How to Be Successful in Online Education

Soil Science Online: How to Be Successful in Online Education

The thought of online and distance education is intriguing to some and intimidating to others. On one hand, who wouldn’t want to go to school in the comfort of their own home? On the other hand, without a strict schedule and distractions abound, is it really possible to learn something?

In this month’s Soil Science Online Blog, we’ll tackle these questions and offer advice on how to be successful in your online education at NC State. Who knows? Maybe distance learning could be a great solution to your educational goals.

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Growing the Future

The Department of Crop and Soil Sciences is pleased to announce our new department strategic plan, “Growing the Future

Our plan has five strategic directions addressing priority areas in teaching, research and extension.  In addition, you will find our vision and mission statements along with Core Values that we embrace in this department. This plan will guide our department and provide a framework for investing department resources.

We look forward to “Growing the Future”

Download a copy here

Dr. Tommy Carter leads NC State-USDA collaboration for first high-yielding, drought-resistant soybean cultivar


Only a day of rain could bring Dr. Tommy Carter in from the research fields to his greenhouse here on campus. This persevering dedication is largely responsible for his success in the research partnership that has resulted in the first drought-resistant soybean cultivar.

This recently introduced cultivar exhibits slow or delayed canopy wilting, sustained nitrogen fixation during drought stress, and a water-conserving transpiration response to drying air. In other words: it’s drought-resistant, and as such, it has become the basis for drought resistant breeding in the USA. How it came to be is a success story Dr. Carter is happy to share: a complex story taking place over decades; a tale of unprecedented collaboration.

tc1Dr. Tommy Carter in the greenhouse. His bumper sticker reads: “Our profession feeds the world.”


Dr. Carter is a generous scientist, crediting many faculty and staff contributions through the long-ranging combination of studies stretching over three decades.

He begins, “This has been such a true joint collaboration by NC State and USDA.” Dr. Carter also acknowledges generous funding from NC Soybean Producers, the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board through the years of research.

“It’s a continuing process. When we started on this, there was basically nothing known about drought-tolerance in soybeans, so we’ve had to invent technology as we’ve gone along: how do you breed for it? We know how to measure certain aspects of how plants respond to stress. Plant physiologists have known how to do that, and [that knowledge is] getting better all the time. But how do you breed for drought tolerance? That’s something that we’ve had to build as we’ve gone along.”

The research began more than thirty years ago. “The first 15 years of this work was about screening the germplasm collection from around the world.” (Germplasm contains the information for a plant species’ makeup.) “We’d screen for the ones that looked interesting, then do the first round of breeding from them. We started at square one, where there was nothing known.”


Dr. Carter recalls NC State personnel. “Gene Kamprath did a lot of consulting to get me up to speed. We want to include Doug Gross’s post doc work. But even before that, Jim Dunphy, soybean extension specialist, had his graduate student, Al Wood looking at that variety. Working with post doc Jim Cappy, Dr. Carter found that “there’s not much natural variation in cultivars farmers were growing for this trait, so we started to look at exotic materials and grow them on sand piles.”


1982 brought the first really systematic screening of a germplasm collection for resistance to drought, performed at the NCDA Clinton Horticultural Crops Research Station. “We were growing, testing there for a couple of years…then came a big drought during flowering time.”

A momentous day
Hundreds of soybean plants of various genotypes were exposed to the drought. “On the day we visited, all the plants were wilted– except for one genotype. The same was true in the two other fields of soybeans: only one genotype was standing healthy.” They were all reps of the same genotype. A eureka moment? “It was a momentous day. No doubt about it.”

This soybean cultivar had an unusual response to drying air: most plants shrivel up, straining for more moisture; this one stayed healthy by conserving water within itself.


tc2Normal soybeans on the left wilt under drought stress. On the right, the drought tolerant plants. –  Photo credit: Dr. Thomas Carter


Enter Dr. Bob Patterson. “Bob taught me a lot about the physiology of plants and gave me a lot of ideas about how breeders can adapt what physiologists know about how to screen for drought tolerance.

Jim Cappy and Doug Gross and I ID’ed it as a soybean type from Japan: P(lant) I(ntroduction) 416937.”

“Grad student Rick Sloan, Bob Patterson and I published the first paper about the unusual root system that characterized this PI. It was definitely slow wilting, had an unusual root system.”

“In the late 90s, Tom Rufty got in the game with us; he started working with us on this PI. He’s a physiologist, figuring out the mechanism, which featured high aluminum response in acid subsoil response.”

“We got a big shot in the arm 1999-2000. Tom Sinclair moved here and we added other breeders and wound up being a kind of consortium of researchers.”

Expanding the study

The United Soybean Board provided funds to expand the study, so even more of the cultivars were screened until another resistant one was found, this time one from Nepal which had different mechanisms. Dr. Carter’s team started breeding both, with research conducted as parallel studies for a few years, then as one study which led to the new cultivar: the culmination of groundbreaking collaborative research by plant breeders and plant physiologists.

