Well, Kansas is usually referred to as the Land of Oz or the Sunflower State, but K-State is definitely the campus of white limestone. If you haven't been there it is worth a look as it is beautiful with all the buildings being constructed of white limestone, except two dorms that are red brick, but they have now made it a rule that new buildings need to match the old. I was told, during my visit last week, that K-State is the oldest land grant university in the U.S., although apparently Michigan State ranks right up there, but due to the Michigan legislature taking a break at the wrong time K-State was approved first.
My visit with faculty and students (undergrad and grad) was really very productive for me as I learned a lot about what types of programs and activities K-State offers. I wasn't there to only talk soils, but also agronomy. While I spent a fair amount of time talking with faculty, my first "talk" was with the undergraduate students on Tuesday evening. It had been snowing all day and being from the north I didn't really think too much about it until someone mentioned that they hoped students would show up for the meeting that night. I was happy to see that the room was full when we arrived! I talked to the group about certification and licensing, although primarily certification since Kansas is not a licensing state. I covered certifications in soil, agronomy and the certified crop advisor. At the end of the talk there were several questions - all of them good! I hope to see some students take the certification exams this year! As I was finishing up I was presented with a K-State Agronomy baseball cap - purple of course! I will wear it proudly.
I met with a large group of graduate students on Wednesday and they were interested in a lot of things, but one of the things we talked about is what it is like to be a consultant. I told them my experiences and what they needed to think about before starting a career as a consultant, but also encouraged them to speak to others. I also encouraged them to take the certification exam that pertained to their field of interest. The research interests of the grad students was diverse, but I have to admit that I was happy to hear that several were focusing on urban soils. This just supports the point that soil scientists are vital in many different settings.
I also met with some graduate students from KU, a non-land grant institution that is located in Lawrence, KS. Chuck Rice invited them to talk with us. These students considered themselves to be soil scientists (and I didn't disagree with that), but they were located in either the geography or biology departments on that campus. It was interesting listening to the types of courses availalbe to them as well as what their research projects are. They are definitely doing soils work, but in some cases missing what we might refer to as some of the basic courses that we tend to have access to in a land grant institution. Interesting! I would be interested in hearing opinions about how SSSA can reach out to these students and involve those programs and their students/faculty more within SSSA.
Overall I had a great visit! I talked about many things with different faculty members, especially how SSSA can help fill in education gaps. I'm not sure K-State has a lot of those gaps with the large and diverse program that they house, but one of the things that I will be pursuing is facilitation of regional field courses to help provide opportunities for students or recent graduates to gain time in the field and become familiar with the typical instrumentation and methodologies used. More on that as we start planning the specifics!
I do have to mention one thing that impressed me. I was talking about the importance of networking and internships when I was informed that most undergraduate students have completed two or more paid internships prior to graduation. Paid! That doesn't happen everywhere. Furthermore, they cannot produce enough agronomy graduates to fill all the job openings that K-State knows about through their contacts with employers. They have a great program that really works on keeping the network going and focusing on relationships with employers. Again - that doesn't happen everywhere.
I think there are some good ideas and messages that I took away from my visit with K-State. We do have the current SSSA President on the faculty there as well as the President-Elect! Hopefully the exchange of ideas went both ways and we can continue to learn from each other.