2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Eric C. Larson, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Gies College of Business

Eric C. Larson

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Gies College of Business

“Professor Eric is an extremely thoughtful and considerate professor, not only to his students, but also to his colleagues and fellow faculty. He has consistently set innovative goals like writing a 175-page class-tailored textbook for his course and always thinking about the next research opportunity or project to get involved in.” – Michelle Shen

Eric C. Larson, 51, is Associate Teaching Professor and Associate Head of Business Administration at the Gies College of Business at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he has taught since 2012. He is also the James F. Towey Faculty fellow. He currently teaches Business Analytics and Communicating with Data.

Larson earned a PhD in Information Systems from the University of Minnesota, an MBA from Oklahoma State University, and a BS in Chemistry from Colorado State University.  He also attended University of Arizona and works at University of Illinois, “all Morrill Land Grant institutions!” he says.

In his nominations, he is described as a patient but passionate professor who goes above and beyond for his students. 

“Professor Larson exudes passion and is unequivocally one of the most inspirational and dedicated professors,” writes Alex Kogen, a student who first had Larson in business analytics two years ago. “I have relished the opportunity to serve as one of his course assistants for four semesters. Uniquely, he treats his undergraduate course assistants as equals, considering us his greatest asset. He pioneered the course and has continued to re-envision it with the help of his team. Despite the pandemic and tight timelines, our team developed an all-inclusive 200-page textbook which shapes the entire class. The text engages students through continuous practice problems, workbooks, and embedded videos throughout. Notably, the free text saves hundreds of students over $150.” 

Larson won the Gies College of Business Dean’s Impact Award for academic year 2020-21, and has been named to the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students every year since 2012.


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I think I had ideas that I might want to teach business when I saw lots of organizational dysfunction at various businesses where I worked. I knew that I wanted to be a business school professor when I saw that the stories that I could share about my experience were relevant and meaningful to students in the classroom. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Professor Aimee Barbeau and I are investigating how students learned in various delivery modes (online, hybrid, and in-person) in a natural experiment that occurred during the pandemic. We found that students who attended online had a better experience when some of their colleagues attended in-person. There is something about the face-to-face aspect of a course that is appreciated even by those who do not directly experience it.      

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… Maybe retired! But seriously, I think I would be some sort of software consultant helping organizations to build and implement technology that solves real business problems.  

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I think my students know that I want them to succeed and that I work tirelessly to give them a structure for learning that drives that success. 

One word that describes my first time teaching:  Saturday

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: It’s very difficult to disconnect from your work as a professor. Truly disconnecting is probably very difficult in most professional positions, but being a professor is not some easy “lifestyle” that some people might think it is.

Professor I most admire and why: Bob Heiny. Bob taught Statistics at the University of Northern Colorado where I grew up. He left a lasting positive impression on everyone he met and taught along the way. When I watched him as a kid, I knew that I wanted to teach, but I also knew that it would be impossible to do it as well as he did. 


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? The most rewarding thing that I hear from a student is when they report back months or years later about how they applied what they learned in a new position or novel situation. I don’t expect to hear such a report very often, but it sure means a lot when I do.  

What is most challenging? It is sometimes a challenge when the feedback from students is minimal or non-existent. Just a couple weeks ago, I started off the class by explaining the topic of the day was one of my favorites and mentioned how companies like Amazon use the concept all the time in a way that we all know quite well. I must have oversold it, because just half an hour later, none of the students wanted to engage in the activity and eyes were glazed over. Time to go back to the drawing board on that topic I am afraid.      

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Engaged  

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student:  Irresponsible

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair – this is such an important part of course design. I am constantly looking for ways to do better at this aspect of teaching. 


What are your hobbies? Golf, Skiing, Hiking, Bicycling, Kayaking, Sports, Kids Activities 

How will you spend your summer? We will make our annual family trek to northern Minnesota where we love spending time with family on the lakes and on our bikes. Not to mention the golf is fantastic!

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Alberta and British Columbia, Canada; Alaska; 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I don’t know if it is my absolute favorite, but a movie that I really enjoyed recently was “Knives Out.” At every turn, you were convinced the killer was someone else. It was a riveting mystery with lots of colorful characters in the “police lineup.” It was fun to try to put all the pieces together, take sides, and then switch gears along the way.  

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Love the Eagles! We used to listen to the Greatest Hits in the tape player of our wood-paneled station wagon on family trips when I was a kid! The Eagles clearly lack focus, as they endorse anything from “Take It to the Limit” and “Take It Easy.”


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…  The business school of the future will look a lot more like the businesses that we study. We will need to anticipate the market and create a service that is highly valuable to our students and other stakeholders. One of the interesting realities is that the businesses we study are also changing quickly so it is not a static target. Digital and generational changes will force businesses and business schools to be something we have not yet imagined.    

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Creating a working environment that celebrates and rewards their best and brightest talent. I hope that reward systems will recognize and align with contributions of each individual toward organizational success.   

I’m grateful for… The last two years have tripled my gratitude for good health. And I am especially grateful for my family, who collectively inspire me every day. Thank you Laurie, Jeremy, Audrey, Jack, and Evan!  

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