Commencement Feature: Third time’s the charm for Trina Larsen

Larsen with Dr. Weir

Trina Larsen has the distinction of being a UCCS student not once, not twice, but three separate times during her educational journey.  

Larsen began her undergraduate degree at UCCS in 1999 before moving back to the Midwest temporarily and completing her degree there. In 2008, she started taking classes toward a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, but a battle with cancer interfered with her plans during the final semester before graduation. Nearly a decade later, in 2020, Larsen returned to UCCS for the third time to complete her Master’s in Public Administration in the College of Public Service. She will be graduating in December with her MPA.  

Larsen’s boundless enthusiasm for UCCS is evident in the way she described her undergraduate classes (“a really pleasant experience!”), her first round of graduate classes (“a great experience!”) and her most recent graduate classes (“an amazing experience!”).  

Larsen’s unique timeline allowed her to see stark differences in the campus each time she returned – although a lack of parking has always been a theme.  

When she first came to UCCS in 1999, it was “very much a commuter campus,” with buildings fewer and farther between. The student population was older at the time and Larsen, then in her twenties, felt she fit right in.  

When she returned in 2008, she was surprised to see a new parking garage, new fitness center, new art building, and lots of renovations across campus, as well as a younger overall student population. 

“One of the biggest improvements was the additional options to get coffee and food while you were on campus,” she said.  

Although Larsen only got to spend one semester on campus in 2020 before it was closed for the pandemic, she noticed even more changes in the campus landscape, but also in the programs offered to students. 

“When I returned for grad school, I could see that the resources had really improved – there were additional math and writing workshops,” she said. “Those had really elevated into being great programs. You could tell the campus had invested a lot in finding out what students need and how to support students.” 

“Campus has always felt like a safe place to me,” she continued. “I was super excited to be back and see all the changes. And it felt good that some of the same professors were still there – it felt like home.” 

Deep relationships with the faculty and staff at UCCS have been a constant for Larsen over the years. It’s those relationships that encouraged her through each class at the university, especially during tough times. 

“When I was going through cancer treatment, I couldn’t work for a solid year, year and a half, and school was what kept me going,” she explained. “It was what motivated me to get up and not give up hope, because I had something to look forward to, and I didn’t lose all connection.”  

Larsen said she received immense support from UCCS staff and faculty during that time, building relationships she now describes as “extended family.” 

“I just really appreciated the fact that they truly cared about the students,” she said. “They were supportive, but they also kept reminding me about the big picture, which was easy to lose sight of when experiencing something difficult. The availability of the faculty has been amazing – when you reach out to them, they respond. I’ve always gotten lucky to have a lot of genuine, caring professors who made me feel like I was a valued member of the student body.” 

It was those connections with professors that encouraged Larsen to pursue her MPA. When she came back to campus in 2020, her intention was only to obtain a certificate in Grant Writing, Management, and Program Evaluation.  

“I decided to return to UCCS and obtain that certification simply to help in my current role, because I really enjoyed the grant writing and wanted to learn more about it,” Larsen said. Larsen is currently a Research Administrator in the Department of Biomedical Informatics within the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She credits the grant certificate with helping her become a respected grant professional and securing more than $30 million in grant revenue. 

After completing the certificate in just two semesters, encouragement from faculty convinced Larsen to tackle the full MPA program, which she did, one course at a time, while working full-time.  

“It has been a REALLY long four years, but I have had incredibly wonderful support from our faculty members,” she said. “They’ve been amazing instructors and mentors, and each course that I completed helped me become a better grant writer, and I walked away with more knowledge that helped me do my job better to secure grant funding.”  

Despite the setback she faced during her second stretch at UCCS, Larsen has no regrets. 

“Even with that happening, I still felt like I experienced something valuable and gained practical knowledge with a tremendous amount of support,” she said. “But the highlight was coming back healthy and knowing that my situation had completely changed, and I could focus on myself, while doing something I really enjoyed.”  

In retrospect, Larsen said, grant writing was the area of public service that she was meant to be in all along. 

“I had this new, profound realization that I really loved public service, and it’s such a valuable field, but I had been looking in the wrong areas before, and now I finally found what fits,” she said. “Because grants help so many different programs and provide resources to better society.” 

After graduation, Larsen is excited to continue her career in public service and keep building her private consulting business, which offers grant education and support to nonprofits. 

That success is due in no small part to Larsen’s resilience, perseverance, and love of learning, but the connections she made in the UCCS community along the way also played a role. She encourages all students to try and create the same connections.  

“Find your support network and be okay with things not going as planned,” she said. “Try to find resiliency and understand your grades are not always going to be perfect – so seek advice, ask the professors. They’re willing to help if you’re struggling and help you find the resources you need to get through the rough patches. But advocate for yourself, too. Let people know, like family, friends, peers, instructors, when you’re struggling – it’s okay. Everyone in college struggles with something.” 

Larsen would like to express gratitude to many faculty and staff, especially to Dr. Regina Winters, Dr. Henriikka Weir, Dr. Robert Wonnett, Janet Van Kampen and Rodney Walker, for over a decade of encouragement during her battle with cancer, persistence to overcome unexpected obstacles, and finding a meaningful purpose to improve society.