Soil judging team wins group segment at regionals; going to nationals

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Has your mother ever yelled at you for playing in the mud? Students from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences may be able to trace their college careers back to such humble beginnings.

Two teams from the college recently took first and fourth places in group judging at the regional soil judging competition at the University of Rhode Island, qualifying to compete in the national event hosted by West Virginia University in March.

The winning team was comprised of April Doroski, a junior environmental resource management major with a soil science option from Wyncote, Pa.; Kristen Kyler, an environmental resource management major with a water science option from Pottstown, Pa.; and Jess Thomas, an environmental resource management major with a soil science option from Mifflintown, Pa.

Team coach Patrick Drohan, assistant professor of pedology, picked the teams for the regional, a week-long event where 11 teams from five schools competed for a spot at nationals.

"Members of the Penn State Soil Judging Team are recruited mostly from the environmental resource management program," Drohan said. "These students typically have had several field courses in soil, and the contest is structured so there are two to three days of practice for students new to a region. Students use this practice to study the soils and landscapes, learning how the soils differ and how their limitations result in different land uses."

The practice days were essential to learning about Rhode Island, Doroski noted. "You can read through pages and pages about soils and landforms," she said. "But it isn't until you see and work with them up close that you gain a more complete understanding."

Penn State's Soil Judging Team history goes as far back as 1960. Drohan described members of the team as "students who have an interest in soil science at any level and who are looking to develop stronger soil-landscape-interpretation skills."

Drohan said participating in soil judging helps students develop life-long field skills important in a wide variety of environmentally driven fields of science. "Students are required to use their knowledge of soil to accurately determine morphological features found throughout the soil profile," he explained.

Doroski recalled how the team was required to describe a soil pit. "We had to record different characteristics, such as color, structure, texture and other features," she said. "We then were able to use these properties and characteristics of the surrounding landscape to decide the major limitations of the area and how these affect roads and streets or on-site sewage systems."

The Soil Judging Team often is described by students as their most valuable college experience, according to Drohan. "By the end of the judging week, students develop their skills to such an extent that they rival professionals of 20-plus years in their ability to describe a soil profile," he said.

Doroski concurred. "I felt like I learned more in one week than I ever could in our soil lab practicum course," she said. "It was a constant drilling of information and continuous turnover of knowledge that transformed us into competent soil judgers in the span of a week."

 

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Last Updated November 03, 2011