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2023 NCSS Awardees

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Scientists of the Year:
Donald Parizek
Matt Cole

Career Achievement Awards:
Ronald Collman
Luis Hernandez

Scientist of the Year

Donald Parizek, Soil Scientist, USDA-NRCS, Special Projects, Soil Survey Office, Tolland, CT

Photo of Donald Parizek.

Education: BS Agriculture and Natural Resources (Soil Science and geology emphasis), University of Connecticut 1988.

Work Experience:

30 plus years of soil survey project work in Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

3 years consulting soil scientist, conducting wetland delineations and soil test pit evaluations.

Awards, certifications, affiliations etc.

  • Million Acre Mapper Award
  • Certified Professional Soil Scientist, (ARCPACS # 24825)
  • Society of Soil Scientists of Southern New England, Board of Directors
  • New England Hydric Soils Technical Committee, member
  • Coastal Zone Soil Survey Focus Team, member

Hello, my name is Donald C. Parizek. I am a soil scientist with the USDA-NRCS soil survey office in Tolland, CT. I am currently on detail to the Special Projects Office as the Survey Project Leader for the Long Island Sound Coastal Zone Soil Survey (LIS-CZSS). I began my soil science career as a private consultant in Connecticut conducting wetland delineations after graduating from the University of Connecticut (UCONN 1988) with a B.S. degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources with an emphasis in soil science and geology.

My career path is based on my desire to work outdoors and to learn as much as possible about the natural environment. Soil Science piqued my interest, after taking a required soil science class with an exceptionally enthusiastic professor at UCONN, the late Harvey D. Luce. In 1992 I began work with the USDA Soil Conservation Service (SCS) working on the statewide soil survey update project in Connecticut. This where I learned to map soils at the landform level in complex glaciated landscapes, utilizing my soils and geology skills, along with the now outdated stereo scope. I took advantage of all the great training SCS/NRCS had to offer to advance my skill set. In the early days, soil scientists worked by themselves with very little interaction day in and day out during field season, a level of independence and self-reliance not as prevalent these days.

Over the course of my 30-plus-year career, I have worked on soil survey projects in Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and Vermont. I have mapped soils in some of the most remote areas of the Alaskan wilderness, densely populated urban soils in New York City, and most recently subaqueous soils in coastal areas. The beauty of soils, they are almost everywhere. I have earned the Million Acre Mapper Award for my work on initial soil surveys in Alaska and Maine, an award resulting from numerous arduous and enjoyable field days. Like most soil scientists, I want to know what lies beneath the surface, over the next hill, the other side of the mountain, or across the estuary. I love to dig holes; every soil profile has a story to tell if you are willing to observe and learn. Sharing our knowledge with others who have never bothered to look is an important part of what we do. Some of my most rewarding days in the field are from sharing my knowledge of soils with students in New York City around a soil pit; for many it is the first time they have observed real soil in an outdoor setting, it is eye-opening.

I am a longstanding board member of the Society of Soil Scientists of Southern New England (SSSSNE). I joined the society fresh out of school, taking the advice of the SCS state soil scientist, “It will be good for you your career.” SSSSNE has provided great opportunities to connect with other soil scientists and share knowledge. A successful field workshop will recharge the batteries of both the participants and instructors alike.

I am a member of the New England Hydric Soils Technical Committee. We are constantly evaluating and testing hydric soil indicators for use in the glaciated northeast. Our work is done in collaboration with NRCS, academia, private consultants, state, and federal agencies. This work has led to an increased knowledge of hydric soils morphology, problematic hydric soils, and our understanding of hydropedology and wetland identification. The value of this work cannot be underestimated given all the regulations and interest associated with wetlands.

I am a certified professional soil scientist through the Soil Science Society of America Soils Certification Board, a great way to maintain professional growth, credentials, and communicate the importance of soil science as a profession.

I am currently a member of the Coastal Zone Soil Survey Focus Team, advancing soil science in this critical ecosystem, where terrestrial norms give way to subaqueous environs. As the climate changes and sea level rises, soil scientists are present, and providing exceptional soil resource information in this unique environment. The Coastal Zone Soil Survey Focus Team is very active moving soil science and soil survey forward in the 21st century. We all know soil forming processes do not stop at the water’s edge.

