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Beth Guertal

Beth Guertal, who spent nearly 30 years in Auburn's College of Agriculture, can add another accolade to her many career accomplishments. She has been elected as a fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Longtime Auburn University Professor Beth Guertal has joined the ranks of Thomas Edison, W.E.B. Dubois and Margaret Mead with her election as a fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Guertal is one of 502 scientists, engineers and innovators from academic institutions, laboratories and observatories, hospitals and medical research centers, museums, corporations, nonprofit organizations, institutes and government agencies selected to the 2023 class of AAAS Fellows.

AAAS first launched its lifetime recognition program in 1874 and has since acknowledged such notable figures as inventor Edison, sociologist Dubois and anthropologist Mead. AAAS is one of the world’s largest general scientific societies and publisher of the “Science” family of journals.

“As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the AAAS Fellows, AAAS is proud to recognize the newly elected individuals,” said Sudip S. Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the “Science” family of journals. “This year’s class embodies scientific excellence, fosters trust in science throughout the communities they serve and leads the next generation of scientists while advancing scientific achievements.”

Election as an AAAS Fellow is a lifetime honor and is based on one’s “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science, or its applications, are scientifically or socially distinguished.” All fellows are expected to meet the commonly held standards of professional ethics and scientific integrity.  

Guertal, who spent 29 years in Auburn’s College of Agriculture, represents the AAAS disciplinary section of agriculture, food and renewable resources. Her election letter said she was being honored “for distinguished contributions to the field of soil science, particularly targeting turfgrass fertility, environmental resilience and reduced resource allocation.”

“I am so honored to be selected as an AAAS Fellow, as it clearly shows the awareness the academy has to recognizing achievement in the agricultural sciences,” said Guertal.

Guertal isn’t the first current or former Auburn faculty member to receive this honor from AAAS. More than 20 Auburn past and present faculty members are fellows, including Geoff Hill and Kenneth Halanych, biological sciences; J.V. Ortiz and Stewart Schneller, chemistry and biochemistry; Art Appel, entomology and plant pathology; Li An, geospatial and environmental informatics; Hanqin Tan, ecology; and Claude Boyd and Zhanjiang “John” Liu, fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic sciences.

Auburn’s first AAAS Fellow was cotton pathologist George Atkinson in 1892.

Before retiring from Auburn in June 2022, Guertal had a renowned career on the Plains. She earned numerous teaching and student advising awards, including the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence, Auburn’s highest teaching honor.

She is a former Fulbright fellow and elected fellow of the Crop Science Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy. She has been president of the Crop Science Society of America, served as the editor-in-chief for the “Agronomy Journal” and as associate editor for “Crop Science” and the “Soil Science Society of America Journal.”

Guertal retired as the Rowe Endowed Professor in agriculture’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and joined the Sustainable Intensification and Innovation Lab at Kansas State University, as program director for its Center of Excellence on Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience to Climate-Change in Haiti.

The role makes her responsible for managing the center’s day-to-day operations, supporting the center’s vision and goals and serving as a leader in the national education, research and outreach community.

Also in 2022, she served a one-year assignment with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Jefferson Science Fellow, one of 15 such fellows selected by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Guertal’s research focuses on soil fertility issues in turfgrass management. She consults and speaks worldwide on issues in soil fertility in highly managed systems. Guertal obtained her bachelor’s in agriculture and master’s in soil science from The Ohio State University and her doctorate in soil science from Oklahoma State University.

Members of the 2023 class will receive a certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin — representing science and engineering, respectively — to commemorate their election and will be celebrated at a forum in September at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. AAAS will also celebrate the program’s 150th anniversary.