Commencement 2014: URI senior has the dirt on a career in soil science

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Exeter, N.H., native to graduate as soil scientist, field hockey star

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 15, 2014 – University of Rhode Island senior Chelsea Duball was never one who worried about getting dirty. Her passion for the outdoors carried her through a successful college career that took her from the national soil judging competition to the national club field hockey championships. As she prepares to graduate in May with a degree in environmental science and management, the Exeter, N.H., native is looking forward to a career where her hands are never far from the soil.

“I’ve always been that girl who rolled around in the dirt,” Duball said with a smile. “I worked on a sustainable farm back home. It’s my life. I just love being hands on with the elements.”

She proved that again and again throughout her time at URI, especially as a leader of the university’s soil judging team. Duball and the URI team placed second in the 2014 national soil judging competition, an academic event in which she and fellow students spend time in large pits in the ground analyzing the composition and characteristics of the soil to assess its appropriateness for constructing homes, roads or septic systems on the site.

“My friends get pretty confused about it, but I’m very proud of it, and it will look awesome on my resume,” she said. “If you know how to look at a soil profile, you have everything you need to work as an environmental consultant. I can do it all in the field with no tools, just my two hands. And it’s very fulfilling.”

Duball’s hands-on fieldwork didn’t end in the soil judging pit, though. Recipient of the URI Watershed Watch Scholarship, she also conducted research on the algae that cause harmful blooms in Narragansett Bay and worked in the URI soil science lab. She even took two trips to Puerto Rico in 2012 to study the health of a mangrove ecosystem, analyzing soils, algae, leaves and other indicators of environmental health. Every day she kayaked to various locations to collect samples for later analysis in a lab.

“I gained very valuable field experience, learned how to collect and analyze samples and how to analyze big data sets to learn what’s happening in the environment,” she said.

Duball made time for fun, too. She was captain and vice president of the URI club field hockey team and was named the team’s most valuable player three times.

“We had major successes, making it to nationals three of my four years and placing 13th in the nation each year,” she said. “It’s a club team, so there are no coaches and the players run the team themselves as an independent project. It teaches responsibility and still gave me the freedom to do so many other things.”

Her next step is graduate school, probably at URI, and eventually a career as an environmental consultant, conducting soil and water analyses for government agencies or nonprofit groups.

“And I really want to travel around the country to see all the soil landscapes,” she said. “When I went to the soil judging regionals in Maryland, the soils there are completely different than those in Rhode Island. Not a lot of people know about soils, so I want to see what’s out there and share it with everybody else. It really needs to be explored, and I want to be the one to do it.”