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Week of December 5, 2011

Staff Spotlight

Dearborn student 
organizations supervisor helps recreate Detroit

Volunteer work has been a family endeavor since Jonathan Larson, UM-Dearborn’s student organizations supervisor, was a child. “My family has been very good at giving back … we always did gift baskets for food drives or coat drives,” says Larson, a native of Manistique in the Upper Peninsula.

After graduating from Northern Michigan University with a degree in secondary education, Larson continued to volunteer with Greening of Detroit, Motor City Pride and Focus Hope. He says one of his most memorable volunteer projects involved gardening for an urban farm in Detroit. “I was pulling weeds and planting plants in the city. You’re able to see the fruits of your labor,” he says.

Photo by Jennifer Thelen, U-M Dearborn.

On campus, Larson’s job is to help others. “I work with all student organizations on campus and I’m the primary adviser for student government, homecoming committee and the Wolfpack, which is an athletic support group. I’m also the adviser for the student funding board,” Larson says.

As an adviser, Larson meets weekly with the leaders and attends the groups’ meetings as well. “I help with policy navigation, formulating ideas and navigating the university system,” he says. Larson also teaches them how to effectively work together. “We all have our own personal beliefs, but I try to educate them on respectful dialogue and that it’s OK to be different; people are going to disagree.”

Larson’s volunteer experience came in handy when he led an Alternative Spring Break student volunteer effort in Detroit. “I oversaw the trip, so I did some of the reflection activities, helped coordinate everything on Dearborn’s side, and took lead on setting things up, like where the students were staying,” Larson says. He joined the students, camping at UM-Dearborn’s campus for a week.

He worked with the United Way to set up four different activities. “They could build ramps for individuals who are homebound, work with a women’s shelter in Pontiac, work with a children’s community center or at a food shelter,” he says.

Larson says it’s exciting for students from across the country to see the real Detroit. “Yeah there’s crime and we could focus on that, but there’s some beautiful things in that city, and I love being able to show people that and have people leave passionate about the city of Detroit,” he says.

He also was also able to teach them the value of volunteering. “I may not be able to give money but I can give sweat equity or my time.”

Larson’s activity in the community isn’t confined to volunteering. He also enjoys playing kickball. “I play on a recreational league. You have a big red ball and you run the bases. It’s something fun that gets you outdoors, helps you blow off steam, and I’ve met great people through it,” he says.

Besides reliving his youth through kickball, Larson also enjoys exploring history by visiting locations throughout Michigan and the United States. “I’m big into lighthouses, anything kind of maritime, like the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle,” he says.

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



Jonathan Larson, student organizations supervisor, on volunteering: “I may not be able to give money but I can give sweat equity or my time.”


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