David Chester Larsen, 74, of Rydal, who as director of Arcadia University's Center for Education Abroad became a nationally known figure in overseas education, died Monday, March 2, of multiple system atrophy at Abington Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Larsen served as a vice president at Arcadia and as the executive director of the school's Center for Education Abroad, now the College of Global Studies.
During his tenure, from 1988 until his retirement in 2008, thousands of students from the nation's universities studied abroad. He helped create some of the 100 participating programs at universities from Mexico to Equatorial Guinea in which they enrolled.
"The impact that David Larsen has had on Arcadia University is incalculable," said Nicolette DeVille Christensen, Arcadia president. "His visionary leadership in the field of international education quite literally opened up the world to thousands of students."
Dr. Larsen also served as a mentor to the international education faculty and staff, drawing upon "his exquisite skills as a teacher," Christensen said.
Lorna Stern, executive director of the College of Global Studies, said he was known for "the kind, modest, and generous spirit that was brought to each endeavor and the unwavering focus on the worth of each individual's contribution to our common purpose."
Born in Portland, Maine, Dr. Larsen graduated from Waterville High School in 1958 and from Colby College in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in economics. He received a master's degree in English from the University of Maine and a doctorate in education from the Union Graduate School.
Early in his career, Dr. Larsen taught high school in Orono, Maine. In 1972, he received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English literature in Thessaloniki, Greece. On completing it, Dr. Larsen was appointed executive director of the U.S. Educational Foundation in Greece (through the Fulbright program) and served in the Athens office from 1974 to 1980.Propelled by the belief that personal connections and experiences from foreign study foster cross-cultural understanding, he dedicated the rest of his career to creating and promoting exchange opportunities for U.S. and international students.
In 1980, Dr. Larsen took a job at the Institute of International Education in New York. Still close to the Fulbright program, he helped form the national Fulbright Alumni Association, which has its roots in Philadelphia. In 1984, Dr. Larsen became director of the Center for International Education at the University of Tennessee, where he stayed until 1988.
Dr. Larsen's lasting impact on the field of international education has earned accolades; his Center for Education Abroad was recognized in 2001 by the American Council on Education as one of eight institutions demonstrating campus internationalization.
He received the Peter A. Wollitzer Advocacy Award from the Forum on Education Abroad, of which he was a founding member. "He really enjoyed that challenge of starting things and getting them going," said his wife, Wani Zitrides.
When he retired, Arcadia honored him with an endowed scholarship, a special student award, and a building, all named after him. Larsen Hall, at 1601 Church Rd., houses the College of Global Studies.
He was an active member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Sons of St. George and was recognized for his work in establishing a scholarship for local students.
While in Greece, Dr. Larsen became an avid runner, completing the Athens Marathon twice and the New York Marathon once.
"Always gracious and generous, his trademark wit and positive outlook were present, even through illness," his family said in a statement.
Besides his wife of 40 years, he is survived by sons David and Peter, daughter Deanna, two grandchildren, and a sister.
Services will be private. Donations may be made to Arcadia University, Office of Development, 450 S. Easton Rd., Glenside, Pa. 19038, specifying that they are for the David C. Larsen Endowed Scholarship.