I AM UAA: Larry Ross

March 21, 2012

Professor of Economics
Hometown: Coos Bay/North Bend, OR
Fun Fact: Played in a piano bar during college

I AM UAA Larry Ross

The view from Larry Ross’s office window on the third floor of Rasmuson Hall looks out over the original campus of Anchorage Community College: Beatrice McDonald Hall, Sally Monserud Hall and Eugene Short Hall.

“I was here before Cuddy Hall or the Professional Studies Building arrived,” he says, his voice deep and thoughtful like that of Garrison Keillor, “and this [where Rasmuson Hall now sits] was the old Anchorage Sand and Gravel pit. I have a lot of memories right in this area. I started teaching here in 1971; I was 24 years old.”

Ross saw the merger of Anchorage Community College and Anchorage Senior College into University of Alaska Anchorage in the mid-1980s. He was faculty advisor to the formation of the first fraternity on campus, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, at the end of the 1990s. He served on the university-wide faculty evaluation committee for 13 years and was advisor off and on for the Economics Club.

Larry has taught an estimated 20,000–25,000 students, including Mark Begich and other Alaska legislators, fellow UAA faculty, three generations of students in one family, and the list goes on.

And to think he never set out intending to become a teacher.

While he was an undergraduate student himself in the 1960s at the University of Oregon, Larry was a mathematics buff and many of his fraternity brothers (Sigma Phi Epsilon) were enrolled in economics and accounting. With his sights set on law school, Larry decided to major in economics “with no idea about what I was going to do other than go to law school.”

By happenstance, shortly after graduating in 1968 and already accepted into several different law schools, a friend from the neighboring town of Bandon, Oregon, asked if he was interested in applying for a coaching job at the local high school. Interested in various sports and extracurricular activities his entire life, Larry thought it’d be a fun opportunity in a town where he knew a lot people. The catch: He also had to teach six periods of social sciences.

“I told the principal I had never done any student teaching or taken any education courses,” he says. “They were primarily interested in hiring a coach, so that didn’t seem to bother them!”

He was 21 years old. Many of his students were 19 and 20. He also became the senior class advisor to 66 kids while coaching cross-country running, freshman basketball and track, on top of his teaching schedule.

“It really was the most significant year of my life,” he says. “I discovered that I really loved working with students, both as a coach and as a teacher. But I still wanted to give law school a shot and couldn’t yet see myself teaching in the long run.”

Larry Ross 1971Doubting his path in teaching didn’t last too much longer. After his first year of law school, albeit successful academically, he says he realized that law wasn’t going to make him as happy as teaching. He quickly transferred back to the University of Oregon to start his graduate studies in economics. By 1971, he had accepted his second teaching job at Anchorage Community College of the University of Alaska.

Anchorage was an easy move for Larry. Alaska had been on his radar since childhood. His father lived here in the 1930s as a young man, gold mining in Talkeetna and northeast of Fairbanks before he enlisted in the Marine Corps the day after Pearl Harbor in 1941. Larry was born in 1946 in Oregon, where his parents had decided to live as a compromise between his mother’s preference of Santa Barbara, Calif., and his dad’s dreams of returning to Alaska. Larry grew up hunting and fishing, enjoying the outdoors and hearing stories of the far north from his dad.

Coincidentally, the timing of the Anchorage job offer came right as he was preparing to marry Vicki, an undergraduate student also at the University of Oregon. Larry and Vicki left for Alaska on the same day they wed. His parents’ wedding gift to the couple was a one-way ferry trip north.

“That is the one and only time I’ve been on the Alaska Highway and/or the ferry system,” he claims. (We know, hard to believe after 40 years of living here. Maybe not so hard to believe is that the newlyweds came expecting to commit to trying Alaska for one year. Well, we can see how well that worked out for them.)

Larry’s life and career in Alaska has been dotted with other pursuits. He went on sabbatical for four semesters in 1976 to finish up his doctoral work at Princeton University. From 1978–1993 he worked with Nike as a race director for foot races. Knowing a couple of the guys who founded Nike from college, he remembers this period fondly.

“Working for Nike was a very important part of my life,” he says. “I was very fortunate to work with them. They were on the cutting edge of their industry and the company was filled with passionate people.”

Still teaching this entire time and seeing his family grow with the birth of his two sons in the mid-1980s, Larry decided to move on from Nike as the boys got older. Shortly after quitting Nike in 1993, though, he was contacted by a fly-fishing tackle company, G. Loomis, asking him to become one of their pro staff members. For almost twenty years now, he has been field-testing tackle and gear, hosting clinics at local Alaska retail stores and representing G. Loomis at trade shows.

“I see more of my students at those trade shows than I do in my classes sometimes,” he jokes.

But in all seriousness (well, he is lifelong teacher afterall), he explains how working for G. Loomis is really like applied economics—including marketing, advertising, product differentiation and public relations.

Larry Ross fly fishing

After 40 years teaching in higher education, and getting paid to go fly-fishing on a regular basis, surely his thoughts are turning to retirement soon?

“My attitude is the same as when I started in 1971,” Larry says. “Take it day by day. As I tell my students the first day of class, I consider myself very blessed to be a teacher and to be a college professor. I sincerely mean that. I consider myself to be a teacher first and an economist second.”

“In addition to knowing that our best students here can compete academically with students from other institutions like University of Oregon and Princeton, it’s just been really exciting to be a part of the development and evolution of a major university,” he continues. “It’s hard for me to believe sometimes that I’ve been here this long. What can I say, it’s been an adventure.”

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