Unique Partnership Benefited Students in CAC Soil Science Course for 20 Years

By Angela Askey, Executive Director of Public Relations & Marketing

For the past 20 years , students enrolled in Soil Science (AGS 221) have had an opportunity to learn from two very knowledgeable individuals; one being Professor of Agriculture, Karen Geldmacher and the other Rob Wilson, State Resource Inventory Coordinator with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Together, Geldmacher and Wilson have imparted their knowledge with more than 1,000 CAC students during the capstone Soil Pit Evaluation Lab conducted at the conclusion of each fall semester class. The lab focuses on an evaluation of the soil horizons including soil texture, structure, color, pH, rock fragments and site position.

Geldmacher explained, “Students are always surprised at the scope and diversity of our soil and how valuable soil is to life on earth. Soil is a living and life-giving natural resource, as world population and food production demands rise, knowledge about soil is of paramount importance. I tell our students they are special because they can unlock the secrets of soil.”

For CAC students participating in the lab, it was obvious that the collaborative teaching efforts between Geldmacher and Wilson worked well and benefitted them.

Geldmacher and Wilson also played a paramount role in standardizing the Arizona FFA soil contest and created the Arizona FFA Soil Career Development Event resource guide. The guide includes educational and evaluation materials for Arizona high school FFA members preparing for local, state, and national soil judging contests. They both coached Arizona teams that qualified for the National FFA Contest held every May.

In December 2017, Geldmacher and Wilson conducted their last Soil Pit Evaluation Lab together. After 21 years of teaching at CAC, Karen will be retiring to pursue another career opportunity. Rob also plans to retire later this year, after a 45-year career with the NRCS.

Geldmacher began her career with CAC in 1996, teaching plant science and soil science courses part time. One year later, she was hired as faculty at the Signal Peak Campus to develop multi-media plant science and soil science courses for CAC through a United States Department of Agriculture Grant and in 1999, Karen transitioned to a permanent faculty position with CAC. Throughout the years, she taught soil science, plant science, agriculture leadership development, agriculture internship, natural resources and conservation, and basic surveying and grade staking. In 2015, Geldmacher was named Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Agriculture Teachers Association, being recognized for her efforts in making a positive difference in the lives of agriculture students both at Central Arizona College and throughout the state of Arizona. Following her retirement from CAC, Geldmacher will be working for Americot Inc. performing cotton germplasm and variety research for the state of Arizona.

In addition to his work with the NRCS, Wilson was an adjunct professor for CAC from 1995 until 1997, teaching AGS 122, Natural Resource and Conservation. He also served as a faulty advisor for Honors students. In addition, he was an adjunct instructor at ASU from 1999-2000, teaching soil science courses. Rob concedes that teaching is a much more difficult career than soil mapping in the field.

“Teaching requires a unique dedication and discipline that not everyone possesses,” Wilson said. “Its professors like Karen that spark the interest in students to study soil and resource conservation.”

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to partner with Rob on this capstone project all these years. I have been the benefactor of his immense knowledge of the nature and properties of soil and Rob has impacted many students with his talent as an educator, scientist and conservationist,” concluded Geldmacher. “The highlights of my career at CAC include valuable partnerships with agriculture industries and businesses, student graduation ceremonies, observing and celebrating personal achievements of our students, and the realization of successful agricultural careers for our graduates.”

The teaching partnership between Geldmacher and Wilson represents a very long and extremely successful cooperation between the academic phase and the “down to earth” application of soil science. Their work was effective because of the mutual respect shared between the two, along with their passion for teaching.