University’s dirtiest team competes

The team placed third in a regional competition, advancing them to the national competition in April.

Alex Robinson

While most people don’t look forward to being 6 feet underground, four University students couldn’t feel more at home there.

Meet seniors Erin Andrews, Nicholas Reep, Meryl Larson and junior Nick Saumweber, the quartet of environmental science students who make up the University’s soil judging team.

The team took third place at a regionals competition in Iowa in September and is now qualified for nationals in April in Rhode Island. The competition will host about 20 college teams.

At the soil judging competition, the team attempted to write a description of an Iowan soil sample.

In true Gopher form, they entered a pit and analyzed the soil based on its color, structure and texture.

Points were then awarded for how close the students’ descriptions came to the official soil description.

To prepare for the competition, the students all took a course on soil field studies.

Soil judging also has practical applications outside the competitive arena, soil team coach Terry Cooper said.

Soil judging is used to determine what areas are OK to develop, and contributes to wise land use, Cooper said.

“This type of experience does lend itself well to employment upon graduation,” Cooper said. “It shows that you’re doing more than just going to class.”

Cooper said with increasing urban expansion, wise land use is an important concept.

“There are areas where we’ve made mistakes, and that’s always been done by humans,” Cooper said. “We build on flood plains and then we realize later that we shouldn’t have.”

The national competition lasts one day, but the teams usually spend a week at the site before the competition starts.

Reep said he didn’t mind missing a week of classes.

“It was really like a week-long vacation,” he said.

Saumweber said he was skeptical in the beginning about joining the team, but was glad he did.

“Missing a whole week of school to go soil judging seemed a little counterproductive,” Saumweber said, “but it was actually really fun.”

Andrews said the most fun part of being on the team was traveling and getting to know people from other schools.

While the soil team members try to keep things light, Andrews said teams from other schools are a little more intense.

“You think it’s going to be all these calm environmental people, but some of them really get into it,” she said.

The team is going to have to dig itself out of a financial hole before it can jump into a physical hole at nationals.

The team is endorsed but not funded by the University. The trip to Iowa was paid for through grants, and the team members will have to find more funding if they want to go to Rhode Island, Saumweber said.