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Newell Kitchen

Soil ScientistUSDA-ARS Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit

BS Agronomy 1984

MS at University of Missouri

Ph.D. at Colorado State University

How long have you worked there? What do you do?

USDA, located on campus of University of Missouri. Spent my first six years with the university, last twelve years with ARS.I work with scientists doing watershed evaluations, looking at erosion issues, nutrient loss, and herbicide loss—specifically work on large fields looking at practices to minimize loss of nutrients in the soil. I still do quite a bit of precision farming, site-specific management, and nitrogen management using canopy sensors. I have about ten years worth of work in that area.

How is your profession related to Environmental Science?

Water quality is a big part of it. We usually talk about the environment and many people focus on water whether it be drinking, or agricultural, or swimming or whatever. You can't talk about water without mentioning soil quality because they work together with our ecosystem. It is our research mission in the USDA; we are significant players in that. Our research unit is 8-9 scientists plus tech. ARS, Agronomy Research Service. I am hired by the public to come up with better processes of cropping the land and know the consequences of nutrient and soil quality loss.

What are the most rewarding aspects of managing your career?

At first, for me it was more about the science, but the further I’ve gotten its more and more about the people. I have been an advisor for many graduate students, which I’ve enjoyed, and still maintain close contact. I enjoy working with people; it is a lot of fun.

What changes do you see or expect in your profession in the near future?

It will continue to be integration of the sciences (Agronomy itself) and the other sciences that deal with processes and systems and special type challenges. It will be important to be able to work in GIS platform. Students are going to have to have GIS skills, being able to map and analyze data. At the same time I fear that students emphasize that area and I hope they don’t give up basic crop and soil management in order to analyze data. They shouldn’t turn it all over to the computer either. There is a danger of turning it all over to the computer when we can gain much by keeping our feet in the field.

There is a common misconception of lumping environmental science with environmental activism. How can our department best address this perception problem with our students and employers?

State the facts. Don’t get caught in political voices like global warming. If you follow the news at all there are a lot of scientists saying this is an issue but its all come to the front because of politics. There are currently a whole bunch of people coming forward saying they doubt that this is reality. Be careful of overstating facts as problems. State that you teach the fundamentals of environmental science, which is the connections that exist between soil, water, and the chemistry that takes place. Science is not perfect, but it allows us to investigate and come to an understanding through assessment. It allows us to come up with legitimate ways that we can address problems through engineering, etc. There needs to be a nice balance between assessment and solutions. Activists are good at stating what is wrong, and neglect what can be done about it and balancing how big the problem really is or is not.

How can students best network within your profession in order to gain employment or internships? Does your company have internships that may be of interest to our students?

ASK. If so, contact me through the professors. What I have has been passed to Von already. Dr Webb, Dr. Jolly, Dr. Terry, can contact me with their students anytime. Occasionally we get situations where we have open positions and I may make an announcement, but I like it when Von calls and says hey we have these students interested in these things, can they call you up and talk?

Would you share a favorite memory of your BYU professors?

I was pretty rough on them. I think it was Dr Williams, who has probably left by now, who had a disease or pest kind of a class. We were talking about different issues related to orchard production. I had a friend in zoology who had a 6-8 ft long pet boa. I stuffed that snake into a gym bag and brought it to class on the day we were talking about rodent problems. I said “I think I have a pretty good solution for rodents” “What’s that?” he said. I walked up to the front, set the bag on the counter, and opened it up. What I didn’t know is that the professor had a phobia! There were professors I learned from and could also have fun with. Professors need to be more of a talking head but know how to interact and have fun in more of a big brother type way and all the professors there were like that. I have fond memories of my years there.

Environmental Science & Sustainability in the News
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May 18, 2020 09:58 PM
ESS professor Zach Aanderud and his team of students use cutting-edge molecular methods to track COVID-19 in municipal wastewater.
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ESS undergraduate Natasha Griffin has presented at conferences in Europe, ridden in a helicopter and visited both the North and South Poles to figure out how humans are affecting the Earth.
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April 08, 2020 10:36 AM
ESS PhD student Sara Sayedi wanted to use science to improve policy in her home country of Iran, but politics limited her work in the public arena. Now at BYU, she is influencing policy at a global scale.
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BYU team investigates ecosystem resilience to wildfire, linking plants, streams, climate, and society
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Professor Sam St. Clair from the Environmental Science & Sustainability program takes the vitals of one of North America's keystone tree species.
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January 16, 2018 10:00 PM
ESS professor Ben Abbott presents a new tool to fight nutrient pollution. Streams can be “sensors” of ecosystem health, allowing both improved water quality and food production.

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Dance professor Keely Song and ESS professor Ben Abbott teamed up to promote BYU's free UTA passes to students, employees, and their families.
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While at BYU, Dr. Gary Booth taught a wide range of subjects. Students and faculty alike appreciated Booth and his impact on the college.
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July 23, 2020 09:56 AM
After reading 115 studies on COVID-19, ESS faculty and students published non-technical report on the effectiveness of masks at slowing the spread.
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June 27, 2013 10:00 PM
If Utah’s quaking aspen appear to be quaking more than usual this summer, the trees have reason to tremble, says a Brigham Young University biologist. In dappled forests across the West, aspen trees are battling deadly killers from heat stroke to bud-nipping predators to tree “heart attacks.”
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March 17, 2020 11:10 AM
ESS professor Ben Abbott co-authored a study in Nature on the permafrost climate feedback. Working with an international team, he found that abrupt permafrost collapse could double carbon release.
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June 10, 2019 10:00 PM
A new study in Nature Geoscience led by ESS professor and students found that the global water cycle is incorrect even in modern papers and textbooks. 85% of diagrams show no people, despite human domination of water at a global scale.
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June 29, 2020 02:18 PM
Professors and students from Environmental Science & Sustainability lead research projects from Antarctica to Alaska.
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February 03, 2019 10:00 PM
The solution to nutrient pollution could be right below out feet. Literally. New study reveals the active and dynamic world of groundwater microbes.
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By Carlee Reber
June 05, 2019 01:06 PM
Will we show up in the geologic record in millions of years? The Anthropocene suggests the answer is yes: collective human impact on the environment will leave a definitive mark in future bedrock.
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