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Student Volunteers Help Soil Survey Staff

Earth Team volunteer working with soils staff in field.Among the many changes that the NRCS Soil Science Division is currently undergoing is an initiative called the Soil Data Join Re-correlation (SDJR) or Harmonization. SDJR is one of the top two national Soil Science Division priorities and soils staff is expected to dedicate much of their time to the initiative. The SDJR process involves a lot of database work for soil scientists in every state in order to re-correlate similar map units so that data flows continuously over political boundaries.

In the beginning of the spring 2013 semester, the Soil Survey staff sent out a flyer to local colleges and universities looking for students to volunteer to enter pedon data from manuscripts.  Little did they know by the end of the semester they would have nine volunteers assisting with this effort.  They include Michelle DuCharme, Daniel Grondin, Laura Rice, Jessica Rebholz, Aaron Parsons, Roger Dunn, Lisa Halpin, Devin Spector, and Bonnie Potocki.  Most students are gaining course credit for their work through their respective universities, but some are simply using the experience to learn a little about soils, boost their resumes, and help out.

To facilitate the data entry, students downloaded the PedonPC computer program; were trained individually in the Tolland State Office on their personal lap top computers, and were given a reference guide to help populate the more troublesome fields.  From there, the volunteers could take as many prepared pedons as they felt they could complete and work from home.  Most volunteers came to the office one or less times a week in order to share the completed data and pick up new pedons to enter.

“With relatively little exposure to pedology, I was able to get a head start in understanding how to classify soils taxonomically,” said ETV Daniel Grondin.  “This helped me later in the semester as I was introduced to more in-depth studies of soil sciences during a geomorphology class.  Everything from mapping and understanding how soils formed, along with the practical application in agriculture, engineering, geological, and soil scientist’s perspective.  I plan on staying with NRCS to help when I can and further my understanding of the topic.”

The program proves a victory as the volunteers have entered over a 130 pedons since June.  This overwhelming success shows that with a simple flyer and al little training time, NRCS staff are able to attract exceptional volunteers and accomplish a lot of work.  The Soil Survey staff look forward to sustaining new and continued university relationships, and hope to attract more students in need of college credit and experience throughout the SDJR process.