Soil scientist seeks to address agroecosystem challenges through lens of sustainability
Afua Mante joined the Department of Soil Science as Assistant Professor in Soil Physical Processes on January 16, 2022. She was born and raised in Ghana, and moved to Manitoba to pursue her PhD and then postdoctoral work that looked at Indigenizing engineering education, as well as land remediation. Afua share with us her research and teaching goals, and shared a poem that describes how she has come to be a “Soilie”.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Ghana where I received a BSc in Agricultural Engineering and an MSc in Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. In 2011, I moved to Canada as a graduate student at the University of Manitoba where I attained an MSc in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Biosystems Engineering. After my PhD program, I joined the Centre for Engineering Professional Practice and Engineering Education (CE2P2E) in the Price Faculty of Engineering, University of Manitoba as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow. I was instrumental in developing strategies for Indigenizing engineering education with a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and non-scholars from CE2P2E, the university at-large, and across Canada. I later joined the Land Remediation Group in the Department of Soil Science, University of Manitoba as a MITACS Elevate Post-Doctoral Fellow to oversee a project on the restoration of prime agricultural lands disturbed by oil and gas development in northeastern British Columbia.
Why did you get into this area of study?
I have a very long interesting story about how I got into Soil Science but the core theme to my story is that “the soil has kept me; and it is my calling to keep the soil alive”. To elaborate on this, I want to express that in this poem that I wrote:
“I am a proud Soilie. From the soil have I been fed, clothed, educated, and gained a livelihood.
I believe being a Soilie is not by coincidence. It is a calling.
A calling to keep the soil alive for the benefit of now and future generations.
I am glad to have been working alongside the many Soilies known and unknown, near and far.
I am glad you have been present in this space as we navigate the meaning of our calling together.
Most of all, I am glad we respond to our calling everyday to keep our soils alive!”
What are you seeking to explore with your research?
Our soils are sustaining us and yet over-burdened and depleted. Like so many places around the globe, issues with soil water management, soil compaction, fertility and nutrient management, erosion by tillage, and salinity are plaguing us and threatening food security and sovereignty. With these issues coupled with climate change impacts, it cannot be emphasized enough that there is an urgency for sustainable management of our soils. Through the lens of sustainability, I seek to characterize and optimize soil physical properties and processes to contribute to addressing these challenges we face in our agroecosystems to help us adapt and/or mitigate climate change impacts, ensure food security and sovereignty, and promote a healthy environment.
What appeals to you about being a teacher?
I have had the opportunity to teach students from different disciplines, at different stages in their training, and with diverse cultural backgrounds. As I engage with my students and watch them progress through their learning, the more my teaching philosophy comes alive. I have a “mountain-climbing” metaphor that I use to describe teaching and learning. I describe my students as mountain climbers and I as the motivator. I enjoy my duty as a motivator within which I get to challenge, inspire, guide, coach, and adopt strategies to help my students through their journey to the mountain top. As they (the climbers) reach the mountain top, they take the moment to reflect and recognize the strength it took to reach that destination; it is also the moment they realize the potential to be more than they even expected of themselves. This is fulfilling!
Currently, I am responsible for mainly teaching Physical Properties of Soils (SOIL 4060) and Advanced Soil Physics (SOIL 7100). In these courses, we get to explore the physical nature of the soil and its interactions with other aspects of the soil, plants, field practices, and the environment.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to write. I allow myself to pause and get inspired by events around me. When that happens, I make sure I catch them, ground them, and progress in/with them. I have two kids who enjoy turning some of these writings into songs with me. In that, I get to exercise my vocal cords for my students.