Daniel Smith

Biological Systems Engineering

Daniel first learned of his love for the environment during his sophomore year while taking a fundamentals of soil science class at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). The class taught him why soil was such a precious resource and instilled a desire to protect it from further degradation. As a result, Daniel received a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Minor in Soil Science at UMD (’17). While at Maryland, Daniel worked on research projects focused on the bioremediation of urban runoff and, as an REU student at New Mexico State University, the revegetation of degraded streams in arid environments. Starting in August 2017, Daniel joined the Biological Systems Engineering Department as a PhD student with Dr. Tess Thompson.


His research project focuses on how plant roots and soil microorganisms impact streambank soil resistance to fluvial erosion. In order words, how effective are plant roots and soil microbes at protecting streambank soils from erosion by water?  Sediment is considered a leading cause of river impairment and can cost upwards of billions of dollars in damages per year. However, the mechanism(s) by which root and soil microorganisms protect streambanks is not fully understood. Daniel’s research project hopes to shed some light on these mechanisms to better understand the processes driving streambank erosion.

Outside of the lab, Daniel has a background in tutoring and mentoring a variety of students of all ages. Back in Maryland, Daniel worked as an Environmental Educator for the Saturday Environmental Academy (SEA), a non-profit organization in D.C. SEA offers free outdoor education programs to 6th-8th graders, many of whom are minority students living in D.C. and highly urbanized parts of Maryland. Coordinating with five other teachers, Daniel developed lessons for students that provided them with a deeper understanding of the Anacostia River (a local river to D.C.), the watershed community, and what they can do to protect it. Daniel enjoyed watching how effective hands-on activities were at improving a student’s appreciation or interest in science and the natural environment. While at Virginia Tech, Daniel has continued to volunteer with the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED) and hopes to work as a graduate assist with the CEED office starting Fall 2019 to continue advocating for increased diversity in STEM fields.