URI senior wins soil judging national championship; URI team places second

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Lincoln resident moves on to world championships in South Korea

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 8, 2014 – A University of Rhode Island senior was crowned champion at the National Collegiate Soils Contest last week in a competition against students from 18 other universities from around the country. The nine members of the URI team placed ninth in the group soil judging competition, held at Delaware Valley College in Pennsylvania, and their combined scores put URI in second place overall.

Bianca Peixoto of Lincoln won the individual national championship after a long day of classifying soils in three pits dug for the competition. “Most of the credit goes to my professor, Mark Stolt, who teaches us not only how to judge the individual components of the soil, but also about how the soil forms on the landscape, widening our eyes to the big picture,” she said.

According to Stolt, professor of natural resources science and the advisor to the team, soil judging is a contest to correctly identify, evaluate, classify and describe the profiles of soils from pits dug into the ground. Students must climb into five-foot deep pits to identify the soil layers or horizons, describe their properties, classify each soil according to the USDA soil taxonomy, and evaluate their uses. The team and individuals with the most accurate evaluation win. Teams must qualify to compete at the national soils contest by placing in the top three at one of seven regional competitions.

“The competition gives students the chance to test their skills against regional soil experts,” said Stolt. “Just about every environmental firm in the country is looking for people who can evaluate soils. Those that compete at soil judging are in demand when they graduate.”

URI has competed in the soils contest since about 1970, and in recent years it has had tremendous success. URI students have won the individual national contest in three of the last five years. The University won the team championship in 2011 in Oregon and has consistently placed in the top five in recent years.

“I’ve loved soil science ever since I first learned about it in high school,” said Peixoto, who placed fourth in the regional soil judging competition last fall. “I’m absolutely fascinated by it. Soil is the basis of life, and while so many people focus on the bigger and grander aspects of the environment, soil is where it all starts.”

For winning the championship, Peixoto won a scholarship to compete at the first World Soil Judging Championships in South Korea in June.

The other members of the URI soil judging team are Ian Armitstead of West Greenwich, Michael Badzmierowski of Harrisville, Cory DiFillippo of Cranston, Chelsea Duball of Brentwood, N.H., Victoria Moebus of Norwich, Conn., Joshua Sargent of Wakefield, Ethan Sneesby of Pawtucket, and Chris Zuidema of Long Branch, N.J.

Photo by Mike Salerno photography