Phillip H. Larson

Earth Science - Geomorphology - Quaternary Science


My Teaching Philosophy

As a Teaching Scholar, I integrate my teaching, mentorship, and research so that they are essentially one in the same in scale, scope, and purpose.  My pedagogical and mentorship methodology is that of a learner-centered, experiential learning approach.  This approaches integrates my students with my research to allow for hands-on, high-impact, experiential learning.

Learner-centered: In teaching, the first concept that I try to establish is that of a learner-centered approach to education; one that creates an appropriate framework to connect with individual students.  This is often difficult in the large, introductory sections that have hundreds of students. But, it is something I strive for nonetheless.  I do this by encouraging classroom interaction, providing variable pedagogical methods in a single class to reach different styles of learners, and through offering a variety of methods of learner support (mentoring TAs and Preceptors (undergraduate peer-mentors)). It is my belief that focus must be paid to each student and his or her specific learning needs, while not compromising fairness and consistency in course policy, so that a true “connection” can be made. This includes directing learning to varied student backgrounds and learning styles.  This has resulted in many of my courses having a variety of assignments focused on different learning styles so that I can appropriately assess each student.  We all learn differently and, therefore, having a single assessment style may serve to disadvantage some students.  I try my best to have a diversity of assignment styles in each class so that there is equity for all styles of learning.  Of course, I am not perfect and cannot foresee everything, so listening to the comments and reflections of each student is key to being a great educator and building the appropriate courses that will reach the entirety of the student body efficiently and effectively.  Similarly, in mentorship, I try to understand the objectives, learning style, and passion of each student I advise.  I then develop individualized pathways through curriculum and extracurricular opportunities for each of them to achieve their educational goals.

Experiential Learning: The second concept that I incorporate into each of my classes, and in mentorship, is the idea of experiential learning, as summarized by Kolb and Fry in 1975a.  This idea follows their classic “learning circle” that can begin at any one of four concrete stages — 1) experience, 2) observation and experience, 3) forming of abstract concepts and 4) experimentation/testing.  I have seen incredible power in my teaching when students interact - observe – critically think - apply. In a very real way, my instructional approach adapts the experiential learning view of Kolb and Fry (1975)a and the later additions of Jarvis (1987)b through “field” experience and hands on application of concepts, while creating active involvement in the academic research process.  Thus, they begin and complete the “learning circle.”
          a. Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) ‘Toward an applied theory of experiential learning;, in C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.
          b. Jarvis, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London: Croom Helm. 220 pages.

I want to emphasize that I believe very, very strongly that this learner-centered, experiential learning approach provides the most impactful and effective learning experience for our earth science and physical/environmental geography-focused students. I believe the success of my students, while in the program and post-graduation, demonstrates this fully. Many of my students have successfully found employment in environmental or geospatial consulting and engineering firms, government agencies, or have gone on to pursue M.S. or PhD programs in the earth sciences.

Because of this success, I continue to pursue this pedagogical philosophy in both the physical classroom and in online education.  Infusing and implementing this pedagogical approach into online curriculum has been a major pursuit of my career.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  It is almost an obsessive pursuit. I have made this a priority in my career because I have been utterly appalled by what passes for online pedagogy.  I have heard educators say, “it is impossible to teach ____ (insert class name) online with the same effectiveness as an in-person class” or “online classes just don’t engage students as well.”   I fundamentally disagree with this and have made it one of my primary career goals to prove these preconceived notions wrong.  Ultimately, I think it comes down to thinking “outside the box” and being creative in order to fully engage students in online courses. I also want to emphasize that not only do I maintain the Teaching Scholar philosophy when it comes to integrating my scientific research with my teaching and mentorship, but I also intertwine pedagogical development/research with mentorship. I utilize a similar learner-centered, experiential learning philosophy in advising and mentoring students.  I let them drive their future based on their needs and objectives, but I provide experiences at every turn possible in order for them to grow and achieve their goals.  I am both "hands off" in that I let the students push themselves forward and grow confidence by seeing they can achieve, and "hands on" in that I supplement their drive with amply opportunities to learn and experience in and out of the classroom.  As such, I expect students to be self motivated and if they are, they can expect me to put my everything into providing them with opportunities to be their best selves.

