Highlighting Women in the Soil Sciences
Updated: Jul 20
Together, let’s celebrate the Soil Sciences by highlighting the women that strive to shape the present and future of such a fascinating discipline. Not one story is the same as they all come from different backgrounds, but they all coincide in their passion for soils. Their work is inspired by the fact that soils are the foundation of society and support all forms of life. We've asked them to share with us what working with soils has taught them, why are soils valuable and why should women be highlighted in this field.
These are their stories.
Annelisse graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM) as an Agronomist in 2013 and continued her graduate studies and became a Soil Scientist in 2017 at the same institution. As of now, she’s the Project Coordinator at the Central Analytical Laboratory from the UPRM Agricultural Experimental Station where she manages the Soils Lab in which they analyze soils, plant tissue, fruits, and water.
'Working with soils has taught me how resilient nature can be. We often think of soils that are not useful can’t be fixed but with the right management, any soil can be turned around to make it productive and produce food for our communities.'
'Soils are important because they are used for growing our food, but more importantly, they contain all the necessary elements to sustain life. Women should be highlighted because we are a minority working with the most vital element in Earth’s ecosystem.'
Caitlin Anne Hodges
Caitlin is a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State University studying soil science and biogeochemistry. Her research focuses on the interactions between minerals and carbon within soils. Soils are the largest sink for carbon on land, and so it is important to understand the mechanisms that control the retention and release of carbon from soils.
‘I love studying soils because I must account for the chemical, biological, and physical processes at all times when tackling a research question. Soil science is so fun because it is such an interdisciplinary science. So I suppose, on the flip side of that, working with soils has taught me humility because there is no way to be an expert in everything about soils.’
‘Soils support our food and act as key moderators of the elemental cycles that regulate our climate. I think in general soil science is under-appreciated, and so women in soil science should be recognized for their important work. Additionally, soil science has been a largely white, cis-gendered heterosexual male-dominated field, and so we should lift up the voices of those in our field with different backgrounds.’
Darline has a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Engineering and currently, is a Soil Science graduate student at the UPRM. As part of her study, she’s working on a soil quality project, which is considered as the ability of a soil to produce healthy food, maintain water and air quality, and sustain habitat and human survival. She’s evaluating the physical, chemical, and biological properties of two series of soils of the Oxisol order under two management systems.
‘I've learned the patience that one must have to achieve one's goals. It has expanded my knowledge about the different processes that are occurring in nature. Hence, I have clearly understood the need to keep this resource in good condition for humanity’s well-being. From that moment on, I am committed to taking actions, the smallest ones, to intervene in one way or another in the mobilization for the restoration and conservation of soils.’
'The functions of soils greatly involve the survival of human beings. It’s necessary that we use them in sustainable ways. Women involved with soils are doing extremely important work in society, they must stand out so that more women get involved. In this way, we can educate the general public about the importance of soils and how we should protect them in order to reduce damage to the environment.’
Louceline received her bachelor’s in agricultural engineering from Zamorano University in Honduras, and her M.Sc. in Horticulture and Crop Science from The Ohio State University. She’s recently joined the School of Environment and Natural Resources, pursuing her Ph.D. in soil science. Part of her research involves the evaluation of different management practices on soil health properties.
'I've learned about biodiversity, the important role of microorganisms living in the soil, and their influence on ecosystem services. I have learned that soil is one of our most important natural resources. And now more than ever we need to protect our soils and keep them healthy. Food security, resilient cropping systems, better climate, and human health, they too start with healthy soil. '
'Soils are very important for agriculture. Life would have been nearly impossible without soils. I think women working with soils should be highlighted so they can inspire younger generations to join and contribute to their effort in protecting and keeping soils healthy.'
Jaclyn is a soil pedology and viticulture Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech. She studies ways in which soils impact winegrapes' properties and wine taste. She did her B.Sc. degrees (2) at the University of Maryland. Grapevine's unique soil fertility and hydrology requirements inspired her to study soils in vineyards in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.A.
'It’s easy to think of soil as inactive and unchanging. Quite the opposite is true: soils are dynamic natural bodies that grow food (and impact the taste of your wine!), support structures, store carbon, and filter water. They have a past and future and are constantly changing alongside us, and often by us.'
'Soil sustains life as we know it, but there is so much we still do not know about it. We definitely need more women in soil science - women have different perspectives and experiences, and we can be just as good at wielding a shovel. Whether you are into agriculture, environmental science, climate science, public health, or some other field, soil probably has a large influence, so don’t treat it like dirt!'
Horticulture, soil fertility, and soil microbial ecology are the foundation of Johanie's expertise as an agronomist and a soil scientist. She has a B.Sc. and M.Sc. from the UPRM, and a Ph.D. from Kansas State University. She's been studying the nitrogen cycle, soil microbial dynamics, and greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural systems in temperate and tropical systems in collaboration with research groups from Puerto Rico, the midwest region of the U.S., Australia, and Colombia. Currently, she works as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Hawaii Manoa, leading a U.S. Climate Alliance project.
'Life is a balance, and soils are our foundation. Soils have a history and require a constant dynamic and balance of nutrients and organisms to maintain an ecosystem and provide the innumerous services we benefit from.'
'Healthy soils are essential to maintain social, economic, and environmental sustainability in a community and a nation. By raising awareness of our roles as women in soil sciences and agriculture, we encourage others to understand this discipline and our role as citizens to preserve our soil resources and support our community's resiliency.'
