Terps Dig Deep to Win National Championship

UMD delegation proves importance of studying the soil beneath our feet

UMD's Soil Judging Team celebrates after winning the university's first national championship in 29 years.

Image Credit: Karen Vaughn

May 22, 2013

The University of Maryland beat out 21 other colleges and universities from around the country to take home the top prize in the National Collegiate Soil Judging Contest hosted by the University of Wisconsin at Platteville April 21 through April 26. It marks the first time in 29 years the Terps have won this prestigious national competition. UMD’s previous victories came in 1984 and 1972.

Soil judging develops and tests a student’s ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world natural systems. 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 ability of the soil 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 land uses such as building a home. In this contest, students studied the fascinating and complex soils of the driftless (unaffected by glaciers) region of southwestern Wisconsin.

"Describing soil judging to someone is always interesting because soils are something most people don't think about, but almost everyone has interacted with," says senior Isabel Enerson. "Soil judging is a competition, but it's also one of the best and most applicable learning experiences I have ever had."

Maryland’s soil judging team braved freezing temperatures, high winds, rain, sleet, hail, and stores telling them that hand-warmers were “out of season” in order to bring home this year’s trophy.

“We are a group of students with a genuine interest in soils and a deep respect for the earth,” says senior Ryan Adams. “To be able to bond with others over this shared passion and represent the University of Maryland while doing so has been invigorating and unforgettable.”

Members of the victorious team included Adams, Enerson, Davinia Forgy, Laurence Gindi, Heather Hall, Steph Jamis, Peter Lynagh, Jessica Rupprecht, Mujen (Jack) Wang, and Tyler Witkowski. Of the competing students, five are Environmental Science & Technology (ENST) majors, four are Environmental Science & Policy majors and one is majoring in Agricultural Science and Technology. ENST Associate Professor Brian Needelman served as the team’s coach and graduate assistant Chris Palardy served as the assistant coach.

“My favorite part of soil judging is the depth of the interactions I get to have with the students,” says Coach Brian Needelman. “The team made memories that will last a lifetime and bringing home a championship is very sweet icing on the cake. The students deserved it for all their hard work and dedication.”

In addition to winning the overall competition, the UMD team won the group judging portion of the contest for the second year in a row. Also, Tyler Witkowski came in 3rd place and Davinia Forgy came in 8th place in the individual portion of the competition. The first place victory builds upon Maryland Soil Judging’s impressive resume, with 10 “Final Four” finishes at the national competition and 22 regional championships.

Left to right: (bottom) Jack Wang, Tyler Witkowski, Isabel Enerson, Jessica Rupprecht, Heather Hall, Davinia Forgy; (top) Laurence Gindi, Chris Palardy (Assistant Coach), Brian Needelman (Coach), Ryan Adams, Peter Lynagh; (Steph Jamis absent due to injury).