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Mentoring Students was the Highlight of Howard Woodard’s 29-Year Career as Soil Science Professor at South Dakota State University

Howard Woodard with a group of Egyptian farmers who he spoke with about tomato production.
Howard Woodard (standing back row second from left) with a group of Egyptian farmers who he spoke with about tomato production

Reflecting on his 29-year career as a soil science professor and researcher at South Dakota State University, Howard Woodard says what he enjoyed most was being a mentor to students. Woodard retired in December of 2018.

“To me, the best part of being a professor was building relationships with students and encouraging them to reach their goals,” Woodard says.

Nominated for emeritus status, Woodard trained more than 4,900 undergraduate students and 60 graduate students in soil fertility, geology and global food systems. He mentored student research that resulted in more than 289 independent and collaborative scholarly works in prestigious journals, books and technical bulletins.

Woodard also provided dedicated leadership to the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science serving as graduate coordinator for 17 years and internship coordinator for eight years.

“Howard brought an uncompromising pursuit of excellence in teaching and scholarly research to SDSU,” says David Wright, head of the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science.

Woodard even mentored students beyond the classroom by serving as an advisor for the Navigators Campus Ministry, Agronomy and Conservation Club and Plant Science Graduate Student Association.

“It really was a joy to be a mentor for students and hopefully make some sort of positive impact on their lives,” Woodard notes.

In addition to teaching, Woodard conducted research focused on fertilizer placement, nutrient recycling, soil testing, and tillage issues regarding crop production and yield.

“Howard established himself as an international leader in soil science,” Wright says. “His work contributed to the education and mentoring of a generation of agronomists, crop consultants, farmers and researchers through important and timely interactions regarding resource management, land stewardship and community responsibility.”

Woodard also served as supervisor of the SDSU Northeast Research Farm located near South Shore for five years. He oversaw and organized the research projects going on at the farm, worked with the board of advisors and helped organized the annual field day.

In January of 1990, Woodard started at SDSU as an assistant professor of soil science with an emphasis in soil fertility. He had a combined research and teaching appointment.

Woodard says he first became interested in agriculture when he worked as a hired hand for local farmers in high school.

“I was really attracted to the fact that these farmers were professionals and business people, but they were also land stewards,” Woodard says. “This stimulated my interest in agriculture.”

Woodard received a Navy ROTC scholarship that allowed him to go to college. He attended the University of Rochester in New York and got a bachelor’s degree in geology.

After graduating, he was commissioned as a Supply Officer in the Navy for five years. After serving in the Navy, Woodard decided to get a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was then offered the opportunity to get a doctorate in agronomy from Rutgers University without having to get a masters first. Woodard took advantage of the opportunity. He went on to get his post-doctorate in agronomy from Texas A&M and married his wife Jo.

“While I was working on my post-doc I realized I wanted to teach and do research,” Woodard explains. Shortly after completing his fellowship, he started his career at SDSU.

Impacting students beyond the SDSU campus, Woodard took advantage of the opportunity to do a faculty exchange and spent four months teaching English courses and sharing about his research, at the Yunnan Normal University in Kunming, China. Woodard brought along his wife and two children, who were two and four years old at the time.

Additionally, he taught a geology course to students at SDSU’s sister college, Unidad Académica Campesina in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia and at Yunnan Normal University in Kunming, China.

“It was such a privilege to have these opportunities to teach abroad,” Woodard says. “I really enjoyed interacting with the students and professors at the universities and I learned how to build trust with people of different cultures.”

Woodard also volunteered as a crop consultant for the United States Department of Agriculture Farmer-to Farmer-Program. As part of the program, he helped farmers and scholars in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Lebanon, Egypt, Cameroon and Ghana increase their understanding of soil management and cropping systems to improve crop yields.

“These experiences helped me be a better professor,” Woodard explains. “I shared what I learned in these countries with my classes in hopes that students would have an understanding of agriculture on the global scale as well.”