Sherry Fulk-Bringman

Laboratory and Outreach
Coordinator, Dept of Agronomy

A black-and-white sign in Sherry Fulk-Bringman's workspace boldly proclaims that "Soil is Beautiful," but it tells only half the story.

Fulk-Bringman is the laboratory and outreach coordinator in the College of Agriculture's Department of Agronomy. She is passionate about the intricate science behind the earth's soils, and she is also deeply committed to helping Purdue students absorb that information — and go on to fulfilling careers.

Sherry Fulk-Bringman

What are the details of the lab you coordinate?

I coordinate the Soils Resource Center in Lilly Hall for all students who take AGRY 255/AGRY 270: Introduction to Soils. Each semester, about 160 students take the course. Students can come and go in the lab as they please as long as they complete their required work. Most students spend about four hours in the lab each week.

The lab is open 40 hours per week. I'm always in the lab as a backup supervisor, plus I work a six-hour shift once each week as the primary supervisor. We have faculty members and graduate students who work shifts mentoring, tutoring and helping students with their weekly laboratory exercises.

What kind of tasks do the students complete in the lab?

The lab is a very hands-on space where students come to study as well as complete their coursework. We have computer stations that students use, and we have spaces where they conduct experiments. For example, students can conduct experiments to learn about soil and its properties, such as soil color, texture, chemistry, biology and other topics related to soil's interactions with water and the environment.

The lab also is home to 375 monoliths, or trays of soil samples. Most of the soils are from Indiana, but several of them are from places across the country and even overseas. We have soil from sites in Kenya, Portugal, Brazil, Russia and Hungary. Several faculty members and I have collected the monoliths, and we teach students how to make monoliths and how they can start their own collections once they leave Purdue.

We're very proud of our monolith collection. In fact, we have the second-highest number of monoliths in the world behind a university in the Netherlands. Our monoliths are also helpful because they prepare our students for subsequent soils classes and because we use them in outreach, extension, workshops and programs off campus.

How do you work with students in the lab?

Whenever students have questions about soils, I'm here to help. I mentor the graduate student teaching assistants who work in the lab to make sure they know the course's material. Most of our graduate student teaching assistants will have an education component to their careers, so I help them gain valuable teaching experience.

The students tell me that I make them feel welcome in the lab and that I make their learning fun. I try to do that in a lot of ways. For example, the students observe several monoliths on the final exam, so to help them prepare, we quiz them using cakes made to look like monoliths.

What are some of your other job duties?

I'm co-advisor to Purdue's Agronomy Club and the department's student ambassadors. Both groups are very active, and I work with and mentor them in their various programs. Together, they provide educational activities for Purdue’s annual Spring Fest and help with our outreach programs, among many other things.

I also have significant duties related to outreach. I present and conduct workshops for students involved in 4-H, FFA, and various conservation and environmental programs. I go to local classrooms and give presentations, and I present every year during the Tippecanoe County Ag Days, Make a Splash and Conservation Field Days.

What's the most enjoyable part of your job?

Hands down, it's working with our students. I have the best job ever because I get to see students grow and learn, and that's incredibly rewarding. No two days in the lab are ever the same, but no matter what, I hope my students know I’m glad they are here. I try to make the lab a very supportive, home-like atmosphere.

I'm also a head usher at Elliott Hall. It's very rewarding for me to greet our students for one last time as they enter the hall for Purdue's commencement, especially because I'm one of the first people they meet when they begin their time at Purdue.

It's important to me that our students enjoy coming to and working in the lab. If I can achieve that — and help students learn and move toward rewarding careers — then I've done my job.