NC State's Bob Larson, right, was recently awarded the Watt Huntley Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Raleigh Public Relations Society.

Head of the Class

August 2, 2010

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Bob Larson is a man of many hats. A successful entrepreneur, renowned public-relations guru and a notoriously meticulous editor, it’s his ability to cultivate an environment of creativity and mutual respect that most endears him to students in NC State’s Department of Communication.

“Professor Larson fosters an incredible classroom environment,” said Caitlyn Suber (’11) “By the end of each semester, he has earned the respect of every student.

“It’s unbelievably challenging, but it’s also comfortable and encouraging,” she said. “He doesn’t settle for anything less than your best – that’s what pushed me to achieve what I have as a student.”

Larson’s style, teaching methods and mentorship have proven wildly successful both on and off campus. After beginning his NC State teaching career with a single class in 1998, Larson has received Lambda Pi Eta (a national communication honor society) Beta Chapter’s “Graduating Seniors’ Award for Outstanding Teacher” eight times in the last decade.

Students say Larson’s humble demeanor begs for less imposition and recognition – though he can hardly avoid it. Earlier this summer, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Raleigh Public Relations Society, but his heart lies with his students and helping them hone their craft.

“Instructing is far superior to working in corporate America or owning my own business,” he said. “I love all my students and believe every student has potential, hope and value.

“I just wish I had begun teaching ten years earlier.”

With the help of an ever-present red pen, Larson pores through students’ papers, quizzes and tests nightly, ensuring their timely return the following day. And although his passion for perfection might deliver what students initially view as a sea of red ink, every suggestion and edit is geared solely toward helping each of them to realize full potential in their efforts – something instilled in Larson during his own undergraduate years.

“I had a professor at Rutgers University who would never settle for less than perfection,” Larson said. “I hated his class at the beginning, but I realized he was bringing out the best in me.

“I was so influenced by him that I regarded him as a role model and decided that I wanted to teach as a career.”

So, beginning with the first class each semester, Larson sets a tone of positive reinforcement that bodes well in helping students thrive – despite his passion to eradicate grammatical errors, poor sentence structure and middle-of-the-road efforts. Students attest to the difficulty of Larson’s courses with deep appreciation.

“He is the most genuine professor I’ve ever studied under,” said Emily Currier (’11). “His sincerity is rarely surpassed in other classrooms.”

As the majority of Larson’s courses are reading- and writing- intensive, he spends countless nights and weekends whittling down dictionary-thick stacks of papers, with only his trusty red pen to keep him company. It’s all worth it, Larson says, to see students push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of – whether that’s here on campus or after they graduate.

“Many of my students stay in touch, some even 10 years down the road,” he said. “I enjoy the privilege of hearing about promotions, graduate school successes and prominent job positions. I enjoy thinking back and remembering that student as a sophomore, and seeing him or her 8 years later leading a corporate communication function or establishing a public relations agency.

“It’s very rewarding – you just don’t get that sort of fulfillment in the corporate or business realm.”

Students say they as well reap the rewards of Larson’s classroom experience, where his hankering for more than mediocre has proven contagious.

“I’ve had a few internships since being in his classes, and I’ve felt so fortunate to know what I know as a student,” said Beth Montenyohl (’10). “I owe it all to Professor Larson and his red pen.”