Student Stories: Stroke of genius -- champ swimmer splashes into landscape major

James Wilson has been swimming since he was 5 years old. Of the sports he participated in growing up, he felt swimming gave him the best chance to compete at the highest level.

During his time at Penn State, Wilson did just that, competing at the 2012 Olympic Trials and two straight years at the NCAA Championships. The Nottingham, Pennsylvania, native just graduated in December 2014.

"It's another whole level of swimming -- you're swimming against people who already have been in the Olympics or could make it in the next couple years," he said. He found these top events to be a good networking experience, adding that all the swimmers got along despite their competitiveness.

Wilson joined the Penn State swimming team on scholarship and proceeded to be named a two-time All-American, with an additional honorable mention award. He decided to major in Landscape Contracting in the College of Agricultural Sciences after a friend on the team told him he loved the major and its hands-on components.

"I'm a real hands-on guy, so sitting in a classroom watching a lecture just doesn't do it for me," he said.

After growing up on a 300-acre farm, Wilson found the major that was right for him.

At times it was challenging for Wilson to balance his studies with the commitment of being a Division I college athlete. "You definitely can't be a normal college kid," he said. "My social life was pretty much consumed by swimming, but I also had the instant friends right away on the team, so that's nice."

Wilson learned that using strong time-management skills helped him excel both in the classroom and in the pool. He also found his Landscape Contracting classes and professors to be very helpful, offering small class sizes and the chance for one-on-one personal relationships when needed.

Now, Wilson hopes to find a landscape contracting job close to home. He also hopes to spend more time helping his brother Zach with a winery they built on their farm.

"Looking ahead, after a few years of working in a field related to landscape contracting, I hope that our winery takes off. If not, no worries, I love my field."

Learn more about Landscape Contracting major.

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Last Updated February 04, 2015