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Soil and Spirituality

Jonathan Birkel ’16 came to Earlham to pursue a degree in Environmental Science, but he probably never would have guessed his education would revolve so much around soil.

Birkel just finished a May Term called Computer Science in the Field. While he had only taken one Computer Science class, he was able to help develop soil sensors with a program called Arduino. The sensors serve to track soil temperature, moisture and pH and they’re lower budget than the current technology. Earlham can use the sensors on programs to Iceland and Nicaragua for an ongoing research project on microbial populations in soil.

Soil also is taking Birkel to Colorado with Cynthia Fadem, assistant professor of geology, and another student later this summer as part of a research project on ancient agriculture.

Before going to Colorado, Birkel is serving as a dorm counselor at Explore-A-College, a program which gives high school students the opportunity to take a class and learn about Earlham. Growing up in Richmond, he got a good sense of the campus and the community before he attended the College.

In regard to his decision to come to Earlham, Birkel says, “I’m sure there’s a subconscious level since I grew up here. I thought of Earlham as a model college. I knew I wanted the smaller liberal arts atmosphere.” Community is important to him and he finds it everywhere; in Brimley’s a cappella group, three Earlham choirs and College Meeting where he performs every Sunday. “It’s a lot but I do it because I like it.”

Birkel enjoyed attending Clear Creek Friends Meeting while growing up. However, there weren’t many members his age. As he got older, he joined Quaker youth groups and went on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage to Europe in 2012. He says, “A lot of experiences with other young Friends were really important to me.” When he came to Earlham, he applied for the Quaker Fellows program because he was looking for “the mini-community and nurturing spirituality” that he felt it would offer.

Now he’s been in the fellowship for two years, and he appreciates the “constant group, spiritual fulfillment and leadership growth” it provides. Using his leadership and humor, he helped come up with the cohort’s name, which is Sassy Quakers United in Recognizing Radically Evolving Light. Grinning, Birkel says they came up with the full name before realizing it spelled SQUIRREL. Lucky it worked out because it’s a mouthful otherwise.

Jonathan Birkel

Jonathan Birkel 2016

Hometown: Richmond, Ind.

Major at Earlham: Environmental Science

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