Service and Soil Science
Danny Baldwin first applied to the University of Idaho nearly 10 years ago. Growing up between Saratoga, California and Sisters, Oregon, Baldwin loved exploring the outdoors and was considering a degree in forestry.
“Because I had went to school in Oregon, I was already interested in the Northwest and what it had to offer,” he said. “I’d never been to Idaho but at the time I was interested in doing forestry and I thought Idaho would be a good state to go study forestry in.”
Baldwin ultimately decided to put off his college education and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve. Now two deployments and almost 10 years later, Baldwin, 27, will graduate from U of I in May 2020 with a degree in sustainable cropping systems with a soils emphasis.
A Balancing Act
Baldwin was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 where he assisted with the logistics for a retrograde project to move equipment back to the United States. He returned to the reserves and California in 2014 to work on his family’s vineyard and horse ranch. After talking with his aunts, uncles and cousins who all had agricultural degrees, he decided to put his GI Bill to use in a similar area, specifically soil science.
“I decided I wanted to go more of the science route and I essentially chose soils because I figured it was a small program that would be specialized and I’d have a chance to have a lot of one on one interactions with professors,” he said. “There wasn’t a very strong push or drive into soils, it was more I wanted to do something based in the agricultural realm.”
Once he made the decision to get his degree, Baldwin began looking at soil science programs and the U of I once again rose to the top of his list. This time for the stellar reputation of the U of I Veterans Assistance office.
“There is a strong veteran community here,” he said. “I’d never been to Idaho but I figured I’d just go check it out and move there, site unseen. It’s been really rewarding, I’m glad I did it.”
Baldwin began classes at U of I in fall 2015, but after three semesters he was deployed to Afghanistan again, missing the next two semesters.
“I was able to stop after the fall semester and go on a pause and then come back and register again a year and a half later,” he said. “There was no discontinuity there to me as far as the service the university has provided.”
Baldwin’s responsibilities often take him away from campus for training exercises. He serves as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the 6th ANGLICO (Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company) based at Fort Lewis in Washington. As part of this unit, Baldwin works in a multitude of training areas — from Alaska, California, Hawaii and Louisiana, to overseas including Finland, South Korea and Canada. But the support from faculty has helped make those absences less daunting.
“All the university faculty have done an exceptional job accommodating me,” he said. “They have been pretty understanding. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that support of the faculty.”
A Future in Soil Science
Although Baldwin’s decision to study soils wasn’t born out of a passion for the field, he is happy with his decision.
“I didn’t necessarily want to do soils right off the bat but after being in the program for a couple of years I am very pleased with myself because it’s been really challenging,” he said. “It incorporates physics, chemistry, biology and you have to wrap it all together to make sense.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Baldwin plans to pursue a master’s degree in soil science — hopefully at U of I. He currently works as a research assistant for Jason Kelley, an assistant professor in the Department of Soil and Water Systems with a focus on remote sensing, evapotranspiration and precision agriculture.
“I can see myself doing that because his remote sensing and broad picture mapping is interesting to me,” Baldwin said. “It’s one of the few ways my military career ties into what I’m studying here.”
As an undergraduate, Baldwin was able to work in Kelley’s lab, helping to design and install weather stations.
“The opportunities that are given to undergrad students to be able to work hands-on in a research lab is pretty rare it sounds like from friends that go to other colleges,” he said. “There is a great chance to work with industry leaders here that you wouldn’t get somewhere else.”
Although Baldwin’s journey to a bachelor’s degree has been anything but typical, it was the right path for him.
“I joined the Marines when I was 17, so having a couple years of not doing school was good,” he said. “I have a strong drive and perspective that other students don’t have yet and it’s been beneficial. And soils has pushed me in ways that I’m way outside my comfort zone sometimes and that’s good for me.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Melissa Hartley, University Communications and Marketing
Published in November 2019