Alumna Receives Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education

Alyssa Larsen (‘08), who has put her Southern Virginia University education to use by teaching and mentoring youth, recently received the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education for her work at Spanish Fork High School.

Larsen teaches in the severe profound special education unit at the school, a program organized for 10th through 12th grade students with mental and physical disabilities. She is also the head coach of the school’s girls basketball team and helps with the organization of other events, like talent shows and pageants.

“The most rewarding part of what I do is seeing my students progress and grasp different concepts,” she said. “At times this can take anywhere from weeks to months, to even years. Seeing these kids light up, and be so proud of themselves has really made me love my job. These students also love others, and helping others. It has been a constant reminder in my life that life truly is about serving others.”

The goal of the Huntsman Award is to annually “recognize, inspire and reward the best teachers, school administrators and volunteers in Utah for continually seeking ways to improve the quality of the education in [the] public school system.”

She cited her experiences at Southern Virginia as important to the formation of who she is today. Larsen grew up in Decatur, Texas, until her family moved to Buena Vista, Va., in 2008. While here, she majored in physical education and recreational administration and played for the women’s basketball team.

She said that the most valuable parts of her Southern Virginia education were “the friendships made and the professors who took the time to show an interest in [her] life.”

According to Larsen, one of the most significant people from her time as a Knight was Coach Michael Harmon, a physical education instructor and former women’s basketball coach at Southern Virginia. Larsen said that Harmon’s influence in her life has continued beyond graduation.

“He has been one of my biggest cheerleaders through my life since being at Southern Virginia,” she said. “He would constantly encourage me to excel in the classroom [and] taught me what it meant to be mentally stronger.”

According to Harmon, Larsen was a leader-servant on and off the court.

“While Alyssa was here we called her Coach AJ, as she was always in the basketball office asking about how she could be of better help to the team. She was a great support to the coaches and her teammates,” he said.

He said that over the years, Larsen became “like a daughter” to him.

“Now, I love watching from afar as she is a mentor to her basketball team at Spanish Fork.”

Larsen said that it was people like Harmon — people who became “more than a teacher or a coach” to her — that really taught her how to be a leader-servant.

An announcement of her award stated, “The extent to which Alyssa Larsen exerts herself to teach is as limitless as her desire to see her students stretch beyond their own expectations [and] merits a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education.”

Larsen said that the award came as a surprise but that she’s been humbled by the honor.

“I felt very privileged to be grouped with individuals who are such well known educators in the state of Utah,” she said. “I had no idea this was happening, and never dreamed I could ever win an award like this.”

She intends to continue her work as a teacher and coach as she has been for the last seven years. She said that the job “is everything [she has] ever wanted and dreamed of” and that she wants to continue to help the children she comes in contact with and enable them to meet their potential.

She said that her experiences at Southern Virginia were integral to making her the person that she is today.

“Southern Virginia University challenged me to always push myself to be better — not just in the classroom, but as a leader-servant as well,” she said. “Because of my knowledge that I gained about serving others, it has helped me become a better educator to the youth I come into contact with.”

Larsen lives in Spanish Fork, Utah, and is the mother of three-year-old twins.