Meeting the Challenge

Sophia Larson '17

Sophia Larson ’17

Whether she’s scaling New Zealand’s famed Kepler Mountains or overcoming unforeseen obstacles in the field, Sophia Larson ’17 relishes the chance to show ’em what she’s got. The earth sciences major and Henry Hanson Research prize winner discusses her thrilling little-known talent, her love of horsemanship and what it’s like to conduct research in different parts of the world, including her study-abroad experiences in New Zealand and a grant-funded research trip to the Caribbean, where she studied the effects of weathering as part of an international student-faculty research team.


Earth sciences.

Clubs and organizations:  

Geology Club, Delta Nu, Center for Sustainability Education and the equestrian team.


Henry Hanson Research Prize and Dean’s List.

Favorite book:

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

Favorite movie:

Mama Mia.

On choosing a major:

I grew up outside—hiking, camping, horseback riding and fishing. I always loved learning about the surrounding landscape as my family traveled across the western United States. During my first semester at Dickinson, I took Professor [of Earth Sciences] Ben Edwards’ course Planet Earth and fell in love with the subject immediately. The professors in the department were very welcoming and made my decision to declare an earth sciences major easy.

On choosing Dickinson:

When I was a senior in high school, I had no idea what type of college I wanted to attend, so I applied to 15. When I started visiting these schools and slowly crossed them off my list, I realized I wanted to be immersed in a small community that had a strong emphasis on studying/researching abroad. Dickinson was the obvious choice for me. With the small classes and endless abroad opportunities, this place felt like the perfect fit.

Favorite place on campus:


Favorite Dining Hall food:

The Kove's chicken shawarma.

Favorite class so far:

[Associate] Professor [of Earth Sciences] Peter Sak’s Field Geology course. Every week our class of five people would pile into a van and travel around Pennsylvania and Canada to learn how to execute different field techniques, like using a Brunton Compass, identifying structural changes across an outcrop and constructing geological cross sections. The skills I learned in this class are essential for a geologist, and have greatly helped me with my other field work.

As a kid, I wanted to be …

… a professional equestrian.

On studying abroad:

Last fall, I studied at the University of Otago in the South Island of New Zealand. As an earth sciences major and avid hiker, I always dreamed of exploring the beautiful mountains, fiords and glaciers of this mystical land. While I was there, I did a lot of hiking and backpacking, getting to see this fascinating country up close. My favorite trip was backpacking one of New Zealand’s most difficult Great Walks: The Kepler Track. This trip was physically demanding, and was made even more challenging doing it in the off season because of ice and snow. When we finally pushed through our hardest climb and passed the bush line, the view was unbelievable. That gorgeous panoramic view of the snowy Kepler Mountains and Te Anu Basin is something I will never forget.

Little-known talent:

I’m good with a machete.

Favorite professor:

Professor Sak is an amazing professor who is passionate about his work and is devoted to his students. We have traveled to four different countries for field trips and research projects, and he has taught me to appreciate and understand the finer points of lab and field work in the earth sciences. He also is a kind and caring person. Whether it is what I should do with the rest of my life or a MATLAB script that just isn’t coming together, he always has a willing ear and the time to listen.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …

… my pop (grandpa). He was an extraordinary, hardworking man who grew up on a farm in North Dakota and eventually became a world-renowned forester and professor. I would love to have a meal with him and pick his brain.

About my internship:

I was an intern at Geostellar in Martinsburg, W.V. After taking my first GIS course at Dickinson, I become very interested in spatial technology, and how it can be applied to real-world scenarios. Geostellar utilizes GIS techniques to calculate and display 3-D rooftop solar panel energy potential. In other words, they are able to strategically compute the best place to set up solar panels.  Working in this office setting taught me how to effectively communicate with clients and how to effectively manipulate different GIS techniques.

Biggest influence:

My family. They always support my dreams, no matter how insane they may be.

About my research:

I’m working with Professor Sak on the effect of chemical weathering on the island of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. Specifically, I have been investigating the relationship between knickpoints, steep regions along a river profile, and the rates of weathering in andesitic rocks. We are doing this so that scientists can better understand weathering.

I wanted to work on this particular project because of my interest in weathering and GIS technology, and because it gives me an opportunity to participate in some challenging fieldwork. My interest was piqued after reviewing previous work done on the weathering rind formation of Guadeloupe. Who wouldn’t want to go and explore a Caribbean country, where you could eat as many mangos as you wanted?

What I learned in Guadeloupe:

While working in Guadeloupe, I learned that fieldwork, no matter how much you prepare for it, will always be an adventure. Things will inevitably go wrong, but it is up to you and your team to overcome these obstacles together. Our team rose to the task, and we were able to push through the lows in our trip to ultimately achieve our goals. For me, field work is my favorite part of being a geologist. I enjoy the physical and mental challenges that the field work presents.

Personal philosophy:

It doesn’t matter what you are passionate about, as long as you are passionate about something.

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Published December 8, 2016