Erin Larson '04
Pine Point School Class of 2004
Ph.D Candidate (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Flecker Lab, Cornell University
Being at the equator, 41 degrees south of Pine Point’s campus is where I feel closest to the School these days and appreciate most acutely all that I was taught as a student there. As a Ph.D student at Cornell University, I am lucky enough to do my dissertation research in Ecuador, where I get to combine my love for studying streams with speaking Spanish and exploring new countries. I can trace that seemingly obscure research topic and sense of adventure back to Mr. Banister’s science classes, Mrs. Dolphin’s Spanish classes, and all of the Pine Point teachers who pushed me to think critically, while viewing the world with an open mind.
Read more details about Erin's research in this article from the fall, 2016 issue of ViewPoints.
For my dissertation research, I study how landslides affect streams and all of the cool insects, like mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, who live in them. My study sites are located along the Amazonian side of Ecuador’s Andes Mountains, which are steep and blanketed with cloud forest. The Andes are geologically young mountains, and combined with their rugged terrain and tectonic activity, they receive over 95 inches of rainfall a year. This combination is naturally a prime recipe for landslide activity, and just in the few years that I have been working on my Ph.D, we have already seen multiple landslides impact our sites.
While I love being outside and finding out new things about how streams work, I have appreciated how life as a graduate student has also allowed me to simultaneously pursue other passions. Stemming in large part from my time at Pine Point, advocating for social justice is hugely important to me as an educator and as a citizen. This semester, I am co-teaching an introductory biology course with a fellow graduate student at Cayuga Correctional Facility as part of Cornell’s Prison Education Program. This program grants associate’s degrees to its students through a local community college, and participation in the program reduces recidivism rates for its participants. I am honored to have the opportunity to leverage the privileges and education that I have benefitted from to help others. Teaching has been one of my favorite parts of being a graduate student, so having the opportunity to develop and teach my own course this semester is exciting.
Whether doing another study in my streams in Ecuador or running a local trail race, the educational foundation that I received as a student at Pine Point has undeniably bolstered me every step of the way.
When I think about interacting with my students, I often think about the quiet respect that Mr. Salsich bestowed on each of us, as we gave our opinions about Pip’s motivations in Great Expectations. When I am tired in the middle of a cycling training session, I remember how Ms. Raftery would cheer us on during lacrosse games, joyfully demanding that we give our best. Mr. Banister has been hands-down one of the most influential teachers in my life, and I still use things I learned during his class in my scientific life today. Reflecting back on science classes with him, I feel like he treated us like real scientists, even when we were middle schoolers, which fostered such a sense of curiosity and fun with science that seems effortless but is so tricky to implement in a classroom! Without having taken his classes in middle school, I'm not sure that I would be enrolled in a Ph.D program in ecology today. The list of people who influenced me at Pine Point could go on and on, since everyone who taught or coached me was a devoted and caring teacher.