Jan Larson

Professor and chair of UW-Eau Claire’s communication and journalism department Jan Larson, left, stands with Leader-Telegram reporter Samantha West in April 2017 after West received the department’s Ann Devroy Memorial Fellowship. Larson recently received the 2018 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award from the UW System.

When I finally decided to pursue journalism, I was completely overwhelmed.

The thought of switching my major yet again was absolutely terrifying to me — would I find a home in the communication and journalism department the way I had first in the university’s education and English departments?

I was also overwhelmed by feelings of self doubt that never seemed to stop circling my brain: Am I good enough to pursue a career in this competitive, supposedly dying field? Can I be trusted to write truthful, objective, thoughtful pieces that, together, work to tell a community story?

But then I met professor Jan Larson, who had been assigned my adviser. In our first meeting, she didn’t try to reassure me that pursuing journalism was the right decision for me — no one could really determine that but me.

Instead, she immediately offered her knowledge, support and guidance so that, regardless of the profession I ultimately pursued, I’d emerge a better person. It turns out, that singular experience would be emblematic of my remaining two years at UW-Eau Claire.

So when I found out a few weeks ago that Jan had been awarded the UW System’s 2018 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award, I couldn’t think of someone more deserving.

I’m guessing any other UW-Eau Claire journalism student — past or present — would agree.

Jan tirelessly works with her students so they’re not only successful reporters but become ethical, thoughtful, public service and social justice-minded journalists.

Jan is the type of professor who encourages her students to reach for the stars and pursue any opportunity that intrigues them or would make them a better person or journalist.

Jan is the type of professor who eases the pain of a 9 a.m. class with some sort of snack for those of us who bothered to roll out of bed in time for class that day.

Jan is the type of professor who spends any spare time she has on campus mentoring her students, whether that meant encouraging them to apply for internships, reviewing resumes and cover letters or offering support and guidance through any general life difficulties.

Jan is the type of professor who spends her entire spring break every other year traveling throughout the south with her “Immersion Reporting: Civil Conversations” students.

The course, which Jan developed during her 27 years on campus, is a collaboration with the university’s 10-day Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Every year, the trip traces the path and history of the United States Civil Rights movement.

Although the trip is certainly life-changing for all students who partake in it, for student journalists it’s a whole new level of educational experience.

Not only did I have the chance to hear from foot soldiers of the movement and other modern day civil rights activists, but I also learned what it’s like to tell emotionally-charged stories like these while completely immersed and on the road.

As a student journalist, you usually don’t even dream of getting the chance to do something like that before graduation. But Jan always made her students rethink what you were capable of as a college student.

For that, I’m eternally indebted to her. Congratulations, Jan.

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter