With his associate’s degree in turf grass management from Kirkwood Community College, Troy McQuillen thought he was finished with his education. Then he made a last minute decision to travel with a friend to Fayette to attend orientation at Upper Iowa University. “It ended up being a great last-minute decision,” he added.
At Upper Iowa, McQuillen majored in applied plant science with the intent of working in the turf grass management industry. The summer before his senior year, he was working at a golf course in the Amana Colonies. One night, while out with friends, a former Kirkwood instructor approached him to let him know that a teaching position would be opening up at the community college. McQuillen replied, “That’s great, but I’m too young. I’ve got another year left at Upper Iowa.” The instructor encouraged him to apply anyway, and he did.
To his disbelief, he got the job at 21-years-old – a position he’s held for the past seven years.
McQuillen finished his senior year part-time, traveling from Cedar Rapids every Wednesday for plant physiology and cell biology. He is grateful to the the faculty and staff at Upper Iowa University who supported him and helped him succeed as an instructor and student.
“If it wasn’t for the flexibility that Upper Iowa had, and being able to make relationships with the faculty – all the way from the start,” said McQuillen. “For me, being so young and starting in a career that I wanted some day, if I hadn’t been able to make those relationships my first year at Upper Iowa, it really would have made those second and third years impossible.”
In 2012, he earned a master’s degree in education from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
McQuillen is also known at Upper Iowa for a unique campus landmark – the putting green located near Baker-Hebron Hall.
“My whole passion, since I was in high school was turf grass management,” he said. “I always gave Dr. (Scott) Figdore a hard time in applied plant science, and he said, ‘Why don’t you, for your senior project, build a putting green on campus.’”
At the time, he was doing work study for the Upper Iowa Facilities Management and Services Department. He made the suggestion to the facilities crew, and set to work. The putting green was built to the specifications set by the U.S. Golf Association, and McQuillen found someone to donate the bent grass seed for the green. As part of the project, he wrote a maintenance schedule for the green so that it can continue to be a feature on the UIU Fayette campus.
McQuillen said he is proud to be UIU grad and is glad to maintain a working relationship with Upper Iowa University’s Division of Science and Mathematics faculty. When Kirkwood students express an interest in continuing their education after obtaining their associate’s degree, he points them to UIU. “Our relationship has never been stronger,” he said. “I’m always sending students to Fayette to further their education. Upper Iowa has an altogether great atmosphere for learning. It’s nice to have a campus all in one spot, and it’s so easy to communicate with everyone – from admissions to financial aid to faculty – everyone. I got that vibe right away when I went up for orientation.
“Another great thing is that, at Upper Iowa, you’re taking difficult classes, but the professors always have time for you. They are the ones to actually teach you the material and help you understand – not a teaching assistant – for me, that was huge.”