What’s next for this exceptional new cultivar? It’s a non-GMO variety, so while it’s available as a commercial seed, it’s also finding a strong market as parental stock. “And there’s plenty of room to expand and continue the research.”

Dr. Carter earned his B.S. and M.S. from University of Georgia.  “That program was more of the physiology bent, but I studied the breeding angle using physiology outlook and terms.” Then he “came home” to NCSU for his Ph.D.

“I think the combination of those two experiences is what gave me the insight to pursue something that we didn’t know much about, but had confidence we could get somewhere. NC State is the Mecca for breeding. The Sandhills Research Station is probably one of the best places in the country to do our work.”

After leading the way for others to continue cultivar research, Dr. Tommy Carter maintains a characteristically modest view of his achievement.

“It’s been fun…I want to make a difference. Turns out science has been fun. That’s what we do in agriculture. It’s science, but it also solves problems and at the end of the day, you’ve made a difference. That’s true of USDA as well as Crop and Soil Sciences. Do good science, but make a difference. That’s what I preach to my students.”

-Kaki Carl

New Department for Crop Science and Soil Science

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, at NC State University, is merging two departments, Crop Science and Soil Science, effective July 1, 2016.  The merger is part of a reorganization of the college to improve innovation and efficiency in teaching, research and extension.  I am excited to serve as the department head of the combined departments of Crop Science and Soil Science, as I see great opportunities for the future. We plan to announce our new department name later this summer.

Our two departments have a proud and rich heritage, beginning in 1877, of serving agriculture in North Carolina. More recently, the Department of Soil Science has developed an outstanding environmental science program mainly focused in non-agricultural areas.  Faculty from both departments are recognized for their leadership in innovation, technology transfer, excellence in educating and training students, and dedication to the NC agricultural community.

In many ways, the two departments already work well together- we collaborate on research and extension projects, we share the same undergraduate teaching degree program, and we share Williams Hall.  We collaborate together on many research fronts including environmental studies (i.e. Dan River Coal Ash release), food production systems, climate change studies, bioenergy crops, and microbiology studies involving cover crops and row crops.  Our faculty and staff do a great job of working together to advance the science of agronomy and environmental science.

Head and Professor Emeritus, Range Science Department of Crop and Soil Sciences

Dr Jeff Mullahey

The new department will be bigger allowing us to serve more students, pursue “new fields” in research, and provide timely science-based information through Extension to better serve the citizens of North Carolina and around the world.  I see great opportunities in teaching, research, and extension coming from this merger.  With the rapid urbanization of NC, the need to preserve farmland for food production, and the importance of protecting natural resources, the new department can provide leadership by leading teams of scientists to develop science-based solutions that protect the environment and serve agriculture in NC.  We will pursue systems-level research to address global challenges (increase food production, food security, changes in climate, sustainability, etc.) through projects that study both soil and crops. The merged department will explore new frontiers in agriculture and environmental science like the “microbiome”,  new technologies such as UAV’s and drones to collect spatial data on crops and soils, and water availability and quality for agriculture and society.  We are excited about opportunities and possibilities resulting from the merger, and we look forward to all of you joining us as we change and become the premiere Crop science and Soil Science department in the country.

Happy Trails
J. Jeffrey Mullahey,

Head, Crop Science and Soil Science

Graduate Student Spotlight: Rachel Atwell

Graduate Student Rachel Atwell

Graduate Student Rachel Atwell

My name is Rachel Atwell and I am a graduate student in the Crop Science Department at North Carolina State University (NCSU). I work primarily in the organic grain cropping lab under the advisement of Dr. Chris Reberg-Horton. My research focuses on screening winter pea genotypes for use as grain, forage, and cover crops in the Southeast and using cover crop mulches for weed suppression in cotton production. I also work on a project under the advisement of Dr. Alan York evaluating Palmer amaranth control in cotton production with dicamba/glufosinate using the new XtendFlex® technology. I grew up in Geneseo, IL and I went to the University of Illinois for my undergraduate education. I received a M.S. degree from the Crop Science Department at NCSU. My M.S. research focused on cultural weed control tactics and fertility management in organic corn and canola production. I decided to come to the Crop Science department at NCSU for graduate school to gain experience with diverse cropping systems. I have been fortunate to work with many commodities during graduate school which has kept life very interesting! In the future I hope to continue to conduct field research and teach agricultural-based classes. In my spare time I love to run, go to the Farmers Market, watch Barefoot Contessa, and bake!

More about Graduate programs

Student Perspectives – Elizabeth Gillispie

Protecting drinking water in Cambodia

The joy Liz Gillispie feels in her research is evident in her face, her smile and in every statement.

The Soil Science doctoral student has returned from two weeks of research in Kandal Province, Cambodia. Within days of coming home, Liz was already at work in her laboratory in Williams Hall, happy to share details of her work.

In Cambodia, Liz gathered sediment samples to look at varying concentrations of manganese, which can potentially impact future arsenic contamination of drinking water. Currently the limited supply of safe drinking water is vulnerable to naturally-occurring arsenic.

Read the full article here