Meet Matt Larson '07
Criminal Justice Graduate
Matt Larson was the first, and hopefully, not the last. The graduate of the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program was the first Siena Heights University student to receive his doctorate since the program was instituted on the SHU campus.
Larson, who finished his dissertation and earned a PhD in criminology and criminal justice from Arizona State University last spring, is currently an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University.
“When I started at Siena I had no clue that I would go on to graduate school,” said Larson, a first-generation college student. “I was just thrilled to be pursuing my bachelor’s degree.”
In fact, Larson was perfectly content running on the track team and taking criminal justice courses until he discovered McNair, a federally funded program designed to encourage eligible students to pursue graduate studies leading to the completion of a doctoral degree.
“I found out about the McNair program at about the same time I started to fall out of love with running and in love with academics,” Larson said. “I knew at that point that graduate school was one of my options, so applying was a no-brainer.”
He said McNair, especially Director Dr. Pat Wallace, had a “defining impact on my life’s trajectory.”
“The McNair opportunity was a blessing, and my relationship with Dr. Wallace means the world,” Larson said. “One of the concepts central to life course and developmental criminology is what’s referred to as a ‘turn-ing point.’ Without question, my relationship with her was the turning point of my college career.”
He said the process of earning a doctorate certainly resembles running a marathon.
“The PhD is an exhausting process,” said Larson, who first earned his master’s degree in criminal justice from Wayne State University in 2009. “But if you’re committed to it, love what you’re studying, have a fighter’s mentality and have the reasoning and writing skills to keep you alive, you’ll get through it.”
“The early introduction to research helped me establish a solid foundation for graduate school and what that world looks like,” Larson said. “McNair also helped professionalize me, which I really believe is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.”The McNair program helps develop those “survival” skills, he said.
Now, he is helping shape other young minds for the future. His responsibilities at SLU are three-fold: teaching, research and mentoring. He is involved in the “First Billikens” program to help first-year, first-generation students effectively transition into college. And he said the SLU faculty remind him of the faculty at Siena Heights.
Life is good inside and outside of the classroom, too. Larson, who cheers on Notre Dame football and Detroit Tigers baseball from afar, still runs an occasional half marathon and just purchased St. Louis men’s basketball season tickets.
“There’s nothing better than working from wherever you want whenever you want,” Larson said. “St. Louis has an inordinate amount of culture, far more than I expected actually.”
He encourages other Siena Heights students to take full advantage of what the McNair program offers.
“Apply,” he said. “I can assure you that McNair is well worth your time and will have a lasting impact on you no matter how far you choose to take your education. The mentorship you receive from Dr. Wallace and those others who are involved with McNair is invaluable and will make your time at Siena even more memorable and worthwhile.”