SOIL 511: A Natural and Societal Resource

Soil 511 - photo banner

Leon H. Liegel | Courtesy Faculty/Instructor | Department of Crop and Soil Science

Insightful Soil

In 2016-18, via a $4K course development grant from OSU-Ecampus and an additional $3.5K from the Department of Crop and Soil Science, I co-developed a new course--SOIL 511: “Soil: A Natural and Societal Resource”, and co-taught with Dr. Richard Roseberg in the 2019 and 2020 Winter terms. It purposely serves degree- and non-degree-seeking graduate learners wanting soil science knowledge but having a minimal science background. The course explains how soil physical, chemical, and biological properties encourage soil and plant health, promote informed soil management, and support individual to global societal values. The SOIL 511 curriculum facilitates graduate degrees or certificates, continuing education/licensure renewal requirements (CEUs), professional development units (PDUs) for K-12 and college science teachers, and self-improvement goals of natural resource organization members or private individuals.

Our cross-institutional course co-developers include Richard J. Roseberg, PhD; Director, Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC); and John L. Havlin, PhD; North Carolina State University, Crop and Soil Sciences Department.

The Dirt Path

My first professional posting was with the USDA Forest Service's Institute of Tropical Forestry in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico from 1973-1985. Although the USDA-ARS had 30+ years of crop research across the Island, no one had investigated soil/site relationships in natural forests, or exotic conifers and hardwoods being planted to establish local wood industries. A Government Employee Training Act (GETA) grant supported my 2-year coursework program from 1976-1978 and then a PhD co-major in Forestry/Soil Science at North Carolina State University – Raleigh in 1981. With this degree I advanced as Research Forester and Research Soil Scientist in Puerto Rico and then in Corvallis, OR, until my retirement from the USDA Forest Service in 2001.

Working as a part-time Research Associate with OSU’s College of Forestry from 2001-2008, I fostered grant writing, research, and outreach on sustainable natural resource management. This work lead to participating in a cross-campus effort creating the Sustainable Natural Resources (SNR) Graduate Certificate. This certificate and the following online College of Forestry Master of Natural Resources (MNR) degree had no soil course options. My prior affiliation with North Carolina State University – Raleigh prompted a “light-bulb” idea in May 2012 to convert an existing 3-credit “basic soils” undergraduate semester course taught there, SSC 185: “Land and Life,” to a graduate version at OSU. This idea slowly but surely led to developing SOIL 511.

Planting the Seeds

For instruction and outreach, SOIL 511 curriculum, learning materials, and instructional focus are directed at several learner cohorts, all wanting soils knowledge but having little, if any, prior academic or work experience in life science disciplines. Students integrate their new soils knowledge from weekly topics and assignments to produce a Soils Problem or Soils Topic Case Study. A Case Study allows each learner to develop their holistic view of the intricate interrelationships between soils, water, air, and other natural resources to produce food, fiber, feed, and fuel crops, from home/community gardens to corporate farms. Understanding these relationships, along with diverse societal goals, determines best practices for use, enhancement, or protection of soils plus improved plant health in temperate and tropical areas.