When Niki De Armond earned a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science from Purdue in 2000, her plans were to work in the environmental field. Opportunity and her interests led her to Purdue’s Department of Agronomy. “Once I got into the agronomy department, I saw how environmental science and agronomy go together,” says De Armond, who grew up on a small farm south of Lafayette. “When you’re doing research, especially in water quality, you learn from various management practices about what gets leached into the water.”
De Armond credits her career to the mentorship of three Purdue professors of agronomy — Sylvie Brouder, Ellsworth Christmas (retired) and Shawn Conley (who has since moved to another university) — and to her original technician, supervisor Brenda Hofmann. De Armond was an undergraduate student worker for Brouder, and then hired on as a soybean technician with Christmas and Conley. “Without their support, respect and faith in me, I would not have been as successful as I have been,” she says.
She became a lab technician at the Water Quality Field Station in 2008, and has been the facility’s manager since July 2013.
De Armond oversees operations and research performed at the WQFS, part of the Agronomy Center for Research and Education. The station has 48 drainage lysimeter plots and six tiles spacing plots. By collecting and studying the flow in these mini-watersheds, researchers from the College of Agriculture and USDA study how to minimize the movement of agricultural chemicals into water supplies, and evaluate the environmental, agronomic and economic effectiveness of different management practices.
De Armond assists faculty and graduate students in many Agriculture departments — “from helping and teaching them how to collect samples to analyzing data, and everything in between,” she says.
“Niki is a patient teacher of graduate and undergraduate students, giving them the time they need even when she is busy,” says Agronomy Department Head Ron Turco. She received Bravo awards in 2016 and 2018.
As projects change from year to year, De Armond must learn new techniques. “I collaborate with a lot of my colleagues, even outside of Purdue, to figure out how to get a project done,” she says. She must complete continuing education annually to retain her commercial pesticide license, and she has additional certifications for machines she runs in the lab.
Her work at the WQFS offers an interesting environmental overview, De Armond says. “It’s unique because we’re analyzing everything – the plants, the soil and the water that goes through the soil,” she explains. “You can see the whole cycle. We have also added greenhouse gas sampling, analyzing three gases — nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane — that are emitting from different agronomic practices soil.”
Working with undergraduate and graduate students is her favorite part of the job, she says: “It’s really neat to see them grow. And when they leave, they’re ready.” She also enjoys that many of her former students keep in touch after they graduate and begin their careers — often using skills she has helped them learn.