David Ackley didn’t slow down upon graduation from Edon High School in 2012…far from it. He enrolled at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown, and carried forward on building upon the strong foundation that he laid here in Northwestern Ohio. His work has paid big dividends along his career path, but the biggest came recently when his soil judging team traveled to Manhattan, Kansas for the nationals, and brought home the 2016 National Championship. David caught us up with his life since leaving Bomber country, as well as the road to the National Championship, saying:
“Yes I am a Mountaineer. I have been one since the fall of 2012. I graduated a semester early with my Bachelors of Science in Agribusiness Management and Rural Development and two minors…one in soil science, and one in environmental economics in December 2015. I am currently in my first semester of graduate school here at WVU, and am pursuing a Master’s of Science in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and expect to graduate in December 2016 with this Masters”.
The WVU soils team is a group of students from the Davis College of Agriculture here at WVU who are members of the West Virginia University Plant and Soil Science Club. We compete in the Southwest regional where we went to Murray Kentucky in the fall and place 5th in the region qualifying us to go Nationals. We went to Nationals in Manhattan, Kansas (Kansas State University).
Soil Judging is where you go to a pit and describe the texture of the soil, the horizons that are present within the soil profile, clay percentage of the soil, use color books to determine the color of the soil, and identify any depletions or concentrations within the soil profile. We measure the slope of the surrounding area, and decide where on the landscape the soil profile is located. We name the soils using soil taxonomy, and describe whether the location is good for septic tanks or dwellings, with or without basements.
Our team had a very inexperienced group of soil judges, with no team member ever competing at a National completion before. There were six team members that went to the nationals…myself, Riley Biddle (PA), Jimmy Leonard (MD), Katie Stutler (WV), Cheyenne Conrath (WV), and Emily Lessman (PA). We were led by our Coach, Dr. Jim Thompson, a Pedology professor at West Virginia University.
We left Morgantown around 5:30 a.m. on Friday, April 1st , and headed west. Along the way we stopped at the Woodford Reserve Bourbon distillery, and then at the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery on Friday. Then stayed the night in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Saturday, we drove to a State Park in Missouri before arriving to Manhattan late evening Saturday. We started practice on Sunday morning, and practiced each day until the last practice day of Wednesday. The practice was used to get our minds and texturing hands accommodated to the Kansas soils that none of us had ever seen before. We did not spend all our time on just soil judging; we made sure to make time in the evenings to go to downtown Manhattan, a.k.a. “Aggieville”, where we would relax and enjoy a few cold ‘adult beverages’. We then got ready for the individual contest on Thursday where only 4 members can compete. Dr. T had a hard time picking the 4 members out of the 6 because we had done so well in the practice days. In the end he ended up choosing Katie Stutler, Jimmy Leonard, Emily Lessman and me. We competed in 3 competition pits on Thursday, then on Friday we had group judging, where the whole team works together to judge the pits.
The awards banquet was on Friday, after all the scorecards were graded. WVU ended up taking 3rd in the group judging portion losing to Purdue (1st ) and University of Maryland (2nd ). The top individual in the national was my teammate, Katie Stutler, with teammate Jimmy Leonard coming in 12th . I finished 23rd, and Emily Lessman came in 62nd. When the results for top ten were read, we were all on complete edge wondering where we would end up placing. The top 10 went as follows Ohio State University (10TH), University of Arkansas (9TH), Texas Tech University (8TH), University of Maryland (7TH), Purdue University (6TH), Tennessee Tech University (5TH), Delaware Valley University (4TH), University of Minnesota (3RD), Iowa State University (2ND), and West Virginia University coming in as the National Champions by a commanding 61 points above second place Iowa State University. It was a tremendous experience, and I am glad to have gotten to be a part of it and bring WVU their second Soil Judging National Championship, the previous one being 10 years ago in 2006. I am retiring from Soil Judging here at WVU as a National Champion. Soil Judging is only an undergraduate level competition, but I am looking to start my Soil Judging Coaching Career, as I will hopefully be the Assistant Coach in the fall when the team travels to Auburn, Alabama to compete for Regionals.
My after college plans are to start up a career with the Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), as either a soil scientist or a soil conservationist. I hope to make it back to Edon or the Edon area, but will be going wherever I get the best job offer once I graduate in December. I am currently working for the West Virginia State NRCS office as a Graduate Research Assistant – Program Assistant, where I have a graduate assistantship with the NRCS and the University. My end goal is no matter where I start my career I will try to work my way back to Edon at some point.
Congratulations on your achievements, and your continued commitment to excellence, David!