UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Katie Turner, a 2013 Penn State graduate in environmental resource management, is putting her love of soil science to good use as the Pennsylvania agricultural program manager for The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization that serves the global community.
Turner said she always has loved nature and knew she wanted to work in the environmental field. Although she grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Camp Hill, her family taught her from a young age to appreciate and seek understanding of the natural world. Turner regularly visited local farms and the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and her parents also made sure she was aware of the connection between agricultural stewardship and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
While in high school, Turner attended the Pennsylvania Governor's School for Agricultural Sciences, now known as the Pennsylvania School for Excellence in the Agricultural Sciences, a summer residential program at Penn State's University Park campus that provides rising high school seniors an opportunity to explore the agricultural and natural-resource sciences. She said the experience opened her eyes to how agriculture and the environment interact and helped her find her niche in environmental resource management.
As freshman in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Turner discovered the field of soil science and was intrigued. "Healthy soils are critical for producing healthy crops," she said. "A single teaspoon of soil contains up to a billion bacteria, fungi and invertebrates that work together to increase nutrient availability and water-holding capacity. Farmers and gardeners increasingly recognize the importance of healthy soil. There's still a lot to learn about how healthy soils benefit humanity."
Turner, who also has a master's degree in plant and soil science from the University of Delaware, has worked at The Nature Conservancy for about a year. It is the world's largest conservation organization, working in 72 countries to apply cutting-edge science to the conservation of land and water for future generations.
As the conservancy's agricultural program manager in Pennsylvania, Turner's work varies from day to day, which is one of the things she likes most about her job. "I don't do the same thing every day," she said. "It's a lot of partnership-building, and I love that I get to interact with so many interesting people. I work with a number of organizations, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Penn State Extension and various agribusinesses."
The conservancy is focused on finding solutions to meet the growing demands of people and nature including food, clean water and habitat. In Pennsylvania, Turner hopes to strengthen the organization's relationships with its agribusiness partners to increase the implementation of practices that make economic sense for farmers while reducing nutrient and sediment pollution that eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay. "We are working together to help farmers more precisely apply nutrients to feed their crops so that fewer nutrients leave the farm field," she said.
Turner also works closely with the Pennsylvania 4R Alliance, an organization that collaborates with farmers to develop science-based systems to improve crop productivity through more-efficient nutrient use and reduction in losses of nutrients to the environment.
"I'm looking forward to bringing 4R nutrient-management principles to farmers around the state in hopes they might be widely adopted as standard practice," Turner said. "It is exciting to use my background and experience in soil science to help make the world a better place."
Turner's adviser in environmental resource management at Penn State, Robert Shannon, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, explained that Turner developed her passion for soil science and environmental issues before she came to Penn State, participating in the Pennsylvania Envirothon as a high school student.
"When she came to Penn State for Governor's School, we had the opportunity to interact, and she was convinced that the environmental resource management program perfectly suited her interests," he said. "Her involvement as a Schreyer Honors College scholar, on the soil judging team and in studying abroad epitomizes the student engagement that our program offers."
In addition, students who participate in the Pennsylvania Envirothon and come to Penn State to major in environmental resource management become eligible for the new Robert and Tammy Shannon Environmental Resource Management Scholarship.
Turner said her Penn State degree has been beneficial to her career. "It's given me a lot of credibility in my field," she said. "Employers and other professionals know that students receive a high-quality education from Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences."
She added, "All my experiences at Penn State really culminated in this position at The Nature Conservancy. Through my undergraduate research, I met with some of the partners I'm working with today. Both my research and the connections I made were the keys to helping me get this position. It's all about networking and making the most of your opportunities."