Maryland Soil Judgers Win 2022 Regional Contest, Head to Nationals this Spring

Terps swept the awards winning first place in group judging, first place individual, and first place overall

Left to Right (back row): Joshua Edelin, David Hutch, Alex Quigley, Patrick Burke, Nickolas Kioutas, Gabriel Acevedo; Middle: Gina Jacob; Left to Right (Front Row): Nicole Zimmerman, Dr. Brian Needelman (coach), Madelyn Haines, Jocelyn Wardrup (coach).

October 18, 2022 Brian Needelman

The Maryland Soil Judging Team had an impressive victory this past Friday (10/14) at the 2022 Northeast Regional Soil Judging contest hosted by Bloomsburg University. The Terps swept the awards winning 1st place in group judging, 1st place individual, and 1st place overall. The victory qualifies the team to compete in the 2023 National Soil Judging Contest to be held in Woodward, Oklahoma this spring. There were four Maryland judgers who placed in the top ten: 1st Nicole Zimmerman, 3rd Madelyn Haines, 8th David Hutch, and 10th Patrick Burke, with two additional judgers—Gabriel Acevedo and Alex Quigley—coming in the top 20. In group judging, the two Maryland teams miraculously tied each other for first place (the “A” and “B” teams compete independently). “The fact that both groups tied for first place is crazy and it goes to show just how amazing everyone on this team is,” exclaimed Alex Quigley. This was an incredible victory for a team with just one veteran and eight rookie members including Joshua Edelin, Gina Jacob, and Nickolas Kioutas. The team was co-coached by Ph.D. student Jocelyn Wardrup and Dr. Brian Needelman, both from the Department of Environmental Science and Technology (ENST).

To “judge” a soil, students spend one hour in a 5-foot-deep pit describing the characteristics of the various layers that have developed in the soil, the soil’s ability to transmit and retain water and support roots, the geological history of the site, the long-term processes of soil development, the classification of the soil, and the potential challenges of using the soil for various land uses. Students are then scored on the accuracy of their answers in comparison to a description done by a team of professional soil scientists.

“Soil judging is a valuable aspect of my education, it effortlessly combines many topics of soil science. The lessons and memories from soil judging will always stick with me!” said team veteran Madelyn Haines. Students that love working outdoors are drawn to soil judging. “As a soil judger, having the chance to go out of the classroom every week is a wonderful experience,” said Gabriel Acevedo. Qualifying for nationals is the big prize for the team because it allows the experience to continue – “I can’t wait to see what we learn in Oklahoma,” commented Nickolas Kioutas.

Soil judging brings out many essential elements of career preparation that are difficult to replicate in a classroom. Soils in the field rarely match our textbook descriptions, they offer complications that confuse even the best soil scientists. Students are put into a high-pressure, high-stakes situation and must work both individually and collaboratively to tackle this complex problem. First-place finisher Nicole Zimmerman summed it up: “I learned more in three days than I have in any class I’ve taken before!” To succeed, students not only need to develop the skills to execute but the ability to function as a member of a team that can endure and thrive through long workdays, varying weather, and all the challenges associated with fieldwork. “A student that can succeed at soil judging is prepared to tackle any challenge or situation the job market can offer,” said Dr. Needelman.

This year’s contest was held nearby Benton, Pennsylvania (Ridge and Valley Province) at Boy Scouts Camp Lavinge. The soils were formed in parent materials consisting of glacial outwash, alluvium, and colluvium. “The competition turned out to be a really fun way to experience the natural beauty of PA and its rocky soils,” described Gina Jacob. There was one contest pit in an old farm road with human-transported material. Students judged three Hapludults (Ultisols), a Udorthent (Entisol), and a Dystrudept (Inceptisol). Soils were situated on glacial outwash terraces (with large, rounded cobbles present in the profiles), a stream terrace (old floodplain), and a floodplain.

Eight other universities from the northeast region competed: Delaware Valley University, Stockton University, the University of Rhode Island, Bloomsburg University, Penn State University, the University of Delaware, and the University of Pittsburg at Johnstown. Rhode Island, Penn State and Bloomsburg came in places 2nd through 4th, qualifying them to join Maryland to represent the Northeast Region at the National Contest in 2023. The contest was organized by Maryland soil judging alum and Bloomsburg University Assistant Professor Dr. Rebecca Bourgault.