Erik Larson, PhD
BS, Environmental Analysis; Class of 2010
Assistant Professor of Geology
Shawnee State University
Portsmouth, Ohio

What is your current job title and your main responsibilities?

I am an Assistant Professor of Geology at Shawnee State University which is in Portsmouth, Ohio. My primary responsibility is teaching geology courses for undergraduates, from the introductory level to the advanced level. I also conduct research with my students related to karst processes. (Karst is landscape underlain by limestone that has been eroded by dissolution, producing ridges, towers, fissures, sinkholes, and other characteristic landforms.)

What was your path to getting the job you have now?

I did a REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) between my junior and senior years at the University of Minnesota, working on some karst research, and realized that it was the field for me. I also worked on an extensive undergraduate thesis (with Unity professors Kevin Spigel and Lois Ongley), and that helped cement that I liked research. So I went to Mississippi State University to earn my PhD in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and immediately out of school was hired on at Shawnee State University, where I have been for 1.5 years now teaching and working on research … doing exactly what I want to do.

What do you love about the job?

I love working with my students. I enjoy teaching them and seeing them make connections within the class and also to the world around them. I also like working on new and cutting-edge research with my students. Finally, I’m happy that my job as a geology professor allows me to get outside to do what I love: teaching and research.

What made you want to come to Unity? Were those expectations realized by the time you graduated?  

I wanted to come to Unity because I was sold by (Admissions Director) Joe “Salty” (Saltalamachia) on the small class size, one-on-one attention, opportunities to work on research, and do things in the field. As Joe perhaps remembers when he came to the college fair in Rochester, N.Y., I went on the weekend with my folks and again during the week with my school to talk to him more about Unity and what I could get out of it. I spent a lot of time at that booth; he’s quite the salesman, and didn’t disappoint! I only had a few classes at Unity with more than 20 students in them, most were in the 10- to 15-student range. I also had great one-on-one experiences at Unity, especially with Lois Ongley, Kevin Spigel and Barry Woods. Lois and I both started at Unity at the same time and I think that allowed us to connect, especially since she hired me on as her work-study for chemistry, where I supervised the chemistry labs for the four years I was there. Lois in many ways became my sounding board and “mother” away from home. Kevin started at Unity when I began my junior year and I was in two of his first classes: Hydrology and Soils Science. I think the really small class size (three in hydrology!) helped to form our relationship, which ultimately morphed into a great working relationship where I helped him with some of his research and then was able to work on a senior thesis with him and Lois. I didn’t meet Barry until my junior year in his Biometry class. Barry and I hit it off pretty quickly and he soon became a sounding board for me, and a confidante, as did Kevin. Finally, I had many opportunities at Unity to work in the field … from all of my course work, to research, to developing a field activity for Doug VanHorn to use in his Calculus 2 class. Where else do those opportunities exist?

In terms of courses, no one course set me on my path to geology, since when I was there the opportunities in geology were quite limited, though I very much enjoyed Jerry Cinnamon’s physical geology course. For me, it was more the support and encouragement I received from the faculty to pursue what I was interested in, and my work outside of the classroom, that got me where I am. I took on a REU, I did as much research as possible, I did more than the minimum to get by. It was the opportunities and advice outside of the classroom that got me to where I am.

How would you describe your transition from college to the working world, and what advice would you give fellow or future Unity alums?

My transition was very fluid. Leaving Unity and going to graduate school was a simple step for me. I had already done a lot of research, and had some teaching experience at Unity so that was an easy move. Then becoming a professor was another easy, fluid move, as I had continued working on research and did a lot of teaching while in graduate school. I think had I not worked on as much research at Unity and not taken some of the opportunities to teach, it would have been a more abrupt change, which I saw in many of my peers in graduate school. Additionally, those experiences and interactions with Lois, Kevin and Barry have had a significant impact on molding me into the type of person and professor I am today and I’m very fortunate for that.

My advice to current students is to be as engaged as possible and to do as much as you can, both in the classroom and outside. Ask for opportunities and make them yourself. Befriend the faculty and foster those relationships. If you do all of that you’ll succeed and have fun!

Monday, December 14, 2015