Personnel Spotlight: Laura Weingartner

Hey Xplorers! (Sidenote: What do you all think of that name?) Welcome to the first edition of our brand new series — Personnel Spotlights!

At TerraX, we know we have the best team working in CRM today. Our people are bright, dedicated, and always excited to explore and learn something new. Yup, we’re nerds, and we’re proud of it, too!

All of our team members are truly fantastic at what they do, and that’s why we wanted to take some time to highlight them and show you a little bit more about what makes each of them a unique and important part of our company. First up: Laura Weingartner, TerraX’s resident soil scientist!

As an ~Agronomist~ (if you’d like to use the fancy academic term) and technical report writer for TerraX, Laura has brought a level of expertise and enthusiasm that are truly unparalleled. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty (literally!) and her intellectual curiosity and specialized knowledge greatly increase and improve the level of service we’re able to provide for our clients. Let’s dig a little deeper and learn a little bit more about our favorite soils expert!

A Little Bit About Laura

Laura is based in Columbia, Missouri, and she’s been working with us since last year. We brought her on last summer as our new Report Writer and Field Soil Scientist, but she’s been working in the CRM field longer than that! Laura has her Bachelor’s in Plant Science and a Master’s in Soil Science — making her our certified soils expert — and she’s had a few incredible experiences along the way.

Laura started working in the field as an undergrad, and she had the opportunity to work on a couple of incredible projects. Through the University of Missouri-Columbia Research Farm, Laura participated in research on Weed Science and Alternative Crops. There, she gained practical knowledge about the kinds of machinery used on farms today. Perhaps more importantly, however, Laura learned more about the kind of work she would do throughout her career. She discovered the real rigors of fieldwork and learned how to apply her classroom knowledge out in the dirt. Thankfully, the experience only fueled Laura’s passion and enjoyment for the field, and she decided to continue seeking new and exciting opportunities.

After graduation, Laura went on to intern at The Land Institute in Salina Kansas as a Soil Quality Intern. There, she got to be actively involved in programs dedicated to creating new and innovative farming practices to help us protect the environment. Throughout history, humans have used a variety of farming practices that, ultimately, have done a lot of damage to our soil. As a soil scientist Laura fit right in at The Land Institute. However, she realized that her academic journey wasn’t quite finished, and she decided to go back to school.

At Kansas State University-Manhattan, Laura earned her Master’s in Soil Science. Her thesis was a thorough study comparing soil properties in a conventional farming system versus an organic farming system. Then, armed with both formal educational and practical skills, Laura was able to set out into a varied and fascinating career, which (so far!) has included environmental monitoring, land appraisal, soil surveying, and now CRM work with us!

Our Girl Laura Is the Real Deal

By now it should be clear that Laura is actually amazing, but if you need more proof, check this out:

One time, Laura had the opportunity to visit an archaeological excavation out in Wyoming. She was there to evaluate the soil profile, but she got to work with a team of other incredibly bright people, including an archaeologist from the Bureau of Land Management, several field scientists, and volunteers. They were out near a small glacial lake west of the Wind River mountain range, excavating a Pre-contact site.

While they investigated the site, the lead archaeologist collected several soil samples for analysis and radiocarbon dating and decided to start up a little guessing game among the team: How old did they think the site would turn out to be?

Other team members started throwing out guesses — 3,000 years, 4,000 years, some even guessed as high as 6,000 years back! But Laura wasn’t so sure. She rolled up her (proverbial) sleeves and pushed up her (metaphorical) glasses and noted the lack of clay films and soil profile development and guessed that the site had to be younger than 3,000 years. However, they’d have to wait to hear from the lab to know for sure.

The test came back — the site was officially dated at less than 2,000 years old.

That’s right, y’all — our girl Laura is the best in the biz when it comes to estimating site ages based on the appearance of soil samples!

Now, was Laura’s guess enough to officially date the site? We guess not. But how incredible that she was able to offer a better estimate than anyone else based on her specific knowledge! It just goes to show how much we can learn from soil analysis, and it’s why we’re so glad to have Laura on our team.

Ah, The Joys of Fieldwork

It’s true that Laura’s done her fair share of fieldwork in her career, and as everyone who does fieldwork knows, things can get a little crazy.

Early in her career, Laura worked as a Soil Scientist for the USDA-NRCS. In that position, she spent a lot of her time working in the field alone. She managed quite a lot of heavy equipment, performed many transect digs, and overall had to do a lot of challenging physical work in addition to her analysis work. It wasn’t easy!

On a particular project — again out in Wyoming — Laura was digging through some rocky terrain. It had already been a long day, and she’d been hauling heavy equipment including a shovel, auger, and rock bar in addition to her back pack. For this particular project, she was out digging 10 holes to a depth of three feet each day — you can see why she was so tired! This was challenging, time-consuming work, so you can imagine Laura’s surprise when she heard a strange noise and saw dirt flying into the air about 30 feet away. Who else was there, and how on earth were they digging so quickly?!

Laura walked over to investigate, and what did she find but a badger! The little guy was digging just as fast as he could, and in a matter of minutes, dug a similar-sized hole to the ones Laura had been digging. In that moment, Laura had two thoughts simultaneously: She was, of course, incredibly humbled that this little creature could dig so much more quickly and efficiently than we can, and she really wished she could have been a badger!

Can You Guess Who We’ll Highlight Next?

Throughout her academic and professional life, Laura has gotten to do a wide variety of work. She’s used heavy farm machinery, and she’s also spent time in labs analyzing soil samples. She’s worked in the field, and she’s also worked from her office at home. She’s worked in a variety of settings and contexts, but through it all, one thing has remained the same — her intellectual curiosity and willingness to learn something new. As a result of working in fields from farming to archaeology, Laura has seen how different disciplines come together, intersect, and inform each other, and she’s demonstrated how soil science can unite and inform those other fields. Laura loves learning from her peers and co-workers, and we love her willingness to — ahem — dig deeper.

As we were preparing for this post, Laura shared with us that, growing up, she always wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer. While we’re sure her moves are impressive, we’re grateful she stuck with soil science so she could join our team!

Thank you so much for checking out this personnel spotlight! We’re excited to celebrate our incredible team members, and we look forward to sharing more of these in the future. Can you guess who we’ll feature next? And do you have any questions you’d like us to ask them? Let us know on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time, keep learning!

— The TerraX Team