Learn how a fifth grade field trip led to an ever-changing career in landscaping for Stephanie Elaine Krull, landscape projects supervisor in Facilities Management. Krull and her team keep the campus’s outdoor spaces beautiful and enjoyable year-round.
What is the Grounds team responsible for and how does your role fit into that? What are your specific responsibilities?
Grounds is responsible for the safety, health, aesthetics and maintenance of surfaces in all our campus outdoor spaces. My position was created to manage ongoing landscape restoration. Like a building, an outdoor space ages and wears over time, but unlike a building, it also contains a constantly changing collection of living plants that are usually healthy, but are sometimes under stress or unwanted and therefore need to be removed. My work involves paying attention to details and coming up with a strategy to improve the spaces over time and within budget.
As the projects supervisor, four specialists report to me. I facilitate their projects and strategies in any way I can and ensure they support the overall strategy and objectives of the Grounds Superintendent and University Landscape Architect. An important goal for me is to modify spaces so they are sustainable and easier to maintain, but still full of life and healthy. I also mediate between many people who have diverging ideas about how the landscape should look. It’s important to listen to everyone and suggest appropriate solutions for each unique situation.
What does your typical workday look like?
This changes throughout the year, as our work is very seasonal. I spend a good portion of my day at the computer tracking a long and continually changing list of small projects, and on the phone coordinating with the specialists, customers, vendors and contractors. I am fortunate to be able to spend at least a couple hours every day outdoors inspecting, documenting, planning and meeting with grounds staff and contractors to discuss solutions. I’m responsible for photo documenting the work we do in Grounds, so you might see me often with a camera.
What do you like most about your job at UNC Charlotte?
I like working with a great team of professionals in Grounds and knowing our work has a real impact on relieving stress and reminding students and staff to enjoy and be awed by the beauty and peaceful spirit of our natural environment. I love that the campus itself still has forested areas woven through it as part of its composition and identity.
What drew you to this field of work?
Since my fifth grade field trip to a state park where we collected leaves for three days for a class project, I have been in love with the forest and with trees in general. I had grown up in the city, and this density of ‘nature’ was overwhelming to me at the time. I studied landscape architecture, and have always applied those land stewardship principles to the best of my ability in every job I’ve had. I also studied German, project management and GIS computer mapping. I think trees are my favorite living organism, as I can relate to their ability to stay in one place and flourish in spite of the odds against them.
What is the most challenging part of your job? Most rewarding?
The most challenging part is coping with the aggressive techniques we use to manage large amounts of landscape, techniques that help our grounds workers get the job done, but are not always easy on the environment or on us. It’s often difficult to reconcile my utopian goals with the realities of modern life.
The most rewarding thing is when someone, especially a student, tells me how special the campus outdoor spaces are to their daily life, or when an alumnus shares how the campus remains in their memory for a long time as something cherished and positive.
How long have you been a member of Niner Nation?
I have been here since November of 2018. I can’t believe it’s been almost three years. It has been a period of time full of change here at the University, and I hope I’ve been able to help navigate that change, as my many years in the military (Air Force) as an intelligence officer and ‘spouse’ gave me a lot of experience with change.
What is your favorite place on campus? Why?
This is a draw between the Botanical Gardens, because I love being immersed in a world of plants, or the Veteran’s Memorial Park, because I was able to assist with that project and help honor veterans. As for the main campus, I love East Quad because of the tree canopy, the seasonal interest and the quality of sunlight that bathes everything.
What kind of hobbies do you have outside of work?
I garden, mainly to become familiar with new plants, keep house plants, grow and use herbs, bake, read frequently, walk and photograph nature, keep up with friends and family in far places, and plan and complete home improvement projects. I also love outdoor adventures, although my age has somewhat changed my definition of adventure.
What is something people may not know about you?
I was born in Indiana to my German mom, who lives with me here in Kannapolis, but spent most of my toddler years in Germany. I started kindergarten in Indiana without speaking much English. I still sometimes struggle to find the right words, causing confusion in my life, and sometimes crippling shyness. I like to write poetry, but I’m not too prolific, maybe a dozen poems in my life.
Photo: NiCole Lynch