During his freshman year, Luke Eaton decided to join the soil judging team on a whim. Eaton didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would open up a new world of opportunities – and help him find the perfect emphasis area to study.
Eaton knew he was going to major in environmental sciences when he first came to the University of Missouri; he just wasn’t sure which of the four emphasis areas to choose. He started in atmospheric sciences, but switched to a soil emphasis after joining the judging team.
“Rachel Owen was my soil judging coach and introduced me to soils for the first time,” Eaton said. “She made it really interesting and it seemed like an area that was worthwhile to study. Rachel invested a lot of time in my education, and that led to other great professors who made a big impact in my studies. I didn’t come from an agriculture background, and they made the content easy to understand.”
Eaton grew up in Lee’s Summit, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City. His father and grandfather grew up on farms, and while Eaton didn’t have a farm-related upbringing, he always enjoyed the outdoors and food production.
Eaton envisioned himself becoming a park ranger or doing climate research after college.
“I loved being outdoors as a kid,” Eaton said. “I always went fishing with my grandpa, I was involved with Boy Scouts and I loved to camp. Our family vacations involved us visiting national parks across the county. In high school, I started taking upper level science and math courses, and I just really enjoyed it.”
Eaton had an opportunity to do research as an undergraduate during his first year as a Tiger through the Discovery Fellows Program. Students in the program earn a $2,000 scholarship and work on their research project at least eight hours a week. Eaton worked with Jeff Wood, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources.
“I worked out at the Baskett Research Center for about a year and a half,” Eaton said. “It was a really valuable experience, as I got the chance to see what academic research is like.
“I’m really thankful that CAFNR offers such great opportunities in the realm of research. As a land-grant university, research is one of Mizzou’s mandates. CAFNR really makes it a big focus, especially for undergraduate students.”
Along with his research work, Eaton also worked at the Soil Health Assessment Center. He participated in a brief study abroad experience last year in France, but had to return home early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My time at Mizzou has been a buffet of opportunities for sure,” Eaton said. “My time in the Soil Health Assessment Center introduced me to some of the cool research happening in soil science right now. It’s a really important center, and I got to work on a lot of interesting projects.
“While the study abroad experience was cut short, it was still really interesting to see agriculture in another country. I gained an international perspective on agriculture and water quality, which was exciting to learn about.”
Eaton participated in the annual Career Fair as a CAFNR student, and was able to gain experience in talking with potential employers.
“CAFNR gave me multiple opportunities to find programs and projects that I would like,” Eaton said. “I learned so much through each experience. There’s so much support for undergraduate students.”
Earlier this year, Eaton began an internship with Sustainable Environmental Consultants (SEC) as an environmental analyst. He recently accepted a full-time job with SEC and will continue working with the company after graduation.
“Doing an internship in the private world is much different than working in academics,” Eaton said. “I’ve gained valuable insights, and I really wish I would have done something like this earlier.”
Eaton said an agency like SEC is exactly where he would like to be after graduation. SEC is an agency that works with agribusinesses and growers to help implement sustainability practices on farms and quantify environmental impact.
“I just really love their mission and values,” Eaton said. “Collaborating with food producers to be more sustainable and implement conservation practices is really rewarding – and through this job I get to be a part of that each day.”