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Inspiring a New Generation of Engineers

"Whether pursuing a career as a physician, a teacher, a design engineer, or a manager - it's important to excite students about the possibilities an engineering degree offers."

Jan Larsson '77, president and CEO,
Versa Products Co., Inc.

As a high school student in Teaneck, New Jersey, Jan Larsson loved math and admired her math teacher, Edgar Law, who had attended Trinity on the GI Bill, graduating in 1958. “He was inspirational,” she recalls, “and spoke so fondly of the College that I decided to take a look. I immediately fell in love with Trinity. It was a size and environment where I felt I could belong.”

In April, Larsson was back at Trinity, this time as president and CEO of Versa Products Co., Inc., of New Jersey, lead sponsor of the College’s 15th Annual Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest. There, she joined another of her former teachers—David Ahlgren ’64, the contest director and Karl W. Hallden Professor of Engineering at Trinity— to share in the excitement of the nearly 110 teams of robot enthusiasts who were ready to compete.

With her twin 11-year-old boys, Kyle and Karl, looking on, Larsson presented Professor Ahlgren and President James F. Jones, Jr., with a check from Versa Products for nearly $30,000.

In addition to supporting the contest, the funds will make possible a new Versa Valves Engineering Internship Program, through which two Trinity students will serve as mentors teaching robotics to Hartford students.

Larsson’s own Trinity experience as an interdisciplinary major (computers, mathematics, and biology) demonstrates the impact mentors can have. She says, “Dave Ahlgren was a great teacher and role model for students.” She also speaks of the influence of her first-year adviser and mentor for all four years at Trinity, Joseph Bronzino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science. “I took every course he taught. One summer, I worked with Dr. Bronzino on a Worcester Polytechnic Institute project, processing data for a research project. The next summer, he helped me obtain a National Science Foundation grant to participate in a study of the effects of various drugs on epilepsy at the Neurological Institute of New York at Columbia.”

“Those opportunities for real-world experience were invaluable,” Larsson says. But her favorite Trinity memory was when Professor Bronzino arranged for Sir John Eccles, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in neurophysiology, to spend a week at the College. Larsson will never forget helping guide Eccles around campus, learning about his work, and talking with him over lunch. “It was a privilege and an honor, and 30 years later I still carry his card in my wallet!”

Carrying on the family business

After Trinity, Larsson earned a master’s degree in health administration at Duke University and spent 10 years as a hospital administrator in Philadelphia. Then, ready to try something new, she went to work for Versa Products Co., Inc., the manufacturing business her father and uncle started in 1948. “I intended to go back to healthcare administration after a few years, but ended up loving the business.”