As Junior Lars Ericson walked into his kitchen he glanced over at the man staring down at his bowl of ice cream, a look of frustration in his eyes. Lars watched as his old friend brought a spoonful of ice cream up to his mouth and tried to chew it, only to wince at the pain it brought to his teeth and put the spoon back into the bowl, a look of disgust on his face. As a Communications Art Literature and Teaching (CALT) Major, Lars thought for a second and then, with a smile on his face he walked over to the man and taught him to enjoy his first bowl of ice cream. He was oblivious that this simple action would gain him his very own classroom in Tanzania for a summer.
“The man said, ‘if you can teach me how to eat ice cream, then you can come teach my school in Africa, anytime,” Lars said. “So we exchanged emails and the ball was rolling.”
As Lars began to seek ways to finance the trip through scholarships and fundraisers, the ball continued rolling until he had raised enough money to travel to Tanzania last summer and teach a classroom of 60 students for three weeks.
“Lars deserves this recognition because of the selflessness of his desire to teach,” Assistant Professor in English and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Rob Kendrick said. “His trip this last summer to Tanzania allowed him to teach for a few weeks in a non-Western environment and, based on recent conversations, the experience has helped Lars focus on where he wants to teach: inner cities.”
While many English Education majors avoid such difficult environments as they start their teaching careers, Lars embraces challenges like urban classrooms, as his passion for teaching lies more in the people than in the pages of Shakespeare.
“I believe that education should be an equalizer,” Lars said. “After going to Tanzania and even after taking Politics of Homelessness, I’ve been exposed to my privilege, and how I benefit from my socio-economic background. I want to use that privilege to help others receive an education.”
As Lars works toward a career in education by maintaining a course load of seven classes this semester, he has a strong support system of friends who firmly believe in the direction he’s headed.
“He respects diversity and finds beauty in being there for people,” Junior Naweed Ahmadzai said. “He’s exactly the kind of person I would want to teach my kids. I’m confident that someday he’s going to be a great teacher.”
Not only does Lars work hard to achieve his goal to make a difference in the education system, but also as a member of the Gustie Greeters, Writing Center, and PASO, he strives to make a difference in the Gustavus community.
“Lars has always been like Mr. Gustavus to me,” Ahmadzai said. “He’s so involved in the community, and he goes outside of his comfort zone to make sure that he always makes others feel comfortable and welcome here.”
According to his professors, Lars models his empathetic and engaging personality both in and out of the classroom.
“It’s hard to think of a future educator who will have more of an impact on students. He consistently models a kind of caring empathy while also demonstrating that being intellectually engaged is cool,” Chair of the English department Rebecca Fremo said. “That’s the best kind of teacher, one who takes kids seriously as thinkers, readers, and writers, but also understands the kinds of issues they face as adolescents.”
Outside of his work here at Gustavus, Lars likes to use his free time to play basketball and sit in the cafeteria for way too long conversing with friends.
“Lars seems to know just about everybody,” Kendrick said. “He gets along well with the Gustavus community.”
While Lars continues his education in the hopes to obtain his teaching license after Gustavus, and begin teaching inner city somewhere, he also tries to use the remainder of his time here to continue to sculpt his character.
“I just want to keep having fun and learning,” Lars said. “I want to figure out how to become a better teacher, person, and a better citizen. I want to keep seeing different perspectives and cultures. I want to keep meeting new people and just keep enjoying every single day that I’m here at Gustavus.”