Nottingham is diggin’ soil science

West Virginia University student and Green Bank native Adrienne Nottingham takes notes during a soil judging competition. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Nottingham
West Virginia University student and Green Bank native Adrienne Nottingham takes notes during a soil judging competition. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Nottingham

Headed to Hungary for International competition

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

There are times when a high school graduate enters college with no clue as to what they want to study. They may have a field or specific subject in mind, but not always a cut and dried degree to pursue.
That was the case for Green Bank native Adrienne Nottingham.

“I just kind of thought maybe I would go into biology, or maybe I’d go into some type of writing thing, but I didn’t really have any idea,” she said.

That all changed in 2008 when Nottingham was selected as a Youth Conservation Corps worker at the U.S. Forest Service in Marlinton.

“When I started the YCC work, a lot of the work we did was maintenance, trail work, painting, that type of thing,” she said. “But there were a few instances where they would take us out with specialists.

“One time we went out with the watershed department. My favorite day, obviously, was the day we went out with Stephanie [Connolly, Forest Soil Scientist]. Before that, I didn’t even know that could be a career. I didn’t know people did that. I just remember thinking at the end of the day that I really liked that, and I could do that for a job.”

Through her work with Connolly, Nottingham was able to declare a major and entered the Soil Science program at West Virginia University. She soon joined the soil judging team where she used her skills to compete nationally.

“On a basic level, we describe the soil,” she said. “We describe color. We describe texture, which is how much sand, silt and clay is in it. We describe the structure which is basically how the soil holds together – if it holds together in thick aggregates or small aggregates. We also describe the landscape, where you are, if you are high on a mountain ridge, or if you’re down in a flood plain.”

Using all the descriptions, Nottingham and the team make interpretations of what can be done on the soil or what can be grown in the soil.

“From those descriptions, you can make decisions and interpretations,” she said. “That’s the biggest part of soil judging. From that description I can tell you, if you build a house, if you’ll be able to have a septic tank there. Or, if it’s a good place to grow corn, or if it’s a good place to build a road with an eight percent float. We take our descriptions and then on the latter part, it’s just the interpretations. How that effects every day civilians and every day life.”

Nottingham competed on a team with three other students from WVU at the national competition, where the top four individuals are selected to represent the United States at the International Soil Judging Competition.

Nottingham placed third.

“I was very happy,” she said. “That was my goal, to get in the top ten at nationals. When we traveled to Arkansas this year, I didn’t know there was going to be an International Competition until about midway through the practice. When they announced the top four, I knew I would be able to go.”

The International competition will be held September 1 through 5 in Hungary. Nottingham will represent the United States along with students from Kansas, Alabama and Pennsylvania. The four will compete against approximately 20 teams from around the world.

Nottingham is excited about the international trip, and she plans to go to Hungary the week prior to the competition just to explore and enjoy the country.

“Since I have a little more flexibility because I’m in graduate school now, I don’t have as many classes, so I just decided I was going to go early,” she said. “I’m going a week early and try to see as much as I can.”

In addition to graduate school, Nottingham continues her work with the Forest Service on a part-time basis. Once she graduates, she hopes the job will become full-time and permanent.

“I’d like to be exactly what Stephanie is,” she said. “I’d love to be a Forest Service scientist, so if I can have a job here and live in Pocahontas County, that would be the optimum for me. I know if they don’t have that soil science position, I’m going to have to move, but I’m going to try my hardest to stay. This forest is getting so busy. We have all these restoration projects, and I think they’re going to be hiring more people so I’m holding out for that. I hope that’s what happens.”

Sometimes all it takes is a little digging to find the right degree and the right job. And sometimes, that digging is literally in the soil.

“I would have never known about this – I wasn’t in FFA, and we didn’t have a land judging team in high school at the time, so YCC was really the only exposure to this,” Nottingham said. “If I wouldn’t have been on the YCC I don’t know if I would have gotten exposed to it or not. Now I’m hooked. I love it.”

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