Longtime Faculty Member Takes Helm of Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University

Note to Reporters: A photo of Eugene Kelly is available with the news release at http://www.news.colostate.edu.

Eugene Kelly, a longtime Colorado State University soil scientist with notable interdisciplinary research experience, will take on a new leadership role Aug. 1 as head of the CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

A department faculty member for 22 years, Kelly is a professor of pedology – the study of soil origin and evolution – and has supervised several large, interdisciplinary research projects examining ecological interplay. Many of his federally funded projects have had national and international ties.

Such scientific projects are crucial in light of complex global challenges. These include the need to understand and address climate change, and the need to increase worldwide food supplies for a booming human population, even while conserving natural resources.

“I am delighted that Dr. Kelly will assume responsibilities as the next head of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences,” Craig Beyrouty, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, said. “Dr. Kelly has had an outstanding career as a faculty member in the department since 1989. He has earned the respect of faculty, students and staff, and has displayed a passion and commitment for the land-grant mission that drives our programs.”

Kelly will replace Dr. Gary Peterson, who served for eight years as department head. In May, Peterson was honored as 2011 recipient of the College of Agricultural Sciences Distinguished Career Award for excellence in teaching, research and outreach.

Peterson’s career achievements also were noted in 2010, when he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. With the election, Peterson was honored for his work as president of the Soil Science Society of America and for important applications of soil-science principles to field-related soil management problems.

“The Department of Soil and Crop Sciences has been, and will continue to be, well-served by outstanding leadership,” Beyrouty said. Peterson will retire on Sept. 1, providing a monthlong overlap to aid the leadership transition.

The department has more than 130 undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom are focusing on contemporary issues such as organic agriculture, plant biotechnology, and international soil and crop sciences. Faculty members number about 30.

Kelly said he is excited to lead a department characterized by deep scientific expertise. Soil and Crop Sciences has expanding opportunities to educate CSU students with a wide variety of majors, while also connecting with researchers across campus and around the world, he said.

Indeed, Kelly’s own career demonstrates the connection of his field to broad ecological issues.

“Interdisciplinary research is the only way that we’re going to solve the problems of the planet,” said Kelly, who has served as associate director for the CSU School of Global Environmental Sustainability. “We have to recognize that our problems are complex, and they require new approaches to find solutions.”

Kelly, whose research has attracted grants totalling more than $20 million from the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, studies and lectures on soils as they relate to global change issues and carbon sequestration.

His recent research is based on the South African savannah and focuses on the evolution and fundamental role of grasslands in global biogeochemical cycles. He also worked for eight years as administrative leader and principal investigator of CSU’s Shortgrass Steppe Long Term Ecological Research Program on Colorado’s northeastern plains.

Kelly has taught several undergraduate and graduate-level courses in ecology, pedology and geochemistry; he has guided nearly two dozen graduate students.
He also has served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the National Cooperative Soil Survey and several major research programs. These roles stem from Kelly’s philosophy of soils.

“Soil is the skin of the Earth. It provides protection and nourishment for everything, and it’s part of every other scientific discipline,” said Kelly, a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America. “There’s not one broad system that doesn’t have soil in it.”

Kelly, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CSU and earned his Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley.