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Accolades in Spades

Recognizing soil and plant science professionals.

2023 National Cooperative Soil Survey Awardees

In 1999, the Soil Survey Division (now the Soil and Plant Science Division) created two awards to recognize scientists involved in the Soil Survey Program. In 2005, the NCSS Cooperator Achievement award was added. In 2019, the criteria for two awards, the NCSS Scientist of the Year and the NCSS Scientist Achievement awards, were expanded to include both technical soil and ecological site services and project soil and ecological site survey work. Nominations for awards are accepted from any individual, agency, or group in the NCSS.

Scientists of the Year:

Photo of Donald Parizek.

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

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Photo of Matt Cole.

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

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Career Achievement Awards:

Photo of Ronald Collman.

Ronald Collman, USDA-NRCS, Illinois State Soil Scientist

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Photo of Luis Hernandez

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

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USDA Insight of the Month (April)

Data Leadership Spotlight: Jason Nemecek

USDA Insight of the Month is a monthly newsletter distributed to USDA employees who work with dashboards and analytics software. Each month, an employee is highlighted, and in April it featured Soil and Plant Science Division’s Jason Nemecek. Read questions and answers with Jason Nemecek (National Soil Data Applications Scientist). Read the article.

Employee of the Quarter

Adolfo Diaz, GIS Specialist

Photo of Adolfo Diaz.

The Soil and Plant Science Division would like to recognize Adolfo Diaz as the Employee of the Quarter for his groundbreaking work advancing geospatial analysis through his development of the SoilE3M elevation derivative layer.

In his nominators’ words: “As a geospatial scientist, Adolfo did something that has not been done before and this advancement will leave a lasting impact. He created a new soil science-focused "best available" elevation derivative called SoilE3M.  A data product gets a label of "Best Available" for 3 meters when it has the collective spatial footprint of existing high resolution elevation data from resolution sources less than or equal to 3 meters. This means Adolfo used existing high-resolution 1 meter elevation to derive high-quality, 3 meter elevation data.

The SoilE3M elevation derivative is lighter-weight and optimized for soil conservation and soil modeling uses and will directly assist with many of the existing NRCS geospatial workflows and tools. Many thanks to Adolfo for applying his skill and talent to develop SoilE3M, a revolutionary asset to soil science and conservation.”

Employee Shout-Out

Alena Stephens: Keeping Calm Through a Tough Tech Outage

Photo of Alena Stephens.

The Soils Hotline is the technical support for soil-related issues, particularly support for soil applications, the soils website, and general soil inquiries. The hotline is the point of contact for the public and NRCS staff when issues arise with soil data. The soils hotline staff consists of two primary staff members, one of which retired in December. While the remaining sole soils hotline staff member went on annual leave, Alena Stephens, Soils GIS Specialist, volunteered to help field soil inquiries to the hotline. Alena had never operated as a Soils Hotline principal contact before. Since Alena had little experience with the hotline, the Soil and Plant Science Division only expected Alena to take notes and pass along questions to other staff. 

During the week of February 20, the Agency’s authoritative source for soil information for the Federal Government, Web Soil Survey, went down, and the hotline was inundated with calls. Web Soil Survey typically receives about 8,500 visits per day. Despite her lack of experience, Alena stepped up and performed well above expectations. She alerted IT to the situation with Web Soil Survey so they could fix the problem.  

Alena was the consummate professional dealing with angry customers and difficult people who were short on temper and required soil information for their projects. Alena never wavered. She answered questions and responded to all customer inquiries with a quick turnaround—more than 100 emails, as well as a few phone calls. At least a half dozen customers sent emails explicitly thanking Alena for her extraordinary effort. 

It took several days for IT to pinpoint the problem, and during that time, Alena continued to go above and beyond what was expected. Alena’s effort exemplified the Secretary’s Strategic Goal to “Ensure USDA Programs Are Delivered Efficiently, Effectively, With Integrity and a Focus on Customer Service.”

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