The Virginia Tech Soil Judging Team finished second overall at the 2006 National Championship Contest hosted by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, on March 23-24.

Virginia Tech finished second out of 21 qualifying teams, 19 points behind West Virginia University and ahead of the University of Georgia, the University of Illinois, and the Ohio State University. Virginia Tech placed first in last year’s contest.

Virginia Tech also earned first place in the team judging event, which involved more than 100 students and provided undergraduate students the opportunity to apply their classroom lessons to a practical situation. This is the first time that Virginia Tech has won the team event.

“The competition at this level is very strong because all 21 teams had to qualify to reach this contest,” said Coach John Galbraith, professor of crop and soil environmental science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The soils, climate, vegetation, and geology were new to all of the teams that entered, so no team had a home advantage.”

“Soil judging teaches students to go to unfamiliar places, study the resources, investigate the soil, hydrology, and land use, and then describe the soil horizons and properties. Student answers are compared to those of official judges who are experienced soil scientists. Soil judging teaches the students to perform as individuals and to work together to make group decisions under stressful and time-constrained conditions,” Galbraith added.

Virginia Tech also had two students place in the top-ten out of 84 competitors. Lisa Moore, a senior majoring in crop and soil environmental sciences from Christiansburg, Va., placed seventh, and Caroline Park, a senior majoring in environmental science from Richmond, Va., placed eighth.

“Soil judging is a unique opportunity to apply the information learned from my soils classes in a practical manner,” Moore said. “Theory is nice, but we remember better the things we have seen with our own eyes and felt with our own hands. It is an opportunity to be tested as an individual scholar but also to be part of a team.”

The other team members include Dylan Walker, a junior majoring in environmental science from Christiansburg, Va.; Carlin Conk, a senior majoring in environmental science from Floyd, Va.; Nick Haus, a senior majoring in crop and soil environmental science from Rice Lake, Wis.; and Joe Marshall, a junior majoring in crop and soil environmental science from Louisa, Va.

In addition to learning the soil, climate, geology, and vegetation of the Coastal Mountains of south central California, the students also drove to Las Vegas and had a special guided tour of the desert and Lake Mead from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service regional soil and environmental expert Doug Merkler. “The students observed everything from snow-covered mountains to the Central Valley vineyards and orchards to mountain grasslands and desert salt flats on this trip. It would be hard to imagine a more complete learning opportunity in one eight-day trip,” said Galbraith.

Ranked 11th in agricultural research expenditures by the National Science Foundation, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers students the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s leading agricultural scientists. The college’s comprehensive curriculum gives students a balanced education that ranges from food and fiber production to economics to human health. The college is a national leader in incorporating technology, biotechnology, computer applications, and other recent scientific advances into its teaching program.