In 2022 I was detailed to the special projects office to lead the congressionally funded LIS-CZSS, by far the most challenging and rewarding project I have ever had the opportunity to work on. I have very much realized the value of true teamwork, and a golden opportunity to pass on knowledge to the next generation of scientists. The future looks bright for soil science and soil scientists from my vantage point. NRCS has an amazing workforce willing to step up to the challenges we all face in our environment. Soil scientists have the best job in the agency by far. Soil science is essentially the building block for all other forms of resource management and will remain so into the foreseeable future.

Scientist of the Year

Matt Cole, Soil Scientist, USDA-NRCS, Soil Survey Office, Minden, NV

Photo of Matt Cole.

I began my career with NRCS as a student trainee (SCEP program) in 2006 while attending college at the University of Nevada, Reno. After graduation, I started my first assignment at the Ely, NV MLRA office. This was a tremendous opportunity to gain soil survey experience with several initial surveys in eastern Nevada. After the initial soil surveys in eastern Nevada were finished, I was transferred briefly to the Reno NRCS office, and then to the Minden, NV MLRA office in 2011. My work became much more varied including update projects, SDJR projects, TSS assistance, initial soil survey details, soil climate data collection, snow survey, and assisting with wetland determinations among many other tasks. In 2014, I started working in the White Mountains in eastern California as part of the collaboration between NRCS and the University of California to collect soil climate data. I have been conducting yearly visits to collect data there since. In 2019, I became the project leader of the NV764 soil survey project north of Elko, NV. I joined this survey after the first project leader moved on to a new position. This was a great chance to lead an initial soil survey through the remaining field work, final correlation, and to publication in 2021.

2022 was a busy year for me as I started the CA806 soil survey in eastern California as the project leader, returned to the Nevada wetland cadre, and coordinated the installation of 8 soil climate stations in the White Mountains. I feel very honored and grateful to receive the NCSS Scientist of the Year Award. But I know I am just one member of the exceptional team of professionals in NRCS who are working hard every day, crossing all those items off our to-do lists.

I live in Minden, NV with my wife Joyce (a former NRCS soil scientist), our daughters Juliet and Phoebe, and our dog, Bodie. We enjoy getting outside and into the mountains and lakes as much as we can.

Career Achievement Award

Ronald Collman, USDA-NRCS, Illinois State Soil Scientist

Photo of Ronald Collman.

Ron Collman studied at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, graduating with a B.S. in Agriculture-Agronomy\Soils in 1989.

He began with initial soil survey as a Missouri Department of Natural Resources soil scientist (SS) in Madison County in 1990. Ron familiarized himself with several software tools and databases including the Pedon input codes, Pedon Description Glossary, Basic, DOS, and R-Base. We had one DOS based computer with Word and Lotus 1,2,3. We printed to a dot matrix printer and mailed hardcopies.

In 1993, Ron trimmed his mullet and began working for the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in a satellite field office attached to the Springfield, Illinois Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) working on the Adams County Update.

Ron worked during the “Great Flood of 1993” to identify geologic materials and locate the base of road slides and mapped sediment and wetlands. Ron bought a top of the line “Pentium” computer and started updating Unix based tools to Microsoft 3.1 OS and MS-Works. Ron worked to develop a transect database with collection forms using Microsoft Access and a field ruggedized 386 tablet computer. Hundreds of transects and descriptions to support the update were completed. Ron expanded his computer knowledge to include UNIX, Windows, Excel, and Access. Illinois adopted an MLRA update concept and established 5 MLRA offices across the state each with a Project leader, additional soil scientists, and a GIS specialist. We saw SCS become NRCS, SSD become NASIS, Imagery become Ortho-rectified, Internet was via modem, and Windows 95 and Netscape were top of the line.