Current Courses Designed and/or Taught:


Geography 101 - Introduction to Physical Geography (in-person and online)

Geography 313 - Natural Disasters (in-person and online)

Geography 315 - Geomorphology

Geography 409 - Water Resources

Geography 415 - Earth Surface Processes (online)

Geography 416 - Fluvial Geomorphology and Hydrology (Writing Intensive)

Geography 417 - Quaternary Environments and Climate Change

Geography 440 - Field Methods

Geography 440 - Desert Southwest or National Parks of the Southwest USA (alternate spring terms), Hawaii (alternate spring terms)

Geography 499 - Applied Geomorphology


Geography 509 - Water Resources

Geography 515 - Earth Surface Processes (online)

Geography 516 - Fluvial Geomorphology and Hydrology

Geography 517 - Quaternary Environments and Climate Change

Geography 540 - Field Methods

Geography 610 - IPG: Desert Geomorphology

Geography 610 - IPG: Arid Environments

Geography 677 - Advanced Fluvial Geomorphology

Geography 677 - Sediment Transport

Graduate Students (Minnesota State University and University of Minnesota)

Student - Thesis research chair/advisor unless otherwise noted

Undergraduate Institution

Thesis Research

Year Graduated

Current Position

Carson A. Smith

Gustavus Adolphus (Geology)

Floodplain Inundation Mapping: An Evaluation of Geospatial Tools on the Minnesota River, MN. 

2013 - 2016 

Amec Foster Wheeler

Andrew Brown 
(Chair – Ron Schirmer, Anthropology)

Minnesota State University (Anthropology)

MAID – Minnesota Archeological Integrated Database

2014 – 2016 

(MNDOT) as 
content expert/specialist.

EARTH Systems Laboratory Tech.

Devon Libby

Minnesota State University (Geography)

Assessing Historical Planform Channel Change in an Altered Watershed with Quantification of Error and Uncertinaty Present in a GIS/Aerial Photograph-based Analysis; Case Study: Minnesota River, Minnesota, USA.

2014 – 2018 


Vinson Williams

Minnesota State University (Geography)

A Geospatial Approach to 
Assessing I/I in Wastewater 
Infrastructure: Case Study of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.

2015 – 2017 

Barr Engineering

Zach Hilgendorf

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Geography)

The Efficacy of Best Management Practices on Peak Discharge and Contaminant Loads in Agricultural Drainage Systems, Blue Earth River Watershed, South-Central Minnesota, USA.

2015 - 2018 

PhD Student - Arizona State (Fall 2018)

Melissa Oubre

Arizona State University (Geography)

Predicting Invasive Carp Habitat Suitability in the Minnesota River Basin, Minnesota.

2015 - 2018

PhD Student - Bowling Green (Fall, 2018)

Jason Millett

Minnesota State University (Geography)

Cliff-Top Dunes in the Lower Chippewa River Valley of West-Central Wisconsin

2017 - 2019

National Geospatial Intelligence Agency

Kira Kuehl

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Geography)

Non-thesis (APP)
Single-Grain Optical Stimulated Luminescence Dating at Cambria Pit, Minnesota River Valley, Minnesota, USA

2017 - 2020

Continental Mapping Consultants, LLC

Melissa Kohout/Swanson

Minnesota State University (Earth Science)

Mass Wasting Investigation and Assessment in the Midwest: Case Study of the Minnesota River Valley, New Ulm to St. Peter, Minnesota, USA

2017 - 2019


Ricky Mataitis

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Geology)

Distribution, Geomorphology and Significance of Sand Stringers in west-central Wisconsin and southern Minnesota, USA.

2018 - 2020

Magee Geophysical Services (Reno, NV)

Luke Burds
(Chair – Ron Schirmer, Anthropology)

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Geography)


2018 – current

M.S. Student-MNSU

Daniel Gardner

Minnesota State University (Earth Science)

Evaluating and assessing stream terrace mapping methodologies: Case study of the Whitewater River, Minnesota.


M.S. Student-MNSU

Kenzie Knox (Chair – Mark Bowen, Geography)

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (Geography)



M.S. Student-MNSU

Owen Lott (Co-Chair with Bryce Hoppie - Geology) Minnesota State University (Earth Science) TBD 2019-Current
M.S. Student-MNSU
Shanti Penprase (Chair - Andrew Wickert, University of Minnesota)
Carleton College (Geology)
PhD Student - University of Minnesota
Future Student X

Future Student Y

Future Student Z


Teaching Photos

Calcrete at Tempe
              John Douglass at Grand CanyonTempeButteYosemiteZion

"You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it, you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths." - J.W. Powell