Department of Soil Science graduates its 500th Ph.D. student

The Department of Soil Science recently graduated its 500th Ph.D. student, a milestone that is likely unmatched by any other soil department in the world. The department was founded a little over 130 years ago, and the first two B.S. degrees in soil science were awarded in 1905, followed a year later by the first M.S. degree. The first Ph.D. degree was awarded in 1918 to Harlow Walster who grew up on a farm in Troy, Wisconsin. He later became the dean of the North Dakota Agricultural College.

Let’s do the numbers! In total, the department has awarded 2,409 degrees of which 1,312 were B.S. degrees and 597 were M.S. degrees. There were peaks in B.S. degrees in the early 1950s and early 1980s, and both the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees have been steady over the past 40 years with, on average, four to five per year. The 500th Ph.D. degree was awarded to Yakun Zhang, who conducted research on novel methods of soil profile characterization and digital soil morphometrics.

Soil science graduates at the December 2019 commencement. Yakun Zhang, with the yellow roses, is the department’s 500th Ph.D. student!