landscape designer for Zimmerman Bros. Landscaping since 2001.

What prompted you to teach others?

Design ability has can often be assumed to be a gift that a person may hold, but I believe with the proper explanation, time and practice it is a skill that even the most artfully challenged horticulturalist can inquire.

Although, I love designing, love plants, I also love people.  I was happy designing residential landscapes that greatly impacted a family’s time outdoors, but I was not completely satisfied. After 10 years of designing, I was a getting an itch to be involve with something that had a more direct impact on people. Empowering youth has always been a great passion of mine, Canadians teens and young adults can do anything with constant encouragement, the proper resources, and a safe place to ask questions.

What qualities make you a successful teacher?

I could say my knowledge in horticulture, or my design intuition but that is not what makes me a successful teacher, it helps but it’s not what makes a good teacher. I would say what makes me a successful teacher is my empathy I have for my students. Students come with all different personalities, perspectives, and different levels of confidence. Empathy can be explained as “perspective taking” which is the ability to understand other people’s emotions. I’m constantly attempting to put on my student’s shoes; wondering what they are feeling as they learn a new concept, struggle with a project, walk into a class grumpy or as they stare at me with a blank look appearing to have the thought “she is crazy.” It helps me grow my own perspective, it helps me come up with 100 ways to describe the same concept, it helps me to laugh, listen and build a heathy relationship with my students where real learning can happen based on trust and foster an environment that is a safe place for students to ask questions and a safe place for them to express their frustrations professionally knowing they won’t be judged.

What is it about the landscape and horticulture profession that inspires you?

I love how a landscape can connect to a person’s soul and improve their mental health. I enjoy designing to encourage beautiful outdoor places that will hopefully encourage people to spend more time outdoors, which in return, might make them feel more relaxed, energized, or clear minded.

I love the excitement of creating something new on a canvas that is never blank and almost always has a view to something beyond its own borders.

I love the interdisciplinary structure of the landscape industry. My favourite times in my design career have been a result of interacting and learning from the contractors around me.  

How did you get involved with the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge?

A colleague who teaches at Niagara Parks mentioned the Design Challenge and encouraged me to get Niagara College involved. I strongly resonated with the purpose behind the challenge, and I was really hoping the involvement would help create a deeper understanding of how powerful landscape can be for a community for my students.

What were some of the things the students enjoyed about the process?

The students always love the collaboration with the professional designers who volunteer their time to mentor them. It gives them a chance to learn, chat and become comfortable in a professional involvement. Also, I will find students become passionate about the meaning behind Come Alive Outside, both times through the challenge I’ve had great conversations about how we can adapt the principles into our own lives, encouraging them to put the books down for a while and get outside more as they finish out their studies at Niagara College. Typically, they also love the competitive nature behind the challenge.

How did it feel to win the competition?

Honestly, absolutely amazing!!! I was so proud of my students, and so excited to tell them the news! Once hearing the news our students all felt the long hours, they put into the project were well worth the outcome.

We convinced our Dean from Niagara College’s School of Horticulture and Environment, Allan Unwin to attend the awards gala with us; the students were so excited to experience their first LO gala with him, it made the night extra special. Mr. Unwin was speechless when he walked into the gala, he was amazed at the quality and the vastness of our industry. After our students received the award on stage, my heart was overwhelmed watching them joyfully share their pictures across social media, I could feel how excited they were about their accomplishment.

This year, we fully adapted the Come Alive Outside Challenge into our second year design curriculum. To implement the challenge effectively to benefit all students in the class, we had to expand the competition beyond the competition site. We divided the challenge into three sites: two sites on the Niagara on the Lake, Niagara College Campus (an outdoor classroom and a community natural playground) and the competition site in Bellville, Ont. Our grounds manager at Niagara College, Matt Orr was extremely supportive, influential and has embraced the Niagara College designs as potential areas of campus growth. We are both excited about infiltrating “Come Alive Outside” into our college campus, we are hoping this is just the beginning of inspired landscapes and programming that will benefit our student body.

What is one life lesson or mistake you have made that you try to teach others, so they can avoid making the same mistake?

No one is perfect. You don’t have to be an expert on everything but have the courage to ask the experts, learn from them, apply their advice and give credit where credit is due. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

What is the best part about being an educator?

When a student becomes passionate about their projects. Much of my energy is spent squashing self-intimidation my students have and trying to ignite a spark of confidence. When the spark turns into uncontrollable flames, it is an amazing sight.

What is the hardest part about teaching?

Knowing a student has so much potential to succeed but due to tough life circumstances having to watch them quit. I eat a lot of chocolate those nights.