Gettin' dirty: Agroecology major excels as member of U.S. soil-judging team

By Eric Christensen
August 22, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The study of agricultural sciences can lead to incredible opportunities. Penn State student Nancy Kammerer discovered this firsthand during her recent trip to Jeju, South Korea, for the first International Soil Judging Contest.

Kammerer, a senior from Gettysburg, traveled to Korea with seven other undergraduate students from throughout the United States. Together, the eight students made up the United States National Soil Judging Team.

"The U.S. team, of which I was a member, was chosen last spring at the National Soil Judging Competition," said Kammerer, who is majoring in agroecology with minors in soil science and horticulture.

"The Soil Science Society of America helped to fund the top-eight individuals at the national competition to make up the U.S. team for the competition in Korea. Two soil scientists also were picked from U.S. universities to be the coaches for the International competition.”

The eight students, divided into two U.S. squads, took first and second place at the international competition. Kammerer was on the second-place team.

The group's performance impressed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack so much that he invited the team to visit him in Washington, D.C., on Aug 19.

"Meeting Secretary Vilsack was an amazing experience, and we also learned about how USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service operates from day to day," she said.

Kammerer's interest in soils developed after taking a class in soil morphology in the fall of 2012.

"That class taught me some of the skills necessary for soil judging. I chose to compete on the Penn State team that year in the regional competition and have been hooked ever since," she said. "I've been a member of the Penn State Soil Judging Team at the regional and national competitions every year since that fall."

Members of the team trained for the international competition using quizzes developed by their two coaches. While these quizzes proved helpful, Kammerer added that "because all the students had previous soil-judging experience, most of our knowledge came from what we had learned at our universities."

The team's trip to South Korea offered many highlights but also a few challenges.

"By far the most challenging part of the trip was trying to coordinate transportation to get myself to Korea, but once I was there, all the amazing experiences made up for those early headaches."

Before the competition kicked off, the organizers held two practice days, setting up soil pits so the teams could get a look at Korean soils and how they might differ from the soils they studied at home.

"I loved seeing the soils of Jeju. They were the first volcanic soils -- andisols -- that I have ever seen and they were fascinating," Kammerer said.

Kammerer found the personal bonds she built with her hosts and other participants to be another highlight of her experience.

"By far, my favorite part of the trip was getting to know other students and scientists who have a similar interest in soil. The Koreans were the most gracious hosts, and I had an incredible time becoming friends with not only the other members of the U.S. team but members of the other teams as well."

Kammerer plans to graduate at the conclusion of the spring 2015 semester. After obtaining her degree, she plans to work full time with a horticulture fruit farm or in the field of soil conservation.

Get information about the soil science option of the environmental resources management major.

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    Gettysburg, Pa., native Nancy Kammerer in a pit practicing soil judging for the international event. She plans to graduate at the conclusion of the spring 2015 semester and then work in the field of soil conservation.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated August 25, 2014