First Cynthia Cambardella Scholarship Focuses on Soils and Helping Fellow Africans

May 11, 2021

From Senegal to Ames

Growing up in Senegal, Africa, Malcolm St. Cyr (Junior-Agronomy), witnessed first-hand how food supplies were limited in his country due to farmers’ lack of access to equipment, supplies and transportation to markets. While Senegal’s soils are fertile, and a broad diversity of crops are grown, ranging from sorghum to mangoes, current climate challenges dictate the use of an agroecological perspective, based on organic amendments and rotating crops, to protect soils and conserve moisture. This focus on soils is what led Malcolm to enroll at Iowa State University and pursue a B.S. in Agronomy while working in Dr. Marshall McDaniel’s (Agronomy) soil quality and soil–plant interactions lab. Malcolm intends to complete his B.S. in Agronomy next year and pursue graduate studies, where he can dive deeper into developing “culturally sensitive, sustainable solutions and better ways of farming.” “I may be able to offer solutions to some problems of most concern to me and the sub-Saharan region of Africa,” he adds. Meanwhile, he is currently “paying it forward” at ISU by helping other students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences through his peer mentorship in programs like ACES (Agricultural Community Encourages Success). He looks forward to spending time in Senegal post-pandemic, working on sustainable/organic projects–one of which just may turn out to be his Ph.D. dissertation!


Honoring a great soil scientist: Cynthia Cambardella

Colleagues of Dr. Cynthia Cambardella, soil scientist at USDA-ARS and in the Dept. of Agronomy, established a scholarship in her name after her untimely passing in September 2020. Her groundbreaking research evaluating the effects of organic farming systems on water quality will forever change our understanding of organic systems’ impacts on water quality, showing that the nitrogen load losses for conventional systems are nearly twice as high as those from the organic systems. Unlike the majority of studies which rely on models or mathematical calculations to estimate nitrate loss, Dr. Cambardella’s experiment rigorously quantified water flow and nitrate loss using subsurface drainage lines and equipment to collect water samples and monitor subsurface drainage water flow and nutrient loss. She also worked at multiple scales across space and time to define impacts of cropping systems on critical ecosystem services such as C sequestration, nutrient cycling, water storage, and erosion mitigation. With the criteria for the Cambardella scholarship including an Agronomy undergraduate student with an interest in soil quality and organic farming, Malcolm St. Cyr was the committee’s top choice as its first recipient. “Malcolm embodied the kind of student Cindy would champion—she was always assisting students with research ideas and career plans, especially underrepresented students in agriculture,” Dr. Kathleen Delate (Horticulture and Agronomy), Cambardella Scholarship chair, explained. “We are so grateful to her colleagues across the U.S. for supporting this scholarship to perpetuate her legacy in soil health,” she added.