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From Humble Beginnings to Chairman of the Board

Asian student reaches up to touch a tree in blossom on U of M campus

CCAPS alumna Karin Larson’s legacy lives on through her scholarship that helps students overcome financial challenges that could hinder their education

Karin Larson had big plans. While her mother and father did manual labor to earn a living, she was determined to have a professional career. And although no one in her family had ever been out of the United States, she graduated in 1963 with a degree in international relations and business from the University of Minnesota’s University College (now called the College of Continuing and Professional Studies), intending to go into foreign service.

“It’s the great American dream story,” said Larson in a 2005 interview with Minnesota Public Radio. “My father worked in a warehouse and my mother worked in a laundry. I was the first college graduate in my family. I've been so fortunate, blessed really.” 

Years later, when Larson had worked her way up from secretary to financial analyst to chairman of Capital International Research, among other roles, she would pay forward that blessing with a $1 million gift to the College of Continuing and Professional Studies to support other first-generation college students and those in interdisciplinary degree programs (Inter-College Program, Multidisciplinary Studies, and Health and Wellbeing Sciences). Larson passed away in April 2021.

A Friend and Mentor

Mary Nichols, the former dean of CCAPS, knew Larson as a major donor and one-time commencement speaker for the college, as well as a friend. “Karin was deeply grateful for her own education. Her giving was not only financial—she also gave valuable advice. In a room full of leaders, if she had something to say, people would listen.” 

Karin Larson with CCAPS colleagues in 2015
Karin Larson with
scholarship recipients

Nichols says while Larson wasn’t one to seek recognition, she delighted in the success of others, which she often learned about in the thank-you letters she received from scholarship recipients. For Larson, getting the letters was a happy occasion and she was proud of the fact that younger generations were focused on social causes and making the world a better place. “She’d beam and tell me, ‘I got letters,’ and she’d be thrilled reading about what the students had achieved. She also felt the same way about the people she mentored.”

Ilhan Abdulrazak is a computer and biological science double major in CCAPS’s Inter-College Program with plans to graduate in fall 2021, and the marketing officer for the Association of Computing Machinery Women’s Chapter. She said in her thank-you letter to Larson that she wants to volunteer in her Saint Paul community helping high schoolers learn about programming. “I would love for the people in my community to start having opportunities that were not available to me when I was there because I know how it can help them tremendously.”

Scholarship recipient Lamin Manjang, a graduate of CCAPS's Health and Wellbeing Sciences Degree program and a member of Future Leaders Aspiring in Science, said the support allowed him to better handle the “curve balls that life eventually sends you. The scholarship will allow me to continue my studies stress-free, not having to worry too much about money.”

Riley Boedigheimer, who earned a BS in the Inter-College Program in product design and global studies in 2020, wants to pursue entrepreneurship after getting some experience in the workforce. In his thank-you letter to Larson he wrote, “the generous gift will significantly decrease the pressures my family and I have been facing with the recent passing of my late father.” Riley was selected as the 2020 student commencement speaker, and shared about his college journey in "On Perseverance."

Hats Off to Thee

At a luncheon with scholarship recipients in 2015, Karin talked about how she wanted other "average" students (as she described herself) to have the same opportunity that she had to attend college and get a degree. Through her generous gifts to CCAPS, she has done more than that. Since 2003 the Karin L. Larson for Interdisciplinary Education Scholarships and the Karin L. Larson Fund for Interdisciplinary Education Advising have directly impacted more than 500 students in CCAPS’ individualized degree programs. 

In his commencement speech in May 2021, Dean Bob Stine paid tribute to Larson. “Karin was intent on supporting and encouraging students with perhaps humble beginnings but who had great potential—in other words, people like her! The whole time I knew Karin, she used a wheelchair, but she never let that slow her down. She brought a determination and graciousness that was contagious, and spurred everyone to be and do their best… From the words in the Minnesota Rouser, Karin, our ‘hats off to thee’."

Gifts can be made directly to the Karin L. Larson for Interdisciplinary Education Scholarships and the Karin L. Larson Fund for Interdisciplinary Education Advising.