Delaware Valley College hosts the 2014 National Collegiate Soil Judging Competition

Credit: Delaware Valley College. A student competes in the 2014 Collegiate Soil Judging Competition at Delaware Valley College.

Apr 07, 2014

The Delaware Valley College fields where M. Night Shyamalan filmed “Signs” caught national attention for a very different reason this year. The College used the same fields to host the 2014 National Collegiate Soil Judging Competition March 30 through April 7. More than 100 students from 19 colleges and universities participated. Many of the teams drove to campus for the chance to compete, coming from far away states such as Kansas.

Students took a scientific look at Bucks County’s soils by going into pits about 4 feet deep by 10 feet wide to gather data during the timed competition. They described different layers, rocks, textures and specific characteristics, while determining the suitability and limitations for each soil for specific uses. Their interpretations were compared to what the Natural Resources and Conservation Service would say about each pit.

DelVal didn’t compete this year because the host school is not allowed to. The College’s Soil Judging Team prepared competition pits and helped run this year’s event. In 2011, DelVal’s team took first nationally in group judging. The College also won regional championships in 2008 and 2011.

“It’s awesome to have schools from around the nation see our soils,” said Vincent Fital ’14, a crop science major who was helping to run the pits. “At these competitions, you get to work with soils from other regions that you wouldn’t usually get to see. These skills are something you can really take with you into the field.”

Mike Sowers ’93, a DelVal alumnus who is now soil judging team coach and an adjunct faculty member, said the competition also provides a chance to teach the public about how soils impact their communities and lifestyles.

“Good soil quality is essential for agriculture and impacts construction and many other key areas, which have built our country and economy,” said Sowers.

The Associated Press recently covered a federal project, which sent soil scientists to collect and analyze samples from more than 4,800 locations around the county. The results of this study will have applications ranging from forensic science to agriculture to better understanding climate change. A DelVal alumna, Lindsay Shirk ’09, helped with the project as a student.

The hands-on experience students gain by competing helps prepare them for graduate school and their careers. Alumni go on to work in government jobs, at research institutions, at large agriculture companies, and as soil scientists. Delaware Valley College students have found work with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mike Sowers '93, soil judging coach

Credit: Delaware Valley College. Delaware Valley College Soil Judging Coach Mike Sowers '93 runs one of the pits at the 2014 Collegiate Soil Judging Competition.

2014 Collegiate Soil Judging Winners:

Team Judging:

1. Virginia Tech
2. University of Rhode Island
3. University of Maryland
4. Purdue University
5. University of Georgia
6. Penn State
7. Auburn University
8. University of Wisconsin-Platteville
9. Northern Illinois University
10. West Virginia University
11. Oklahoma State
12. Iowa State University
13. Kansas State
14. Texas A&M
15. Missouri State
16. Cal Poly- San Luis Obispo
17. Texas Tech
18. Oregon State
19. University of Tennessee—Knoxville

Group Judging:

1. University of Maryland
2. Auburn University
3. Northern Illinois University
4. Texas A&M
5. Purdue University
6. University of Georgia
7. Missouri State
8. Virginia Tech
9. University of Rhode Island
10. Kansas State
11. Oklahoma State
12. Texas Tech
13. University of Tennessee—Knoxville
14. Oregon State
15. Penn State
16. West Virginia University
17. University of Wisconsin-Platteville
18. Cal Poly- San Luis Obispo
19. Iowa State University

Top 10 Students for Individual Judging:

1. Bianca Peixolo (University of Rhode Island)
2. Julia Gillespie (Virginia Tech)
3. Nancy Kammerer (Penn State)
4. Arthur Franke (Purdue University)
5. Brian Maule (Northern Illinois University)
6. Caitlin Hodges (University of Georgia)
7. Tyler Witkowski  (University of Maryland)
8. Kyle Weber (University of Wisconsin-Platteville)
9. Emily Salkind (Virginia Tech)
10. Zachary Sanders (University of Georgia)

The top eight students from individual judging go on to compete internationally. They're headed to South Korea this summer for the 20th World Congress of Soil Science