Justine Leeper has a love of nature that has led her to her passion for floral design. She plans to own her own business and be successful in the floral design field. Here is what she said in an interview.
What is your major? Why did you choose this major? I am a horticulture major. I attended an agriculture high school with the intention of studying veterinary science. But then I took a floral design class, and I enjoyed it so much that from then on I knew I wanted to pursue a major in horticulture. I have always liked gardening and design, and I appreciate the beauty of nature. I love working with nature in a creative way and taking my love of fashion and combining that with plant design.
Name two or three activities, internships or jobs that have enriched your studies I work at a garden center in Woodbury and have been employed there for eight years. The garden center is called The Garden, and I work in the greenhouse section. I have learned a lot about working with plants from my experience at The Garden. Through the garden center I have been able to design for weddings, and this has helped to improve my design skills.
Another job I had was at a florist shop, Floré Florist. I worked there for five years until they closed. I had the opportunity to design arrangements for weddings, funerals, holidays and parties. I made connections through the shop and was hired for seven weddings that I designed for on my own. Having full control of the design process allowed me to further develop my unique style of design that is creative and nontraditional.
I also work at UConn Blooms. I am a designer there, and this is my fourth semester. I make floral arrangements and sell houseplants and seasonal plants.
I am president of the Horticulture Club at UConn. Our activities include volunteering at the Hicks-Stearns Homestead, which is an old carriage house museum. We do landscaping for them and spring and fall clean ups. We also enter competitions at the Connecticut Flower & Garden Show, and we have professionals come to give talks to us about aspects of horticulture.
Which of these endeavors was the most memorable? Why? Working at The Garden has been the most memorable experience for me. I have worked there for the longest time, and my co-workers are like a second family to me. The weddings that I have been able to design for have made me a better floral designer.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? My biggest challenge has been trying to balance schoolwork and fun. Keeping up my grades has been a challenge, as well.
I studied abroad in Costa Rica this past winter break for three weeks. Being away from home was difficult, and I was with a completely new group of people. I also do not speak Spanish. This was a challenge, especially because my host family did not speak English. However, I was able to learn some Spanish throughout the three weeks. While studying abroad was a challenge, it was also one of the best experiences I have had.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I am graduating in May 2014. I plan to start my own floral design business and work at The Garden at the same time. My dad is currently building a floral shop in the garage, and he plans to help me with my business. I have four weddings lined up so far this summer, including a Pakistani wedding. I plan to network with acquaintances and friends to build up my client base. My main goal is to be successful in the floral design field.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I have taken karate lessons for sixteen years. I currently have a third Dan black belt and am working on my master belt. I am president of the Cheezic Tang Soo Do Karate Club. I also teach women’s self-defense and am passionate about empowering women.