Dr. J. Mark Powell ’70
Mark is one of five Powell siblings (Catherine, Mark, Jeanne, Joan, and Peter) to graduate from PVI during 1969–1973. It was during his junior and senior years at PVI that Mark saw the news of the Biafrin War in Nigeria, and he was struck by the hunger, poverty, and tragic circumstances of many people around the world.
This may have been the impetus for his decision to join the Peace Corps after graduating from Camden County College, and it set his career path. He served in Upper Volta in West Africa (now Burkina Faso) for 3 years as a Peace Corps volunteer and for 1 year under a World Bank contract. There he surveyed land and designed and helped rural communities build contour dikes to improve water retention and rice yields. He also worked with village youth to grow school gardens. While he was there, he met his wife, Ellen, another Peace Corps volunteer. They have traveled and lived in many parts of the world during the last 38 years.
After his work in the Peace Corps, Mark completed degrees at Clemson University (BS in Plant Science), Cornell University (MPS in International Agriculture and Rural Development), and Texas A&M University (PhD in Agronomy) to better understand the biological and social factors that affect food production, natural resources, and rural livelihoods. He worked as an Agronomist (study of crops and soils) with the International Livestock Research Institute and spent 9 years in rural Nigeria and Niger developing methods to enhance food and feed production for farmers and their livestock. Currently, Mark is a lead Soil Scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a Professor in the Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison. His commitment to improving rural agriculture and, more recently, to addressing global climate change has taken him to Africa, Asia (China, India), Australia, and Italy, where he conducted research and worked with farmers. He has hosted scientists and advised university students from other countries and has also published many research and academic articles, book chapters, and papers in the areas of environmental and agricultural science. He serves on various national and international scientific advisory committees and recently returned from 6 months in Rome, where he served as a Distinguished Expert at the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization. He attributes much of his life’s journey to a strong family base and the sound Catholic values reinforced at Paul VI.
Reflecting on his years since graduating from Paul VI High School, Mark has found that people, no matter their country of origin, background, or place in life, are all similar: They seek to enrich their lives through love (love of self is how we love each other), kindness (to oneself, and through this to each other), generosity (give and receive---both are important), and smiles (everyone likes them!). Ask yourself often: Who and where am I? Interesting answers will come! Be happy, but not complacent. Challenge yourself, for change creates freshness and new ways to enjoy life. Exercise for physical and mental fitness. Mark loves his work, professional writing, and feels blessed to have great colleagues, staff, and students, and a loving family.
Mark and his wife, Ellen Taylor-Powell, have two children, Andrew and Taylor Ann. Mark, Ellen, and their son, Andrew, enjoy living in Madison, Wisconsin. Their daughter, Taylor Ann, and her husband, Josh, enjoy living close by in St. Paul, Minnesota. They cherish their regular visits back to the Collingswood area and visits with family and long-time friends.