soil judging team holding awards

Clemson’s soil judging team.

Clemson — Clemson University’s football team is not the only group of Tigers on campus winning trophies. The CU Soils Team made some noise of its own in the 2017 Southeastern Regional Collegiate Soil Contest in Moscow, TN. Yes, soil judging is a thing and Clemson placed second in its region on its way to the National Soils Contest.

The five students on the CU Soils Team competed against nine other schools in the Southeastern region, the largest of the seven regions.

In addition to bringing home second place as a group in back-to-back years, Anna Scott, a senior Plant and Environmental Sciences- Soil and Water major from Lancaster, S.C., placed first and John Nisbet, a sophomore PES- Soil and Water major from Irmo, placed seventh out of 65 students in the individual competition. Other team members included Emily Outen, Hunter Seiders and Caeb Beigay.

“Finishing first place was a complete surprise,” Scott said. “I think I was most excited that my first-place finish would contribute a lot to our team score. I can’t thank my teammates enough, we all helped each other! In addition, it really meant a lot to make our coaches proud. They worked so hard to prepare us for the competition, and it was nice to win for Clemson!”

For most, soil judging is distant concept, especially in the form of a competition. Dara Park, one of the co-coaches and leaders of this Creative Inquiry (CI) alongside Bill Smith, gives a better inside look into the structure and process of a soil judging contest.

Anna Scott and Emily Outen in the soil judging pit.

Anna Scott and Emily Outen in the soil judging pit.

“A pit is dug large enough for students to get in and characterize the soil. They describe the soil’s natural characteristics and then identify what that soil can be used for,” Park said. “For example, they determine if the soil would be acceptable for a road, a septic tank system, and for a foundation for a house. They identify how much water that the soil holds is available for plants. They determine potential extent of soil erosion and water runoff.”

Park said that while this CI is very involved and time consuming, it gives students a valuable experience that is unrivaled by any classroom experience.

“Even if we didn’t win, it looks great on a résumé. Classifying, describing and identifying uses of soil are important skills to be competitive for soil-related jobs. Students tend to learn more from this Creative Inquiry than they do in any soils class.” Park said.

The dedication of this year’s team surprised even Park, who said that she is incredibly proud of the amount of time and effort they put into training and competing for the regional contest.

“These students worked hard. The first three days of the week are long. We visit 3-4 pits a day.  At the end of each day, the students were willing to go back to a practice pit that we had seen just to review. Every morning, we met before breakfast at 6:30 to review and get ready for that day. After dinner, we met and practiced.  These students are serious.” said Park.

The CU Soils Team will get a chance at bringing home the title in March 2018 at the National Soils Contest hosted by the University of Tennessee–Martin.

Participating in the contest doesn’t come without a price tag. While Clemson’s Creative Inquiry Program helps to support the cost of supplies and travel, it does not cover all expenses. If you would like to support the team, please contact Park at or at 843.319.4957.