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Northwest Missouri State University


Student Spotlight

Northwest students Abby Gooch (left) and Danna Burgeson are applying the skills they've learned in the classroom and gaining profession-based  experience as interns at Maryville’s Lettuce Dream.

Northwest students Abby Gooch (left) and Danna Burgeson are applying the skills they've learned in the classroom and gaining profession-based experience as interns at Maryville’s Lettuce Dream. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Feb. 1, 2017

Internship broadens students’ vision of career opportunities

Northwest Missouri State University students Danna Burgeson and Abby Gooch are passionate about horticulture and the education of all students.

Last fall, they interned at Maryville’s Lettuce Dream, a recently established social enterprise and hydroponic greenhouse that helps people with cognitive or developmental impairments build skills they can use in a working environment. With two greenhouses, it provides opportunities for the Maryville and Northwest communities to partner.

Abby Gooch (left) and Danna Burgeson sow seeds inside a Lettuce Dream greenhouse in Maryville.
Abby Gooch (left) and Danna Burgeson sow seeds inside a Lettuce Dream greenhouse in Maryville.

When it came time to decide on internships, Burgeson and Gooch wanted to apply their education to real-world experiences. Rego Jones, senior instructor of agricultural sciences at Northwest, serves on the Lettuce Dream Board of Directors and knew an internship with Lettuce Dream could be a fit for the students.

“The great part about internships is that students apply what they learn in the classroom to a real-world setting,” Jones said. “You learn the repercussion and how to adapt in order to get the results you need.”

Northwest’s School of Agricultural Sciences is just one of several academic departments and schools at the University that may benefit from Lettuce Dream.

“When I added therapeutic recreation for my other major, it ended up being a perfect match for my field experience at Lettuce Dream,” Burgeson, a senior from Liberty, Missouri, who also is majoring in horticulture, said. “It is good to learn about programming, creating activities and adapting for people with special needs. I wouldn’t have this opportunity in Maryville without this business.”

Burgeson’s fall trimester at Lettuce Dream was dedicated to the horticulture side of the business. She took responsibility for organizing and implementing hydroponic systems, seeding and transplanting while identifying problems, combatting those issues and understanding how to mix things the right way.

Danna Burgeson works with a client at Lettuce Dream, a social enterprise and hydroponic greenhouse that helps people with cognitive or developmental impairments build skills they can use in a working environment.
Danna Burgeson works with a client at Lettuce Dream, a social enterprise and hydroponic greenhouse that helps people with cognitive or developmental impairments build skills they can use in a working environment.
This spring, Burgeson will focus on planning and programming including initiatives like community involvement, horticulture classes to teach the community about lettuce, and how they can easily do the same things at their home.

The experience also helped her become more aware of the adaptations and alternate programming that employers should consider when working with individuals with special needs.

During her internship, Gooch noticed how one of the trainees, Parker, mimicked what she and Burgeson did each day.

“While we seed, transplant and wash channels, he is right beside us doing the same thing,” Gooch, a junior agriculture education major from Mexico, Missouri, said.

Parker also taught Gooch a few things. She learned she has a tendency to complicate instructions and procedures to complete a project.

“Parker, on many occasions, said that I work very fast, and that I should slow down and enjoy myself more,” Gooch said. “I may not have naturally picked up on that about myself. I’ve learned to slow down, not to rush things and enjoy my time with him.”

Gooch believes her experience working with Parker and other responsibilities at Lettuce Dream will enhance her career.

“Going into education, I think it is important to have experiences with people who are different than you and people with disabilities,” she said.

By working at Lettuce Dream and applying skills they’ve learned in the classroom, Burgeson and Gooch are inspired to use their knowledge in other pursuits.

“I think when you combine the uniqueness and sustainability of hydroponics with the people you are employing, it’s a good combination and very beneficial to the community,” Gooch said. 

Lettuce Dream began with a goal of bridging the gap between high school and the workforce for people with cognitive and developmental impairments. The business is achieving that while providing Northwest students with profession-based experiences and introducing them to career opportunities.

“To get their foot in the door, students need to get out and explore different opportunities and broaden their knowledge about what their degree has to offer,” Jones said. “Employers want to see people with multiple internships. At Northwest, this is another way we provide experiential learning opportunities so students are ready for their career when they graduate.”


For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468