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When Melissa Stresing left her family's dairy farm in Tillamook County to attend Oregon State, she was adamant that she was going to not work in agriculture. The senior, who will be graduating in June 2013 with a B.S. in Crop and Soil Science with an option in Soil Science, started out as an environmental engineering major.
"I'm good at math," she explained. "But not THAT good."
Stresing found herself drawn to soil science after taking SOIL 205 Soil Science taught by James Cassidy. She began to see how soil interconnects and sustains all aspects of agriculture. And how, by working with the government through the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), she began putting into practice soil conservation methods that helped avoid erosion and soil degradation.
"I'm drawn to soil science because I want to understand the interactions, interactions among bacteria, plants, and fungi, all occurring in soil and affecting agriculture." said Stresing.
Working directly with landowners, Stresing drew on their experiences working on the land. "Because I grew up on a farm, I can see the issues from the landowner's perspective," she explained. " I know that we need to look at soil issues from many angles: what are the benefits to the farm in the long term and is it cost effective, as well as good for the soil."
Stresing, working for the NRCS as an intern for the past three years, has been assigned three very different areas of Oregon to work in. Her first assignment was in her hometown of Tillamook, where her focus was on preventing erosion. The next year, she moved to Pendleton where she delved into issues in water quality. Finally, she has been working in Tangent, partnering with the Willamette Valley's grass seed farmers to tackle soil problems in a wetland environment.
She also interned at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in early 2011, working with biochar as part of their Tropical Plants and Soil Science program.
All this internship work has led to a full time job opportunity, as well. After graduating, Stresing will become a Soil Conservationist with the NRCS in an yet-to-be determined area in Oregon.
"I'm excited no matter where I'm assigned. Eastern Oregon is so different from Western Oregon—there will be interesting challenges no matter where I am!" she said.
Stresing is also looking forward to working on NRCS's Soil Health Initiative, dedicated to preserving and encouraging soil health and quality around the United States.
As for students interested in Soil Science, she recommends getting to know the Soils professors. "All of them have welcomed me with open arms anytime to visit with them, plan for the future, or just learn something new."