Leaning in to Leadership | Women in Grounds

March 26, 2024

Carla Leonard was raised in a military family. Her father was in the military, and when he would go overseas on deployment, Carla, her mother, and her sister would stay with her grandparents up in the mountains in Pennsylvania. There, she got her first taste of grounds, developing a green thumb while gardening with her grandmother.

When she had the opportunity, she decided to attend college about 45 miles east of College Station, in Normangee, TX. Eventually, she realized that she wanted to go in a different direction and began working for a flower shop. She designed arrangements and learned everything there was to know about flowers.

Carla’s next career move was working for a landscaping company. In this role, she really got into the details of grounds management and found her true passion.

“That’s the job that got me hooked on landscaping. From there, I got involved with the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (TNLA) and other opportunities. After about five years, that landscaping business shut down, and I went to work at a co-op in town with a big garden center that also did design work on the side. Because I had a handle on design, I could do a lot of side work for people purchasing plants from the garden center.”


Carla got her first certification with TNLA and soon earned her Professional Master Gardeners Certificate.

Joining the A&M Team

Seeking growth and opportunity, Carla joined the Texas A&M Grounds Department before SSC began managing the grounds program. She was hired as a gardener and quickly advanced through various positions, including team lead, supervisor, and foreman.

When SSC took over the grounds program, Carla took the initiative and introduced herself to George Bernardon, VP of Grounds Management at the time. George saw Carla’s capabilities and potential, and she was given exactly what she needed to level up her areas of campus.

“We walked campus together, and he told me, ‘You tell me what’s wrong with the landscape,’ and he listened to everything I had to say. From there, he made me a Special Projects Manager and told me to handpick the people I wanted on my crew from everyone we had. So, I built my crew, and I’ve been leading my teams ever since.”


Leading as a Woman in Grounds

One of the biggest challenges for Carla in the early years of her career was accepting that oftentimes, women had to work ten times harder than men in the industry.

“It was a man’s world. When you got into the industry, you had to earn their respect and be able to run circles around them. Over the years, it’s gotten a lot better, but when you go to a trade show and watch the traffic, you can see that there are still many more men than women.”


Carla is an advocate for getting other women involved in grounds management. Her words of wisdom to women in the field looking to advance, or even women just starting out who are trying to get their footing in the industry: If you’re determined to do this, don’t let anyone stop you.

“Take the bull by the horns and go forward. The women that make it into this industry earn every bit of it, and if you’re good, and this is truly what your heart says you want to do, don’t let anyone stop you. Do your work, and go above and beyond. Most women have a better eye for design and detail, so don’t be intimidated.”


When it comes to leading her own teams, Carla focuses on being the type of manager who elevates others and gives her team opportunities to thrive in their talents.

“I don’t like to be a micromanager, and people tend to do better work when you don’t micromanage. If you leave your team with some free reign to do some of their own work, you’re going to have better results. My team also knows that I have their back 100%. They get their jobs done, and they count on me to take care of them.”


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