Undergraduate Education at Brigham Young University is pleased to award the 2020 General Education Professorship to Larry J. Nelson, a professor in the School of Family Life. Granting this award is one way to honor Nelson’s love and passion for teaching and acknowledge the difference he makes in the lives of his students.
“Dr. Nelson represents the best in faculty who teach for the General Education Program,” said Christopher Oscarson, Undergraduate Education associate dean. “He brings together cutting-edge expertise in his field with a focus on caring for his students’ intellectual, spiritual and emotional development. Whether he teaches a large or small section, he finds a way to connect with students and inspire the best in them. Additionally, he has been influential in discussions about revisions to the General Education Program prompting more of a focus on student learning and development. He is a tremendous resource to the university and well-deserving of the General Education Professorship award.”
The General Education Professorship recognizes professors who are committed to long-term service to general education through teaching and developing new programs or courses. Nelson exemplifies this award through his dedication to teaching general education courses for over 20 years.
“Many awards are given to professors and to receive any of them is meaningful,” Nelson said. “But to be chosen for the General Education Professorship award couldn’t mean more. The award is a validation for the things I try to accomplish through my teaching.”
To date, Nelson has taught more than 10,000 BYU students through five courses. Most of these students enroll in Human Development (SFL 210), a course that fulfills the social science general education requirement. In this class, Nelson works with students from a variety of majors to help them comprehend the biological, cognitive, emotional and social impact of human development.
“I knew I always wanted to teach, but I wanted to teach a subject that matters in people’s lives,” Nelson said. “In college, I took human development. I still remember the exact day and topic that made me realize this is what I want to teach. At the time, two famous BYU professors taught human development. I figured when I graduated with my doctorate is when they would most-likely retire. I told myself I would fill one of their positions and that is exactly what happened. It was a dream come true.”
Students enroll in SFL 210 for a number of different reasons; for example, to fulfill a major prerequisite, a general education requirement or for personal interest. Nelson addresses the challenge of meeting each student’s educational needs in a variety of ways. He incorporates the latest research, enhances critical thinking, improves writing skills and provides practical points in his course curriculum. This combination of teaching methods provides each student the best opportunity to meet course learning outcomes. Nelson’s overall goal is to help students understand the importance of a child’s development within the family.
“God’s work and glory is to develop his children, which is our development,” Nelson said. “Teaching SFL 210 is my chance to expose students not in our major to material they otherwise might not be exposed to in their four years at BYU. Without GE, students can get so focused on only gaining the information they need to get a job. GE exposes students to skills and content they need in life to become a whole person and a well-educated, lifelong learner who contributes to their family, society and church.”
Nelson was a member of the committee working to design a new General Education Program. He is president of the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood and a leader in research on the development of parent-child relationships, peer relations and emerging adulthood. The impact of Nelson’s research has not only influenced his students but also scholars around the world.
“I love my students and have the greatest job,” Nelson said. “I feel my title of ‘teacher’ is sacred because of the responsibility I have to my students. My greatest moment as a teacher is when my students have an ‘aha’ moment. To change a student’s life is the most important validation of what I do, but to have an external validation as esteemed as the General Education Professorship, I am grateful for.”
Each year, one professor is awarded the General Education Professorship, formerly known as the Karl G. Maeser General Education Professorship. Candidates are nominated by their colleges each spring. The recipient is announced every fall at the University Conference. The 2020 event was scaled down to a virtual event because of the current pandemic. The professorship is for three years and includes a salary stipend of $4,000 with an additional $4,000 for annual research.
“I am fortunate to be part of a department that is supportive of each other,” said Nelson. “My colleagues are wonderful people and phenomenal teachers themselves so to be singled out and nominated by my colleagues for this award and receive it means a lot.”