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Erik Larson ‘97 believes sharing a smile is the equivalent of giving back to the community.

“Giving back doesn’t have to be financial,” he said. “It can be as hyper-focused as smiling and looking someone in the eyeballs when you shake their hand. Giving back is what human nature is about.”

His attitude is reflected in his outgoing personality and dedication to the community. Larson was recently nominated as a Leadership Award honoree. This May, he and two other honorees, Joan Nelson and Linda Lee Tarver, will attend a special dinner honoring their accomplishments in the community.

Larson is the executive director of Impression 5 Science Center, located in Lansing, Michigan. He’s spent most of his life volunteering or working at Impression 5, beginning at age 14 when the museum was just getting its start. During his senior year at Olivet, Larson worked full-time at Impression 5 while also taking a full load of classes. Upon graduation, he worked as the exhibit area supervisor and over the years found himself in a variety of positions before taking over as executive director. Completely dedicated to the museum, he’s more than happy to have had found the right fit for his life. He advises others to pursue happiness in that same way.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to love what I do, and I think there are a lot of people who don’t know what that feels like,” Larson said. “Find something you love and are passionate about and do it. What is your personal mission? What are you going to invest in? There’s a possibility for some pretty extreme happiness if you can find that.”

Larson originally found happiness at Olivet, and he credits his college experience with his educational, moral and professional development.

“While Olivet provides education, I think the College also is holistically focused on creating better people,” Larson said. “And that’s probably the most meaningful piece of my Olivet experience.”

Olivet helped Larson discover how to make the world a better place with his own efforts. When he started college, Olivet was just creating the Compact, which he doesn’t take lightly. He stresses the importance of taking action to improve our world.

“What are you going to do today, tomorrow, the next day that will have a positive impact on society?” Larson said. “Probably more so than ever today in society we need to lean in and make it a better place. I feel that call to action all the time.”

Olivet also provided a platform for developing Larson’s professional skills, and he continuously noticed the relationship between his classes and job.

“I felt like there were so many connections with the work environment and what I was learning at Olivet,” he said. “I learned relationship development and soft skills that are associated with working with and leading others. Science was important, but those skills are equally or more important.”

On Olivet’s 175th anniversary, Larson feels overwhelmed.

“There’s a lot of history in 175 years,” he said. “It’s daunting to think about that … people who were in these classrooms and buildings and what was going on 25, 50, 75 years ago. My four years was a tiny bit of that, but there are so many memories that come with it.”

Larson embodies the attitude of “being more and doing good.” Olivet’s philosophy aligns strongly with his own, and he shares that with others.

“I tell people to pay attention to everything around you and do good,” Larson said. “When I’m my best person, I’m paying attention and doing good. I think I learned how to do some of that here.”

And if you want to join Larson in giving back? Just start smiling.

Join us in celebrating Erik and his fellow honorees at the 23rd Annual Leadership Awards Dinner on May 15 at the Country Club of Lansing. Registration includes a charitable gift to the Olivet Fund, which supports the students of Olivet College. Register today!

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