Turf & Rec

Genna Villella

A ‘Leading Woman in Turf’

Genna Villella

A career in the turf industry wasn’t what Genna Villella initially envisioned for herself. While pursuing her undergrad studies in social work at the University of Guelph, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was helping with some disassembly work one day at the university’s fieldhouse under the supervision of Cam Lawrie, facilities supervisor for outdoor sports fields, when he offered her a part-time job.

Villella began working at the campus in 2016, becoming a part-time supervisory student-manager with an enhanced focus on turf and grounds maintenance, “and I really just fell in love with it.”

When the pandemic hit, she left the campus and returned home where she focused on completing her master’s degree in social work. By 2021, a facility operations management trainee position opened at the university which forced her to make a critical decision.

“I thought it was something that fit well. I knew that I needed a job – a full-time position – and with everything that was happening with the pandemic, I really didn’t know how that was going to look like in social work for me, so I went with the safer route.”

Now that she’s currently into the third year of her new position, she figures it was the path she was destined to take.

“I figure it would be hard to leave something that I love doing and love being a part of to do something that I’m not sure of.”

Shortly into her new career, Villella found herself temporarily tasked with an experience she cites as one of the most challenging she has so far faced. She covered for a few months the parental leave of the university’s supervisor of outdoor sports fields but had much more knowledge at the time about managing artificial turf than natural grass fields – for which there were several on campus.

“I think managing those was the most difficult for me and still is.”

Villella has taken several courses and attended conferences for artificial turf management and considers being part of two artificial turf replacement projects at the university among her career highlights.

“Our fields are so specific to the sports that we cater to, and we want to make sure that our athletes thrive and are safe when they’re playing and it’s a comfortable field for them to be on. I love being part of keeping that up and doing the maintenance on it and making sure they are getting everything out of the experience as an athlete here.”

As a management trainee, Villella has had a variety of experiences, including the supervision of events and field facilities, but said she’d one day like to become events supervisor for outdoor sports fields, “and still be able to use some of that experience I got in my master’s in social work to create an environment where students and athletes can really thrive being outside in sport and using our facilities.”

She said working alongside men has been a mostly positive experience.

“When I was taking over for a colleague, some of the external vendors who don’t necessarily know who I am and don’t necessarily know what I’m capable of – that’s where I definitely had some issues in the past.”

Such experiences didn’t occur often, she said, adding she believes women are becoming more relevant in the turf industry.

“It’s definitely been a challenging road and something that I never thought I’d be a part of. That comes with its challenges because I want to learn more, and I seriously feel like I’m a lifelong student because it’s so interesting and there’s so much that goes into it.”