I am a PhD student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota. I am a human-environment geographer and geographic information scientist with a primary focus on agricultural systems. My work aims to advance the state-of-the-art in GIScience in order to:

  1. identify and test generalizable principles underlying the spatial and temporal dynamics of human-environment interactions with an emphasis on learning and decision making,
  2. characterize how these interactions are manifested at different scales of analysis as ecosystem services and cooperative behavior, and
  3. understand the impacts of and further develop spatial decision support systems that efficiently and effectively integrate this information into farm and landscape management and policy.

Geographically, I am an expert in agricultural production in the Midwest United States and do a significant portion of my work in the context of action research projects focused on watershed management and agricultural innovation.

Current Projects

Current primary projects include work on (see CV for full list publications):

  1. collaborative geodesign - a collaborative planning and design process supported by large touch screen technologies that enable the rapid design of landscapes with quantitative environmental feedback on design performance (see Slotterback et al. 2016, Runck et al. in press, and Runck et al. in preparation)
  2. using deep learning techniques to enable the automatic generation of agents in agent-based models from natural language (dissertation work); this approach may address some of the issues of scalability, repeatability, and accessibility in agent-based modeling, and also help further bridge the constructivist-materialist divide in human-environment geography
  3. ecosystem service tradeoff analysis and spatial optimization: nitrogen use efficiency of agriculture and spatial optimization (see Ewing and Runck 2015 Midwest N Spatial Efficiency; Mueller et al. 2017 Global N spatial efficiency); continuous living cover cropping systems and soil sustainability (see Runck et al. 2013 FAO Report). On-going work to consider policy interventions to generate nearer to spatially optimal ecosystem service outcomes.
  4. enhancing the governance and process of plant breeding for sustainable development through collaborative, distributed, and market-driven methods (see Runck et al. 2014 Reflective Plant Breeding Paradigm, Kantar et al. 2016's review of Perennial Grain and Oilseed, and Jordan et al. 2016 for governing new plant breeding technologies such as CRISPRs, agroecosystem design and management, and end market development)
  5. scaling up winter barley production in Minnesota through risk mitigation - this project on my family farm is trying to build up the initial market for winter malting barley in Minnesota under the label Clear Water Grains and develop automated data pipelines for processing imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles and in-season quality and yield risk analysis

Other projects include working with high resolution climate datasets to compare and contrast how different drought indices define agricultural drought over space and time in West Africa, and a project looking at historical land use change in three Minnesota townships to understand how agricultural landscape pattern have influenced earthworm migration. My primary contribution to understanding earthworm migration is as a geospatial analyst synthesizing remote sensing, municipal boundary, soils, and agricultural census data. 

I have a general interest in developing tools and identifying best practices that increase the efficiency of the research process and enable reproducible research in geographic information science.


I have a minor at the PhD level in computer science and a Masters of Science degree in the Applied Plant Sciences (agronomy and agroecology) from the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota. During my masters degree, I did significant amounts of coursework in geographic information science and remote sensing. I have a Bachelors of Arts in English with emphasis in education from St. Olaf College. Before graduate school, I was a high school teacher at E.C.H.O. Charter School near where I went to high school in Lamberton, Minnesota.

Currently, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota with my wife, and our dog and cat.

Conceptual and Methodological Approach

Conceptually, I approach human-environmental interactions through the lenses of ecosystem services and socio-ecological systems. My work has a lot in common with researchers from other disciplines that engage in sustainability science scholarship using transdisciplinary principles.

The technical side of my work that advances geographic information science connects me to computer science. I am actively engaged in advancing GIScience and spatial agent-based modeling. My dissertation work uses new deep learning techniques to automatically generate agents that learn from experience from qualitative interviews . The goal is to use this new representation of agents to characterize the impacts of geodesign and other sustainability science interventions on individual learning and decision making.

I use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative analysis approaches depending on the specific question at hand. In the human sciences, I am most disciplined in cognitive psychology and education. My current work approaches learning and decision making through cognitive psychology with the tools of decision theory and game theory (see Rationale Choice in an Uncertain World). In the natural sciences, I am most disciplined in agroecology, cropping systems agronomy, and environmental modeling.

Where would my work be in AP high school geography curriculum?

Within the discipline of geography, I am best characterized as a human-environment geographer focused primarily on agroecosystems of the Midwest United States. For what it's worth, in the context of the high school AP Human Geography curriculum, my research advances the sections on agriculture, food production, and rural land use.

Where my work falls in the AP Human Geography curriculum as of 2015.

Where my work falls in the AP Human Geography curriculum as of 2015.