The “average” day simply doesn’t exist for Laurie Zuber, and that’s exactly how she likes it.
One day she can be grading assignments and sending emails to connect with industry leaders, or the next day she can be in the Cannabunker taking clones and harvesting cannabis plants.
Laurie is the Horticulture Technologist for the Commercial Cannabis Production (CCP) program and a part-time faculty member in the School of Environment and Horticulture. She thrives in fast-paced environment and loves working on industry cutting-edge projects alongside her colleagues and the students at Niagara College (NC).
In her role as the Horticulture Technologist, she’s the go-to person behind the scenes of the Cannabunker, keeping it running with the help of her ‘right-hand man,’ Horticulture Technician, Stanley Leggett. She manages all the internal documents, ensures everyone is following Health Canada guidelines, and supports with building out the yearly crop schedule and purchasing of materials to ensure everyone from academics to research have what they need to complete projects.
Another part of Laurie’s job that she enjoys is the close connection to the cannabis industry and the opportunities to represent NC at trade shows and events. “I get to represent the college at different trade shows and its all about making connections with industry,” she says. “I make connections and contacts to help add to our programming, get engaging guest speakers for the students to learn from and connect industry to our expertise to conduct research projects.”
The real value there lies with the students as they get to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the cannabis industry, make connections to grow their professional networks, and beef up their resumes by working on these real-world projects.
Laurie has a special connection to the students in the CCP program because she was once in their shoes. A graduate of the inaugural CCP program, Laurie has her mother to thank for introducing her to the program.
“I heard about the program because my mom saw it on the news. She saw that there was this commercial cannabis program happening at NC and she said to me, ‘Hey Laurie, you should take that program!” she recalls.
“At first, I thought, no way. I’m too old to go back to school because at this point I had been working at my job for over 13 years. I had a family, bills, and a busy life. But I thought about it and said you know what? Let’s do it and try to learn a new emerging industry and challenge myself,” she said.
She knew that if this whole new schooling thing didn’t work out, her employer of 13+ years would always take her back, so she went for it, and it paid off.
“I had a great time in the program and learned so much. It was amazing to be one of the first students of the program and thinking ‘Wow, I was actually chosen for this program,’ ” she said.
She met classmates who all had very diverse backgrounds, whether that was from education, work, or hobbies. The inaugural class learned so much from each other and came to understand that the cannabis industry is diverse too. There are so many places you can land or go within the cannabis industry and that was something the whole class found interesting.
“Since we were the first class, it was nice to have a group that wanted to support each other because we didn’t have previous grads to contact and pick their brains about the program. Today, we see lots of students, even before enrolling, reaching out to past grads through social media and they are getting that opportunity to hear first-hand what it’s like, which I love to see,” says Laurie.
Laurie has gotten to where she is today, though, because of her go-getter attitude. “When I was in the program, I basically decided I’m all in! I’m here to be involved in all things cannabis, ready to help and get the most out of my time at NC. So, in my first semester, I worked part-time and learned so much from the professors who were very welcoming and knowledgeable,” says Laurie.
“It’s kind of cool because you get your foot in the door and say, ‘I’m here, I’m available’ and you give yourself that opportunity to move up by putting that initiative forward when you’re a student and it pays off in the long run. Your experience at NC is what you make of it.”
From there, she shadowed the previous horticulture technologist. Since she was super busy, Laurie offered her time and growing expertise to help her in the Cannabunker. That volunteering then turned into another part-time student staff role, and then, after graduating, a role as a part-time horticulture technician.
When the previous technologist decided to move onto a new role, Laurie seized her opportunity, applied for the role, got the job, and hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s kind of cool because you get your foot in the door and say, ‘I’m here, I’m available’ and you give yourself that opportunity to move up by putting that initiative forward when you’re a student and it pays off in the long run. Your experience at NC is what you make of it,” says Laurie.
In her other role now as a part-time faculty member, Laurie really enjoys getting to teach these students and interact with them because you get to see the knowledge being passed on. “I love when you’re teaching a student something and you just kind of see that a-ha moment happen,” says Laurie.
She has a similar passion for research and enjoys working with the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre. “Working with the research team is fantastic because I get to see the best of both worlds, stay up-to-date on the cannabis research and know what products might be coming to the market,” she notes.
And while she loves what she does, in her personal time, you can find Laurie recharging and relaxing in the great outdoors. “I’m an outdoor person, so working in cannabis was a bit of a transition for me because where we grow is in an indoor facility!” she says with a laugh.
But in all seriousness, any chance she gets to go out hiking or golfing, she takes. “When I’m on campus at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I always go for a walk during my break to see the escarpment. It’s one of the most beautiful campuses and getting outside is my way to refresh during the workday,” she notes.
Whether its variety in her work life or personal life, Laurie is a testament to trying different things and saying yes to any opportunity that comes her way.