Jakob Larson '17

Environmental business alumnus helms GIS department within days of graduating

Six days after graduating from the University of Redlands, Jakob Larson ’17 was hired to manage the geographic information systems (GIS) operations for California’s largest land preservation system—and he says it’s all thanks to his Redlands education.

“All of my professional experience came from being a student at Redlands,” Larson says. After taking his first GIS class during his sophomore year, Larson jumped at every opportunity involving environmental data collection. As a 2015 Ifft Science Researcher, he examined the effects of the California drought on agriculture.

“Through the use of GIS, environmental research, and economics, I was able to tentatively predict the trends of California’s climate and its impact on agriculture during the drought,” Larson says. “Then, examining corn, I found that water costs could be reduced by about 50 percent with crop alternatives such as sorghum and millet.” 

As the GIS manager and climate change analyst for The Wildlands Conservancy, a conservation non-profit working to preserve biodiversity and promote outdoor education, Larson manages the mapping and spatial analysis for the organization’s preserves. “It’s a relatively new position, so they also want me to lead the charge toward developing a more connected GIS department,” he says. 

At the July 2017 Esri User Conference in San Diego, Larson presented some of his work from the conservancy, including case studies conducted in partnership with students from local schools. “Half of the conservancy’s mission is to provide service learning opportunities for children,” Larson says. “When the rangers are busy and I need someone to help with data collection, we reach out for students who want to help. They learn how to collect and use GIS data while also becoming more spatially aware.”

Not long ago, Larson himself was one of those students. “For my capstone, I worked for the conservancy at the Bearpaw Reserve,” he says. “Professors Monty Hempel, Tim Krantz, Nathan Strout, and Wendy McIntyre were my advisors. I’m where I am now because of them.”

Due to the University of Redlands’ small class sizes, faculty mentoring, and endowed research opportunities, upon graduation Larson felt prepared to enter the workforce. “I had experience as a GIS manager, working for government agencies, climate change analysis, and GIS data collection,” Larson says. “All of those are part of what I’m doing in my work today.”