Geek of the Week: Jake Larson

Jake Larson, a senior in Geophysics, has a wide variety of talents and hobbies outside of engineering. This month, The Oredigger sat down with Jake and had the opportunity to learn about everything from his favorite rock climbing locations, to his unique plans as a geophysics major, to his tips and tricks for living a balanced life as a Mines student.

Where are you from and why did you choose to come study at Mines?

I am originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois and I came to Mines because of its reputation as an engineering school, as well as its location. There are some really good engineering schools in the Midwest but none of them are as close to skiing as Mines is.

Do you participate in outdoor activities a lot then?

Yeah! I came here for the skiing but ended up getting more into summer activities, like rock climbing. I usually climb with a few friends, and we go on a lot of trips.

What’s your favorite place to go climb?

Locally, Clear Creek Canyon is fantastic. And then across the state, I really like Rifle. We also go to Red Rocks, and that is really fun.

How do you feel about rock climbing?

There are a whole bunch of different styles. There is bouldering, where you have pads and climb up small rocks. It’s very hard and physical. Then you have sport climbing, where you climb with ropes and you have bolts that are also in the wall. Finally you have traditional climbing, where you place your own gear, and that is more of a pure style, where you move up something with the goal of getting to the top. They all have different things that appeal to me! I like sport climbing because I get to try really hard moves and then fall. It’s really fun to have a physical activity that you push yourself at and then end up falling through the air—especially if you are a couple hundred feet up! Rock climbing is such a mental sport too. You have to be really confident. I’ve learned a lot through climbing about how your mind and your body connect.

Do you have any advice for other students interested in rock climbing?

My advice would be to find someone in the community who is knowledgeable. It sounds kind of cliché, but you just have to go do it and experience it. A lot of people worry about being good, but any person can go up and have a really great time. You get more satisfaction if you just focus on the experience instead of focusing on your skill level.

How did you end up majoring in Geophysics?

I’ve always been interested in geology, which is part of the reason that I came here, but I wanted to get into a more quantitative science. I wanted to work with more data, so I got into Geophysics. I also find a lot of the research in Geophysics really interesting.

What are you planning to do after you finish your degree?

Right now it looks like grad school, probably elsewhere. I am primarily looking at the Aerospace Engineering Program at CU Boulder doing remote sensing research.

When looking at careers, do you plan to focus more on Geophysics or Aerospace Engineering?

I guess it’s meshing the two together. It doesn’t seem like they connect to one another, but there is some crossover between the two fields. I would probably consider the research that I would do in Boulder to be more Geophysics than Aerospace.

What has been your favorite Mines class?

They’ve all been so great (slight sarcasm). I think that Remote Sensing, taught by Jeff Andrews-Hanna, has been my favorite class because it was the first class where I really felt like I could do legitimate research with the data that I was getting. We had weekly projects in that class and they were pretty interesting. For instance, we did one project looking at beetle kill in the Grand Lake area and we were able to map changes in vegetation using satellite imagery and I thought that was a really cool application of Geophysics. It’s like a really broad but also specific field!

What is the hardest lesson that you’ve learned during college?

Confidence in the face of adversity would probably be the hardest lesson. In high school, I was very confident in my math and science skills, but here, everyone is so intelligent and was also at the top of their class. For a while, I didn’t think that I belonged here or was smart enough to do it. Once I got into classes within my major, I got really close to everyone and realized that everyone was at a similar level and was finally able to develop some confidence.

It kind of goes back to climbing too. You can have the ability to do it but if you don’t have the confidence, you will just hold yourself back. That lesson has definitely stuck with me in both climbing and school throughout my time here.

Who is your role model?

In every aspect of my life, I have different role models. Academically, I think Jeff Andrews Hanna is my role model in the way that he carries himself and everything that he does in his classes, research, and student interactions.

Do you have a favorite nerd story?

The entire Mines experience is one big nerd story! I’ve never been to a Mines gathering where school wasn’t discussed.

What is your favorite movie of all time and why?

Caddyshack. Best film of all time. It’s the right amount of goofy and the actors are just hilarious. It also comes from an era where the comedy was a lot purer than it is today. A lot of the comedy today is just not funny, so I appreciate that movie’s quality.

What is your favorite quote?

I like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

What activity do you do that makes you feel most like yourself?

I teach science and technology at this afterschool program in Golden for kindergartners through 5th graders. I create my own lesson plans. For instance, if I want to teach them about gravity, I make a lesson plan which usually has to do with activities that I thought were fun as a kid. I once had them build boats to test displacement and learn about that. They are really into it, and I can be kind of goofy, so I’m really into it too!

That’s awesome! What is your teaching philosophy?

Teaching really takes me back to when I was a kid trying to understand science by messing around with things. That’s how I’ve always looked at science and engineering, so I try to get them to think about it in a similar way. It’s fun to have an impact outside of the Mines community and to get out in the Golden community. It really keeps me grounded. I don’t think that being at Mines all the time is very healthy for anybody, so it’s really good to get out and interact with people who aren’t engineers.

If you had to stay in one building on campus for a few days straight, which one would it be?

I really like the library. Despite the kind of depressing feel you get in there, it has a lot of nooks and crannies to explore. If I had a few days in one building, I’d want one that I could try to explore around in, and I’ve got most of the others figured out. But the library is still a mystery to me. There are a lot of doors and they have those moving bookshelves in the bottom floor. Those are pretty fun.

What have you done over the summers?

Over the last two summers, I have worked on trail crews in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I built a lot of retaining walls and a lot of really precise drains and steps and stuff. There are some minor engineering applications involved. During my first year, I was part of a conservation crew, whereas during the past year, I was a crew leader and we worked with some of the National Forest Service employees.

Favorite part of that job?

My favorite part was that I was outside every day and that I woke up every morning just really excited to go to work. We would go out for like 10 miles and have 10 hour days, but it was always my favorite. We also did some overnight trips and it was just the best way to spend a summer.

Have you ever considered teaching?

Teaching is a really important thing to me, and eventually I would like to get a PhD and teach at a university. I’ll probably work in the industry for a while and then teach after that. My dream would be to teach introductory undergraduate courses, like Intro to Geophysics or Intro to Seismic. Those classes are really important because you have the opportunity to get someone really excited about a certain topic, and maybe that is what they are going to do with the rest of their lives.

Do you have any other special talents?

I’m a closet musician. I play the guitar and also the keyboard, and I’ve been doing that for quite a long time. I started in grade school, and like any hobby that I take up, I went 100% into it. I also got into recording. There is a lot of overlap between audio and Geophysics, which you wouldn’t imagine, but it is fun to look at the physics behind the sound. I also made a couple of guitars, which was cool. It was really hard, but it was cool because you could shop for each part individually. I really enjoyed the soldering and circuitry, as well as painting them.

As a senior, what advice do you have for Mines freshmen?

Just get out and have some different experiences outside of Mines. Summers are a great opportunity to do that. Internships are important, but you are going to work for your entire life, so maybe look for something that’s a little more obscure and allows you to learn some things that you won’t get at Mines.


Katrina San Nicolas

While I love math and science, writing for the newspaper gives my life balance and allows me to meet lots of great new people. I am a Chemical Engineering major and I am also involved in Alpha Phi Omega (APO) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). When I am free from my studies, I enjoy traveling with my family, jogging, and baking. If you have an article idea or know of an event or person on campus that should be featured, let me know!


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