Jeff Clark leans against Main Hall
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jeff Clark (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.


A professor of geosciences, Jeff Clark has been adamant about using new technologies in his research and pushing students to do hands-on work in exploring the Earth.

He has been leading students in field research projects using drones, GIS, and GPS to map changes in the Earth’s surface—from changes in land cover and crop phenology to the rates of bluff retreat. His study has included such topics as renewable energy and solar power and he has been instrumental in working with the president’s office at Lawrence in making sustainable changes on campus and at Bjorklunden.

Clark has been on the faculty at Lawrence since 1998. He has a bachelor’s degree in geology and environmental studies from Middlebury College and a Ph.D. in geography and environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

We caught up with him to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.

In the classroom

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I want students to know that I’m pretty straightforward and that I see learning as a partnership between the instructor and the student. If either party doesn’t pull their weight, the end product is compromised. So, I will work hard for them if they work hard in class.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

I like exploring different ways to help people visualize how Earth works. Over the years, I’ve built a bunch of physical models including two indoor rivers and an Augmented Reality sandbox. Now I’m using drones to look at Earth from above. I like technology and using it in innovative ways for teaching.

Get to know Earth past, present, and future with the multidisciplinary study of geosciences.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I am always surprised and often in awe of the natural beauty of landscapes. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a fair bit of traveling. My top three awe-inspiring places are the Dolomites in Italy, the Grand Canyon, which I’ve hiked and rafted, and Mauna Loa in Hawaii, which I’ve summited twice. I’m privileged to have a job and a discipline that affords me these opportunities. 

Out of the classroom

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing? 

I’d like to say I’d be a baker or a pro poker player, but more likely I’d be a consultant or work for the USGS or state geological survey.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

Oh, the wooded trail behind Sage/Trever. I’m glad they didn’t pave that over and put in lights. We need some spaces on campus that are quiet, undeveloped, and even dark.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

I found Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume series, My Struggle, spoke to me on many levels. His writing demands that you put the book down every dozen pages and just think. It is a very slow read. Probably book No. 1 is the best; if you don’t want to wade through 3,000 pages.

I prefer live music over recordings. Listening to live music nearly always gives me shivers—I don’t get that with recordings, even live ones, because they lack the presence and atmosphere of a performance. If I have to choose a recording, I would choose Pink Floyd’s Time. The things they wrote about are relevant to middle-aged me and yet they were very young when composing. I think most artists are possessed with that keen sort of insight and can almost transport themselves and their audience through time and space.

Film: I am strangely attracted to historically based war movies. Saving Private Ryan keeps me wondering what I would do in those stressful, sometimes ambiguous situations. And I don’t really know. I don’t think any of us do unless we are faced with those choices in that setting. I sincerely hope to never have to be in that situation, but I imagine you’d learn quite a lot about yourself.