He came for the job, but stayed because of the people with whom he worked side-by-side to renew soil around the 24,000-square-mile state.
Skousen has also looked after many of the youth throughout the state interested in soil sciences. He takes an active role in state 4-H and FFA land judging. Often he meets students in his college classes whom he helped with land judging when they were in high school or 4-H.
He’s being honored this year with WVU’s Gerry and Ethel Heebink Award for Distinguished State Service, an award that nominators say he so richly deserves for his work for industry, education and with the state’s people.
“Once we got here and found such gracious, wonderful people, it very quickly became our home,” Skousen said. “So it was easy for us to turn our hearts and our minds to this being our home. We love the people that we’ve met here.”
Skousen began working to reclaim surface mines and later became heavily involved in serving as a resource for acid mine drainage reclamation practices. Skousen said that initially the focus was very much on undoing environmental consequences from mining. The focus today is on prevention.
Industry workers around West Virginia know and appreciate Skousen and his work.
Keith O’Dell, a senior environmental and permitting engineer with Arch Coal, wrote in Skousen’s award application that, “Jeff has assisted in the development of state-of-the-art reforestation processes that have changed the complexion of post-mining reclamation.”
“As a scientist he does not shy from addressing the tough environmental issues associated with coal mining,” O’Dell said. “Rather, he embraces the challenge looking for balance and fairness while maintaining a sensitive position to all parties involved—those receiving their livelihood from mining, mining regulators, environmental groups and citizens of West Virginia.”
Retired WVU Extension Agent Roger L. Nestor said that Skousen has provided valuable leadership and service to the statewide Land Judging and Homesite Evaluation program, which helps youth around the state learn to accurately evaluate a variety of soils.
Nestor said Skousen has revised program training manuals and helped to make the language more accessible. He’s also been involved in regional and district soil judging contests. When it comes time for the state championship teams to advance to the national 4-H and FFA contests, Skousen coordinates and trains the teams.
The teams from West Virginia are among the top five in the nation, and have won multiple championships in the last 10 years, Nestor said. Some of the high school students Skousen has coached have become his students at the college level, joined the collegiate soils judging team and become professional soil scientists.
“His sustained statewide service to our youths with this program is providing a very positive legacy that is recognized statewide and nationally,” Nestor said.
Skousen said the work has been very much a team effort, and he’s been especially grateful to work at WVU Extension.
“I am very lucky to have a WVU Extension appointment, along with research and teaching at a land-grant university,” Skousen said. “In some ways, I think every faculty member should have an Extension appointment because it helps focus a person’s research efforts to solving current problems. I have been fortunate that I could blend my research, teaching, and extension appointment into one closely connected effort, each complementing the other.”
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