Clemson students compete in regional soil judging event
MURRAY, Kentucky – Clemson University’s soil judging team finished seventh at the recent 2015 Regional Collegiate Soil Judging Competition at Murray State University.
Virginia Tech took home the first-place trophy.
“Placing seventh was a thrill because this was the first year of competition for all the students on the 2015 team,” said co-coach Dara Park, an assistant professor at Clemson who specializes in soil and water quality dynamics. “Many members of the teams we went up against had been competing for two or three years.”
Hunter Seiders, a Clemson junior majoring in plant and environmental sciences, placed eighth out of 76 entrants in the individual competition.
“Getting me this far was a team effort,” said Seiders, who aspires to become an environmental health and safety officer. “There is no way I could have done as well as I did without the support and encouragement I received from my fellow teammates and our two superb coaches.”
Bill Smith, a professor emeritus at Clemson who is an expert in soil pedology, served alongside Park as co-coach. Smith has led Clemson’s squads for 38 years before retiring. But he returned in 2015 for his 39th year and plans to coach again next year.
“I’ve always said students will learn more about soils by being on the soils team than they will learn in any course,” Smith said. “Coaching the soils team is the most enjoyable thing I do with my students, and they have told me that it is the most enjoyable thing they do with their professors.”
Clemson soil teams have competed in national contests in Arizona, California (twice), Idaho, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas (three times) and Utah. In 1989, Clemson won the national contest hosted by Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
During the four-day event at Murray State, students had three days to practice their skills and then spent the fourth day in actual competition, during which they identified, evaluated, classified and described four soil profiles.
“Soil judging is a great way for students to network with professionals and faculty at other regional universities,” Park said. “Relationships that develop with the National Resources Conservation Service, private companies and faculty often result in internships, jobs and graduate school opportunities. It also helps build their resumes because it shows hands-on experience and the capability to work with a team and as an individual.”
“Soil Judging Competition” is a Creative Inquiry course offered in the spring and fall at Clemson. In the fall semester, it is a three-credit course where students practice in soil pits close to campus to prepare for the upcoming October competition. In the spring semester, it is a one-credit course that focuses on learning/reviewing some of the more challenging concepts.