Mariela has a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from the UPRM. Currently, she’s enrolled in a master’s degree in Soil Science and her focus explores the chemistry and mineralogy of the soils in Vieques, PR.
‘With soils, I’ve learned to understand the process that occurs in soils, to treasure and conserve the soils because they are a vital resource in human life.’
'Soils provide us with the basic resources for the sustenance of human life. Women must be highlighted because that will encourage future generations to take an interest in this wonderful field.'
Michelle H. Álvarez Beauchamp
Michelle is a graduate student at UPRM conducting research in hemp to evaluate which are best agricultural practices for the establishment in Puerto Rican soils. She’s learned about the proper management of the crop for the conservation of the soil and the environment in which we live. Through laboratory analyses, she’s been able to explore the vast universe that soils are.
‘I’ve discovered a micro-universe with infinite possibilities by studying how soils interact with other entities. I know now how to take care of them and understand each element that makes up soils. Studying soils and what is related to them is like traveling into space without leaving planet Earth.’
‘Soils are valuable because many times we do not know what is under our feet. Soil studies give us better knowledge to understand and preserve this universe. People must excel in soil science and agriculture because there is still much to discover which will make the world better.‘
Paola M. Feliciano Pabón
Paola is a Soil Science graduate student at the UPRM. She works on determining the effect of intensive fertilization treatments in the mitigation of Citrus Greening disease in Red Rhode Valencia and Improved Meyer Lemon trees. She analyzes soil chemical properties and the nutritional content of soil and citrus trees which are then correlated with fertilizer applications.
‘Soils are a limited resource for which their conservation is not given as much importance as other resources. An increasing amount of soils viable for agricultural production are lost due to the accelerated rate of urbanization of this land.’
'Soils don’t only play a role in food production, but also in clothing production, art, and building material. Women involved with soils should be highlighted because they can serve as role models for younger females that want to be part of this field but feel discouraged to do so since they might consider it to be male-dominated.'
Patricia Ann Lazicki
Patricia is a Soils and Biogeochemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University of California Davis (UC Davis). She studies ways for farmers to optimize their management techniques to maximize the benefits and reduce the risks associated with using fertilizers. In her Ph.D. project, she uses a variety of biological, physical, and chemical assays to measure the effects of compost addition on different aspects of soil health such as carbon sequestration, stress resilience, and crop yields.
'Working with soils has taught me humility. Soils are places of infinite heterogeneity and nuance, and working with them trains one to never start thinking you know the “right” answer because it will almost always be contextual.'
'Soils are the foundation of life on earth, and I think that humans need soil in order to be happy and healthy. Also, soil is just very interesting!'
Suzette is a Soils and Biogeochemistry Master's student at UC Davis. Her project is focused on developing a nitrogen budgeting calculator for growers in the Central Valley of California. The goal of her research is to reduce nitrate leaching into groundwater and assist growers with mandated fertilizer reporting.
'Soils provide an amazing opportunity to reflect on the unseen incomprehensible diversity of microbial life that is required to support all biological systems and that same invaluable and essential diversity is mirrored in humanity. It reminds me daily that a lifetime isn’t long enough to study something as complex as soil, and that’s a good reminder not to take this precious life for granted. Soil shows us that there is always something to learn, and even the most experienced soil scientists will admit that they feel as though they are just beginning on their journey of understanding its intricacies.'
'Without the cacophony of biology coursing through them, the earth would be just a rock floating in space. People who study soils have this down-to-earth nature that is undeniable and women who choose the path of soil are warriors of the Earth who have chosen one of the most humbling fields of study possible. Women are just like soils, they are the powerhouses of every society, they are the farmers, the teachers, the creators of families and life; and most of this work is thankless and invisible labor of love, so we need to support each other and show the world that we have voices and we will be heard.'
Tvisha K. Martin
Tvisha is currently a soil science master’s student in the Sprunger Lab at The Ohio State University where she specializes in understanding soil biological relationships for the enhancement of soil health within perennial and annual cropping systems.
‘Working with soils has taught me that soils are the source of life and growth; soils are so complex and the health of the soil can determine the health of the ecosystem.’
'Soils are valuable because they govern crop productivity and food security. Currently, the field of soil science is lacking in women; therefore, women need to become involved in this discipline. Additionally, I believe that as women, we have the capability of bringing a greater diversity of ideas and solutions to the field of soil science.'
Yailyn Rosado Martínez
Yailyn completed her bachelor's degree in the Department of Agricultural Engineering and Biosystems in the Agricultural and Environmental Systems program at UPRM. Currently, she’s a soil science master’s student at the same institution. Her research is focused on comparing and determining soil health between two different soil orders and series under intensive tillage vs no-tillages in the central zone of the island.
‘Studying soils has been the best experience I have had. They are our means of food, therefore important for the health of plants, animals, and human beings. When we maintain healthy soil, we are promoting productivity and high crop yields for our use and benefit.’
‘When I started studying agriculture, there were few women in the classrooms, which has changed over the years. It fills me with joy and pride to see the participation of strong, dedicated, and hardworking women imparting their knowledge in this field of study. We, women, are capable of doing any job that is presented to us because we do it with passion; and that same love we transmit when we work in agriculture.’
Thank you all for sharing your perspectives!
The field of Soil Science is proud to rely on such remarkable women.
We wish you the best, now and always.
This article was written by WAGS members Patricia Marie Cordero Irizarry and Noelymar González Maldonado in collaboration with Zoelie Rivera Ocasio, founder of @zoils.pr and @arte.suelo.ser, a project that highlights the relationship between soils and humanities.