Josh McGrath

Soil science award winners

Department of Plant and Soil Sciences cultivates next leaders

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11:41 a.m., Nov. 28, 2011--University of Delaware-trained plant and soil scientists continue to build on the institution's stellar reputation, with six winning recent national honors.

One graduate student and five graduate alumni of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) were presented awards by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) at the national meetings of the societies in San Antonio, Texas.

Honors Stories

CANR alumni honors

Five UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources graduates were presented with honors, including the George M. Worrilow Award, the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Distinguished Young Alumni Award, during a ceremony Oct. 17.

Rising Star

The University of Delaware's Casey Impagliazzo has received the Delaware ACE Women's Network Rising Star Award.

Honorees are alumni Josh McGrath, Chad Penn and Amy Shober, who were advised by Tom Sims, CANR deputy dean and T.A. Baker Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry; Daniel Strawn and Kirk Scheckel, who were advised by Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute; and Sudarshan Dutta, who recently completed his doctorate under the direction of Shreeram Inamdar, associate professor of plant and soil sciences.

Josh McGrath, a distinguished young CANR alumnus who earned his doctorate degree in plant and soil sciences in 2004, received the SSSA S6 Young Scholar Award, which recognizes young scientists who have made an outstanding contribution in Soil and Water Management and Conservation within seven years of completing their Ph.D.

McGrath is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, and his research interests include nutrient management and environmental sustainability. McGrath leads an active research and extension program aimed at providing science-based, reliable and cutting-edge information in the arena of agricultural nutrient management, nutrient use efficiency, non-point source nutrient pollution and water quality protection.

In just a few short years, McGrath's work has become widely recognized for its impact on sustaining agricultural productivity and improving environmental quality in the mid-Atlantic region.

Chad Penn, who earned his master's degree in 2001, received the SSSA S-11 Young Investigator Award, which recognizes worthy professionals who have made an outstanding contribution in soils and environmental quality research within seven years of completing their terminal degree. The award comes with a certificate of recognition and $500. 

Penn has worked at Oklahoma State University since 2005 as an assistant professor of soil and environmental chemistry. His current research is focused on water quality, the re-use of industrial by-products in agriculture and for environmental protection, nutrient and animal waste management, transport of phosphorus to surface waters, and thermodynamics of sorption and other soil chemical processes via isothermal titration calorimetry. 

Amy Shober, who received her doctorate in plant and soil sciences from UD in 2006, won the ASA Environmental Quality Section Inspiring Young Scientist Award, which is awarded to professionals who have made an outstanding contribution toward sustaining agriculture through environmental quality research, teaching, extension or industry activity within seven years of completing their terminal degree. 

Shober works as an assistant professor of landscape soil and nutrient management in the Soil and Water Science Department at the University of Florida. Her research and Cooperative Extension appointments focus on nutrient management in Florida’s urban landscapes. 

Daniel Strawn, who received his doctorate from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in 1999, received the Marion L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Soil Science Award. Strawn is a professor of soil chemistry at the University of Idaho and his program focuses on research and teaching of soil chemistry and mineralogy with a special emphasis on the discovery of chemical and mineral speciation in soils. He is an associate editor for the Soil Science Society of America Journal.

Strawn joins a long list of UD plant and soil sciences graduates who have received the Marion L. and Chrystie M. Jackson award. Sparks was the first recipient of the award in 1991 and since then five graduates of the department have received the distinguished award. 

Kirk Scheckel, who received his doctorate from UD in 2000 and won the Marion L. and Chrystie M. Jackson award in 2010, was named a fellow of the ASA and SSSA.

Scheckel is a research soil scientist in the National Risk Management Research Laboratory of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He is an adjunct faculty member at Ohio State University and his research focuses on element speciation in soils, sediments and water to elucidate reaction mechanisms that influence fate in the natural environment. He served as associate editor for the Journal of Environmental Quality and as chair of S-11, a division of SSSA. He is active in SSSA, ASA and the American Chemical Society.

Sudarshan Dutta, who recently completed his doctorate in the department, was awarded the SSSA S-11 Soil and Environmental Quality Graduate Student Award. 

Dutta received a certificate and $500 for his achievement, and impressed the award committee with his research record and the contributions he has made in the area of soil and environmental quality. 

Sparks said of the awards and what they mean to the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, “They’re just a testament to the quality of our graduate studies programs and the training the students get. It also indicates the reputation the University's programs have built -- people recognize that those who come out of these programs are really first rate. Over the years we’ve developed a strong program in soil science that is recognized nationally and internationally."

Part of this strength, according to Sparks, is derived from the ability to attract outstanding students to the graduate program. “You attract good students and then you give them a fair amount of freedom," he said. "It is a combination of having bright students working on significant research problems, and giving them the flexibility and the freedom to pursue knowledge.” 

Sparks also pointed out the outstanding equipment, facilities, grant support and faculty members who have been “good role models and mentors for these students.”

Sims said of the awards, “We’re very proud of the accomplishments of the graduates of our soil science program. It’s rewarding to see so many of our former graduate students become very successful faculty at top-ranked universities and to have their successes recognized by these prestigious awards. Their research and extension programs are cutting-edge and address some of the most important areas we face today as we to ensure a safe and secure food supply for more than 7 billion people worldwide and protect our environment for future generations.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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