Amazing Students Profiles

Diego Barcellos

Diego Barcellos

Diego Barcellos came to UGA on a special Brazilian scholarship as an undergraduate, returned for his master’s degree and is now working on his Ph.D. Along the way, he has built an impressive record of scholarship.


João Neiva, Espirito Santo, Brazil

High School:

Federal Institute of Technology (Colatina, Espirito Santo)

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in soil science

Other degrees:

M.S. in soil science (2013), University of Georgia
B.S. in agronomy engineering (2011), Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil

Expected graduation:

Fall 2017

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

Right after high school, I was approved in three federal universities for engineering programs, a difficult achievement for any 17-year-old adolescent in Brazil. I started majoring in mining engineering for two years. I had tremendous ability in math, physics and chemistry; consequently, I received an award for acquiring the highest GPA in this major for two consecutive semesters. However, I had a strong willingness to use my knowledge to help in solving worldwide agricultural issues. Thus, I changed my major to agronomy engineering, studying at the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) in Brazil, which is one of the best universities in the world related to tropical agriculture. I worked three years in a project involving soils and farm management, completed five internships, and assisted with extension programs. In my senior year at UFV, I applied for a highly competitive scholarship to study in the United States. Among more than 100 applicants, I got accepted to study one semester at the University of Georgia, fully covered by the Brazilian government.

This opportunity was a bridge to my master’s program at UGA, during which I worked with Larry Morris and Aaron Thompson. Within two years, I successfully completed my master’s thesis, which demonstrated that eucalyptus and pine trees enhanced the removal of organic contaminants from soils by 50 percent. I have one paper in press, and another in preparation, detailing the specifics of my findings.

Afterward, I was accepted into four Ph.D. programs in the U.S., and I ultimately decided to continue at UGA. As a member of the NSF-founded Critical Zone Observatories network, in my current Ph.D. program I am studying the effects of iron oxides in soil carbon dynamics. A more profound understanding of soil chemistry is essential to achieve global food security. I have effectively conducted three laboratory experiments and I am starting two field experiments, one in a tropical forest in Puerto Rico and one in a subtropical forest in South Carolina. In my studies, I found that iron minerals in soils affect soil carbon, which has implications for climate change and soil fertility. I expect to write five papers out of these lab and field experiments.

I also enjoy teaching, as I have been a teaching assistant for three semesters in soils classes at UGA. Furthermore, I played an important leader position in my department as president of the Agronomy Graduate Student Association for two terms. I liked organizing student activities, managing tasks and delegating activities. I organized two symposiums and I chaired two poster exhibitions.

I received several awards, including winning five poster competitions (either first, second or third place) at regional and national conferences. Indeed, I attended more than 40 conferences related to agriculture and soils. Being trilingual (fluency in English, Spanish and Portuguese) helped me on my international experiences, and I do not stop learning as I am quickly getting the hang of French and Italian. In 2013, I received the Graduate International Travel Award from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to conduct field research in Brazil during my master’s. I just received this prize a second time in 2016, but now as a doctoral student, to attend a conference in Japan.

Therefore, I believe that my life, professional experiences and achievements helped me to develop a critical and multidisciplinary mindset directed to contribute back to society.

Current Employment:

Graduate research and teaching assistant

Family Ties to UGA:

I am the first one to attend UGA and to study internationally.

I chose to attend UGA because…

I got the scholarship in my senior year in Brazil to study at UGA, and I followed up with a master’s degree. I continued in my Ph.D. because I have a nice project, mentor, colleagues, department and university supports. Additionally, Athens is an awesome city to live.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… working in the lab, field or office. Discuss soils with colleagues and professors. Walk around the university, especially North campus, so beautiful!

When I have free time, I like…

… staying with family and friends (crucial for me). I like playing soccer, saxophone, praying and adventuring in nature. However, what really invigorates me is to have an amazing conversation with highly passionate people, whatever their passion. Sometimes it happens with someone I have never met before, and we kept talking for hours about many topics.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

The most interesting story I have happened when I was about to get the scholarship to come to UGA. I did not know that I was approved, and the professor leading the application process asked me in the department’s hall, “Diego, are you not going to do the English exam? It is within one hour!” For some reason, I never got his email telling me about this exam, which was the final stage for the application. I literally ran to the place of the exam, arrived a few minutes before it started, and I just made enough points to be approved. That was a crazy day.

My favorite place to study is…

Multiple places: at the Crop and Soil Sciences Department, at the library, or home.

My favorite professor is…

I had many astonishing professors along my academic life, starting with my family. I believe that who inspired me the most to pursue my career in soils was professor Roberto Novais during my undergrad in Brazil. I also want mention professors Sabino Noriega, Paulo Martins, Geraldo Ferreira, Marco Tourinho, Eveline Mantovani, Jose M. Dias, Júlio Neves, Liovando da Costa, Nairam Barros, Joao Lani, and Rubens Oliveira. At the University of Georgia, I had splendid professors as well, starting with my exchange program and master’s advisor, Larry Morris. He provided essential support and lessons in my first years at UGA, and I took two of his soils classes. I also enjoyed classes of Bill Miller, Miguel Cabrera, Robert Cooper and Rhett Jackson, among many others. Furthermore, I definitely would like to mention my current Ph.D. advisor, Aaron Thompson, and how I enjoyed his classes. He provided me incredible mentoring and teaching experiences. I would like to end quoting Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… José Graziano da Silva, current director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He is Brazilian and an agronomy engineer, like me. I would like to learn from him the steps to reach where he is now.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… improve the lives of farmers around the world.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… open a full-time learning school for poor farmer kids in Brazil and South America (at first). I would like to travel to many places as well.

After graduation, I plan to…

… work as university professor or in consulting companies.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

I have many. I think the remarkable one was a field trip from Athens to Savannah to look at the soils along the way, in the soils class of Larry Morris. I had only been in the U.S. for a few weeks and looking at the new environment, landscape and soils was splendid to me.