Montana State University

MSU to rededicate remodeled soils teaching lab during Celebrate Agriculture event

October 29, 2015 -- Jenny Lavey, MSU News Service

The MSU College of Agriculture will honor MSU Professor Emeritus Hayden Ferguson with a teaching laboratory rededication for his work and service in supporting Montana agriculture.
MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.The newly remodeled and rededicated Hayden Ferguson Soils Teaching Laboratory features more than 40 soil monoliths, or preserved vertical slices of soil profiles with their varied rock content, colors, textures and structures for each soil layer. Photo courtesy of the MSU College of Agriculture.

The MSU College of Agriculture will honor MSU Professor Emeritus Hayden Ferguson with a teaching laboratory rededication for his work and service in supporting Montana agriculture. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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A newly remodeled laboratory from the 1950s, once dark and dated that now features LED lighting and a new window and used by hundreds of students each week, will soon be rededicated to a long-time supporter and advocate of Montana agriculture.

The Montana State University College of Agriculture will honor MSU Professor Emeritus Hayden Ferguson with a teaching laboratory rededication scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5. The rededication is in honor of Ferguson’s work and service in supporting Montana agriculture and is scheduled as part of the college’s Celebrate Agriculture annual weekend. The lab will be rededicated as the Hayden Ferguson Soils Teaching Laboratory in room 246 of Leon Johnson Hall.

Ferguson has a long history of supporting and advocating for Montana agriculture. In 1950, Ferguson graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in soils and held various administrative and faculty roles during his tenure with the university. He was named an outstanding teacher in the college several years, in addition to being named a fellow of both the American Society of Agronomy and Soil Science Society of America. His name was also recently added to the Bobcat Hall of Fame for his long-time support of student athletes. For many years, Ferguson spent his Sunday evenings hosting the popular Montana PBS program, Montana Ag Live. In 2013, he received an outstanding alumni achievement award for his significant record of professional achievement, community service and contributions to MSU.

The newly remodeled soils lab features more than 40 soil monoliths, or preserved vertical slices of soil profiles with their varied rock content, colors, textures and structures for each soil layer. Some monoliths are more than 50 years old and represent various landscapes and soils across the country. The new space also features LED lighting on the monoliths, an overhead projector, document camera and a dedicated computer station for video use. A long window also now enables campus visitors to view the laboratory and monolith collection; before the remodel, a 24-foot wall hid the monolith collection from view.

Tony Hartshorn, assistant professor of soil sciences in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, led the remodeling project this year in an effort to update an existing space on campus to provide a better teaching and learning space for students.  

“When I first walked into the space, I thought, ‘Wow, this place feels like a time machine,’” Hartshorn said. “The room didn’t have a projector or a computer and there was a big, dusty chalkboard in a fairly dark space. The room needed updating, but it had this incredible legacy with these soil monoliths that needed showcasing.”

Hartshorn combined funding from the College of Agriculture and his research startup funds to replace the wall with a window, replace the chalkboard with a combination white board and projection screen and install new lighting on the monoliths. Additional funding for the lab makeover came from another MSU Professor Emeritus, Jerry Nielsen, his wife, LaVonne, and their four daughters and their families, in addition to other donors. The Nielsen family also recently established a graduate research assistantship in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences for graduate students studying soils.

About 250 students come through the teaching lab each week, according to Hartshorn. He hopes the lab will inspire some to become soil scientists.

“Given the student traffic here from all majors and backgrounds, there’s a real opportunity to make this a 21st century lab for not just soils students but for a large majority of all our students at the university,” he said. “We celebrate agriculture in all of its forms, but all of our Montana agriculture begins with dirt – it’s the basis of where we get our food and fiber.” 

Hartshorn said this year’s event honoring Montana agriculture provided great timing to rededicate the teaching laboratory.

“I think the goal was to use an existing space and turn it into a modern teaching and learning space where we develop the next generation of great problem solvers,” Hartshorn said. “What great timing this year, 2015, to have a formal rededication of the space to one of Montana’s legendary soil scientists.”

2015 is the United Nations’ International Year of the Soils. In spring of this year, the 63rd Montana State Legislature formally approved the Scobey soil series - the soil most commonly found in northcentral Montana and known for its dryland wheat productivity--as Montana’s official state soil, alongside the Montana state tree and state bird. 

MSU has more than 15 soil scientists on faculty.

Contact: Tony Hartshorn, anthony.hartshorn@montana.edu or (406) 994-6323