In 1997, Ron transferred to the Charleston, Illinois MLRA. He helped finish up the hand compilation of the Adams County Update and then moved on to work on the Champaign, McLean, and Crawford County Updates and compilation. Ron became project leader for the Douglas, Clark, and Macon County Updates and main author of the manuscripts. He developed Excel spreadsheets that incorporated NASIS data and provided a method of checking the data against OSD ranges, lab data, and similar map units and parent materials. This pre-dated many of the checks, validations, and calculations we have now in NASIS. Initially, these spreadsheets were just used for a single MLRA subset, but use soon expanded to check statewide data and make join tables for interpretation maps.

His efforts led to promotion to Asst. State Soil Scientist in 2007. During this time, Ron participated in field reviews and correlations, assisted with EM and GPR studies, rapid carbon assessment, reviewed and edited many manuscripts, administered the Illinois NASIS data, developed more Excel tools to produce correlation documents, and made statewide property and interpretive maps for soils and ecological sites, assisted with training, supported sampling efforts and special studies using KSSL protocols, backhoe operations, became quite good at NASIS input, interpretations, queries, and data review; and navigated the National Soil Survey Handbook, Soil Survey Manual, Fieldbook for Describing and Sampling Soils, and Taxonomy.

After a detail to New Mexico as acting State Soil Scientist, Ron Became State Soil Scientist for Illinois in 2012.

Through CESU and other Agreements and Contracts, the Illinois NRCS Soils and GIS team has been able to acquire, process, and create LiDAR derivatives; archive LiDAR, imagery, and soils data; use supercomputing to analyze LiDAR data, complete FSA compliance slide scanning and soils document scanning with university students; develop sampling plans for dynamic soil properties and analysis, establish outdoor soil classroom pits at the U of I, and design and purchase probe trucks and other remote sensing and sampling equipment.

Ron continues to support soil judging, sampling for soil health and dynamic soil properties, sampling at climate stations, reviewing ESDs and data, soil interpretations including Illinois linked productivity, delivering educational outreach and recruitment, work with Illinois Soil Classifiers Association, participate with Soil Business Area Analysis Group, and provide basic soil, soil health, and hydric soils training. He maintains section 2 of the Illinois eFOTG and the Illinois NRCS Soils website, is state climate liaison, and administers Natural Resources Inventory (NRI), and the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA).

Ron has 31 years as a soil scientist. In that time, he has participated in initial, update, and order one mapping, collected monoliths for the Smithsonian and helped set up the soils display at the St. Louis Science Center, correlated state and MLRA legends, and aided numerous cooperators and Universities. Ron has been Acting Asst. State Conservationist (ASTC) for Field operations and ASTC for Compliance and Appeals. He has had the pleasure of working with many exceptional individuals and teams in the SSD\SPSD and NCSS.

Ron’s goals before he retires are to update the “Keys to Illinois Soils,” produce a digital archive of documents and imagery, convert some of the in-person soils training to online versions, and continue to assist partners of the NCSS. Ron is also working towards his M.S. Degree.

Ron’s family includes Sara, his wife of 22 years, Nicholas, recent high school graduate; Zach, stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, his wife Kinzie and two grandkids; and Matt, stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, his wife Kassie and three grandkids.

Ron attributes his successes to family, those who came before, have supervised, trained, and worked with him; being able to adjust to change, and his stubbornness.

Career Achievement Award

Luis Hernandez, USDA-NRCS, Regional Director, Northeast Soil Survey Region

Photo of Luis Hernandez

Luis Hernandez grew up and completed his primary education in the mountainous region of Puerto Rico in the little town of Morovis. He spent many years playing competitive basketball for his town and helped the team achieve many championships. He was inspired by his Dad to pursue a degree in soils. His Dad farmed the land with coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, bananas, plantains, and other tropical crops. He initiated his college years at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez Campus. He transferred to Kansas State University (KSU) and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Sciences with emphasis in soils. After completing school at KSU, he returned to the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez Campus to pursue a graduate school degree and completed a Master’s degree in Soil Science with emphasis in soil microbiology.

