Dr. Stephen Boyd Retires

Afer being a member of the faculty for 42 years, Dr. Stephen Boyd is retiring from MSU at the end of 2022.

Dr Stephen Boyd, University Distinguished Professor, is officially retiring from MSU at the end of 2022. Stephen was part of the faculty at MSU for 42 years, publishing well over 200 peer reviewed research papers , and earning numerous awards, including University Distinguished Professor (MSU, 2005), Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA, 1992), the Environmental Quality Research Award of the American Society of Agronomy (1993), and the Soil Science Research Award (SSSA, 1999).

Stephen says he found his path to soil chemistry with the help of some valuable connections, namely a couple of chemistry professors at Central Michigan University who altered the course of his life. “I wanted to drop my very first chemistry class out of raw fear of failure since I hadn't been a serious student in high school. But, the chemistry professor (Dr. Filson) teaching general chemistry made me take the first exam before he would sign off on dropping the class. I scored pretty high on the exam so that gave me enough confidence to continue on. The next semester of general chemistry, I scored the top grade on the first exam, and then the single most important thing in my education happened. The chemistry professor teaching that class, Dr. Douglas X. West, tapped me on the shoulder on the way out of class. He congratulated me on the exam and asked me if I would like to work as an undergrad assistant in his lab. I worked for him and his collaborator, Dr. Robert Kohrman, for the rest of my time at CMU. I learned how to work in a chemistry lab and how to publish a scientific paper. Most importantly, for the first time in my life I felt like I might have some unique talent for doing something most people found difficult, namely chemistry, and I had role models who seemed to care about and encourage me in my academic pursuits. It sounds hokey, but they made me feel special in a way I'd never felt before.”
Stephen began graduate school in the chemistry department at Princeton. “At the graduate level chemistry becomes more and more abstract, and when I stumbled onto the field of "agricultural chemistry," it sounded tangible. Most ag chemistry programs had evolved into biochemistry programs and departments, but at Purdue my inquiry for graduate study in agricultural chemistry was forwarded to the Agronomy Department because that was where the soil chemists were located. This all transpired shortly after the passage of major environmental legislation like the Clean Water Act and creation of the EPA and Superfund. Soil scientists were busy studying the impacts of sewage sludges (biosolids) from municipal wastewater treatment plants (required by the Clean Water Act) that were being applied to agricultural soils.”

Boyd developed an interest in soil chemistry and environmental chemistry, a field that was just emerging, as well as an interest in the fate of contaminants in soils and what could be done to ameliorate their negative impacts on soils and the environment. “It was a process of putting one foot in front of the other, not a well formulated plan from the onset. But it got me to the right place and it ended well,” Boys says.
Stephen names several factors important to his success, including a solid education in basic science, for him chemistry, and colleagues to learn from and work with. Boyd names Max Mortland and Jim Tiedje who “both helped me enormously, especially early on. I also took the first sabbatical I was eligible for and worked with Cary Chiou at the USGS in Denver and learned a lot from him. I've also had some great graduate students and post-doctorals over the years. Lastly, my most stable long-term collaborative research group that includes Drs. Hui Li, Brian Teppen and Cliff Johnston (Purdue) helped keep it going over the long term. So, all the good things that happened to me during my education and professional life were due to the help other people gave.”

Boyd has seen much change in the university since his arrival for his first and only faculty position on October 1, 1980. “I found that I had neither a laboratory nor an office. And start-up packages didn't exist, even though the expectations were the same as now, viz. to find grant funding to build and maintain a graduate level research program. By the end of my first year at MSU, the soil science faculty in the old Soil Science building helped me find an office (shared with Paul Rieke) and a laboratory (relinquished by Jim Tiedje). Other people including Bernie Knezek and Earl Erickson also helped me overcome these impediments. And as I mentioned earlier, people including Jim Tiedje, Max Mortland, Cary Chiou, Hui Li, Brian Teppen and Cliff Johnston, as well as key graduate students and post docs., helped me in various ways to build and maintain a productive research program for over 40 years. Again, it was the people I worked with that helped me overcome the hurdles that existed. And that includes key staff like Jodie Schonfelder and Joan Gilliland.

Did you find this article useful?