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.