Luis began his public service career at the USDA U.S. Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Then he was transferred to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). With NRCS he has served in technical, administrative, and leadership roles such as: Soil Scientist (Pennsylvania and West Virginia), New York City Soil Survey Program Director, State Soil Scientist (Nebraska and Arkansas), Soil Survey Program Regional Director (Arkansas-based South Central Region), Acting Director of the Soil and Plant Science Division (SPSD) (Washington, D.C.), Outreach Coordinators of the Soil & Water Resource Conservation Act (Washington D.C.), USDA-NRCS Caribbean Area Watershed Protection Program Coordinator during hurricane Maria/Irma recovery efforts, and Acting Director of the NRCS International Programs Division (Washington, D.C.). He’s currently serving as the SPSD Northeast Soil Survey Regional Director in Amherst, MA.

Luis has also served in other NRCS administrative positions such as California Deputy State Conservationist (acting), Arkansas Assistant State Conservationist for State Operations (acting), Arkansas Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations (acting), and Arkansas State Public Affairs Specialist (acting). He has also co-chaired the SPSD Training Focus Team, and the Leadership, Diversity and Recruitment Focus Team. Currently he’s serving as SPSD Liaison to the Northeast National Cooperative Soil Survey Region, SPSD Leadership Team, and on the NRCS-NHQ Civil Rights-EEO Committee.

Luis has held leadership positions outside of government: President of the National Organization of Hispanic Professional Employees of NRCS, President of the Nebraska Association of Professional Soil Scientists, and President of the Honorary Fraternity of the Caribbean Alpha Zeta. With the Soil Science Society of America he has served as Chair of the Training & Continuing Education for Soil Scientists Committee, Chair-Elect of the Training & Continuing Education for Soil Scientists Committee, Member of the Urban Soils Committee, and Member of the Training & Continuing Education for Soil Scientists Committee.

Internationally, he served as USDA-NRCS technical advisor for Hurricane Mitch recovery efforts in Central America, invited professor of the International Seminar of Soil Classification (Mexico City), and soil classification professor of the Nicolás Aguilera International Edaphology Course sponsored by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He has also taught soil classification and soil quality short courses in Spain and Latin America. He served as technical advisor to the Soil Survey of Catalonia (Spain), the Soil Organic Carbon Map of Mexico, and the Soil Organic Carbon Manual of the FAO Global Soil Partnership. He led an international team responsible for translating the Keys to Soil Taxonomy (10th and 11th edition) from English to Spanish language. He has completed near 50 foreign assignments in Latin America and Europe. Most recently, in 2021, he collaborated with international soil survey cooperators from Argentina and organized the First International Workshop of Soil Taxonomy.

Luis has published more than 30 papers, articles, soil survey books, and book chapters. He’s author and co-author of the Berkeley County (WV) Soil Survey Manuscript, South LaTourette Soil Survey Manuscript (New York City), Gateway National Recreation Area Soil Survey Manuscript (New York City & New Jersey), New York City Reconnaissance Soil Survey Manuscript, and Soils of Arkansas Booklet, among others. He was a major contributor for the development of national soil survey standards for the mapping, classification, description, and interpretation of urban soils. He wrote a book chapter to highlight urban soil survey efforts of the USA National Cooperative Soil Survey in the book titled Urban Soils. He was instrumental with the completion of the SPSD SSURGO Initiative, the Rapid Carbon Assessment Initiative (RaCA), and the implementation of the Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) national structure for administration of the USA soil survey program.

Luis is a graduate of the NRCS National Leadership Program and the USDA Senior Executive Candidate Development Program. He’s certified by OPM for the Senior Executive Service. He’s also certified as Professional Soil Scientist and Professional Soil Classifier by the Soil Science Society of America Soils Certification Board.

Luis is recipient of the following national awards: NRCS Chief’s Civil Rights Award, USDA Secretary’s Honor Award, USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Honor Award, NRCS Chief’s Workforce Diversity Civil Rights Award, NRCS Chief’s Team/Group Civil Rights Award, NRCS Hispanic Emphasis Program Manager of the Year, and the National Organization of Professional Hispanic NRCS Employees (NOPHNRCSE) Award of Excellence in Natural Resources Conservation.

He’s father of three children (Luis Gabriel, Abraham Xavier, and Luis Antonio) and currently lives in Massachusetts with his wife Salome and youngest child Luis Antonio. He enjoys gardening, hiking, kayaking, camping, and watching Luis Antonio playing soccer and music (trumpet, piano, and accordion).