Penn State professor receives excellence in teaching award

By Erin Harford

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – Dr. Allen Larson, assistant professor of Communications at Penn State New Kensington, won the excellence in teaching award in April 2008, for his work in the classroom, advising, supervision of learning outside the classroom and course development.

Dr. Larson was presented the award last spring semester amongst his colleagues and students. According to, to receive an award of his high stature, Penn State recognizes the highest levels of academic excellence, outstanding leadership and meritorious service.

The talent, hard work, and high standards are a wonderful expression of what it means to say “We are Penn State.” Dr. Larson is one of the individuals honored who are of a highly select group who warrant admiration and appreciation of their noteworthy accomplishments from faculty and students.

Dr. Larson received his B.A. degree from the University of Maryland with an English language and literature degree. He then went on to attain his M.A. in English textual studies and creative writing at Syracuse University.  Lastly, he received his doctorate in Communication at the University of Pittsburgh.  He has been the assistant professor of communications at PSNK for four years.

There are not many professors who receive the award so soon after beginning their career at a Penn State campus, and when asked if he was surprised by the nomination, Dr. Larson replied, “Yes, I was surprised.” “I think that everybody hopes that they would have students that would want to nominate them. But, the fact that a student takes the time to notice and do that, is very gratifying of course. That’s really the best thing about it.”

He explained that he tries exceptionally hard to be a good teacher and that by being nominated it helped him realize that it is not always easy, but it does pay off.

Dr. Larson has helped make the Communications department at New Kensington a 4 year degree program and allowed many students the opportunity to graduate from that particular campus. Dr. Larson feels his position there has made a difference. “It was up to us which courses were to be offered here on campus,” he said. Dr. Larson brought the Internship, Senior Research and Digital Communications courses to PSNK so there could be a full degree program.

Dr. Larson works exceptionally well with the rest of the faculty and with his students. He feels they have a mutual respect and recognition of the hard work that they are all doing. He gave a convocation speech at the beginning of the fall 2008 semester, in which he describes that “Only good customers can make good professors.”

“I do mean that there’s only so much the professor can do. And I think the professors have to take a lot of responsibility for holding up our end of the bargain,” he said.  Dr. Larson explained to me that there is nothing he can do alone to make teaching work.

Dr. Larson has had a huge impact on the PSNK campus, and he clarifies that there is always room for improvement. He said he is going to continue to improve the courses he previously taught and can see what areas he can work on and how some of the curriculum can be improved. It is a process of “continually refining and adapting,” he said.

“I think a lot of us get trained in thinking there is a right way to teach, and once you learn the right way, that’s that. But as I said before, not everything works for everybody. Some students are going to respond better to oral information; some are going to respond better to visual, some respond better to activities and some people hate in-class activities,” he said.

“So, the tricky part is trying to marry it, so that you have at least some aspect that tries to reach those various kinds of learners in every classroom.”


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