From engineer to agronomist: Mitch Baum

July 16, 2019

Mitch Baum grew up in central Iowa. A Bondurant Blue Jay, he came to Iowa State to be an engineer.

“One problem, I didn’t really understand what engineers did on a day to day basis,” said Baum.

After realizing engineering wasn’t as hands on as he had hoped, Baum remembered a class about soil he really enjoyed taught by Dr. Michael Thompson.

“I didn’t grow up on a farm,” said Baum. “I had no experience with agronomy but I took that class and wound up talking soil chemistry with Dr. Thompson during his office hours.”

Based on his interest in soil chemistry, Baum made the switch changing his major to agronomy.

While taking classes, Baum got a job as an hourly research associate in agronomy with Dr. Mary Wiedenhoeft. Baum’s efforts as an undergrad paid off. Wiedenhoeft introduced him to Dr. Sotirios Archontoulis who offered him a master’s position, jointly administered by Dr. Mark Licht.

For his master’s degree, Baum researched the interaction between planting date and hybrid relative maturity on yield, an extremely timely topic considering the planting season.

“The data showed the highest yield potential is to plant as soon as possible with the longest relative maturity,” said Baum. “The longer the plant has to grow, the bigger it can get.”

Weather pending, of course. This Spring made that challenging.

For someone who wanted to be an engineer, Baum’s path took many unexpected turns.

“When I graduated high school, I never would have guessed I’d be getting a master’s,” Baum said. “And now I’ve decided to go on and get my Ph.D. I never would have guessed that.”

Baum is now working on a long-term nitrogen Ph.D project with Archontoulis and anticipates finishing in a few years.

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