Alumni Service Spotlight: Larry Kahn AB '83
According to the Harvard Impact Study, Harvard alumni collectively dedicate at least 1.6 million hours per month volunteering for public and community service efforts around the world. In celebration of these efforts, the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) presents "Alumni Service Spotlight," a series of conversations with alumni who give of their time and talents for the betterment of their communities.
For Larry Kahn AB '83, a robust college experience that included broadcasting Crimson football and basketball games on WHRB laid the foundation for a career in media. Now vice president of research at Golf Channel, Kahn has become a role model and passionate advocate for the value of higher education, using his Harvard ties to empower alumni to engage in public and community service.
Since 2012, Kahn has devoted countless hours helping Harvard Clubs and Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) to implement the HAA's Early College Awareness (ECA) program, which brings Harvard alumni to middle and high schools in underserved communities to make the case to students that college is within their reach—and that it is worth reaching for. Beyond inspiration, the program also provides practical guidance and resources to help students and their families plan for college before it's too late.
Kahn spoke with the HAA about his volunteerism, his leadership of the ECA program, and his belief in the importance of a college education.
Tell us about some of the service activities you've been involved with since leaving Cambridge.
After college I went into local radio. As promotions director and operations manager at WCOD in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and at WXXL in Orlando, Florida, I had a hand in every facet of fundraisers for nonprofits that ran the gamut from road races to school supply drives. I've been with Comcast and NBCUniversal-owned Golf Channel—companies with a culture of giving back—for almost 20 years in a more executive capacity.
My non-Harvard service time now revolves around in-service days or financial support for deserving local nonprofits and national charities, such as Give Kids The World and City Year, and volunteer work through my local synagogue.
I have been active within the HAA through Clubs, including two terms as president of the Harvard Club of Central Florida (HCCF). Work on ECA nationally and HCCF locally make up the bulk of my current Harvard service. That and occasional outreach and counsel to current WHRBers who dare consider a career in media.
Why does the mission of ECA resonate so deeply for you?
ECA is an opportunity for alumni, through their Clubs or SIGs, to use their Harvard influence to help students in underserved communities understand that a college education is an achievable goal. The individual and social good that occurs when you put otherwise disadvantaged kids on a path to college success is measurable and significant. It seems to me the perfect representation of how you can use the Harvard name to do some good—to pay it forward.
The other part comes from who I am. I'm the son of a Harvard grad [Leon Kahn AB '42] who helped students visualize a path to a college education as a guidance counselor in public schools for 35 years. My brother [Robert Kahn AB '74] works with dyslexic kids and has spent his whole career in special education. I'm surrounded by teachers in my family, so I guess it's in the genes. I went in a different direction professionally, but when alumni work offered me this way to get involved, I saw ECA as an ideal opportunity.
How has the program evolved over the years? Can you speak about the National Teach-In Day model you implemented in Central Florida?
ECA was founded by Robert Clagett EdM '91 and Bob Bowie AB '73 as a half-day seminar-style model, and it continues that way in many communities. My co-chair Pete Mazareas AB '73 then envisioned and proved the concept of an in-school assembly and guest speaker program called "Making the Curriculum Real" where a number of alumni come to a school or a specific class to share their life experience and career/subject expertise.
The National Teach-In Day model was my plan to bring one alum to many schools. On National Teach-In Day, people from the community can volunteer to come into the classroom and speak about anything—we speak about the importance of going to college. Harvard is used as a way to get kids' attention, but it is not the point of why we're there. We promote college, not the Ivy League or select schools.
It's an incredibly flexible thing. If you want to tell your personal story, you can. If you simply see the value of education and want to share it, that's fine too. You can't go as in-depth as the half-day seminar, but you can cover a wider geography with little planning and zero in Club funds invested. There's nothing else involved except the commitment of your time.
How have you seen the impact of your efforts?
This year, nine members of HCCF spoke to 17 classes in eight area schools, reaching over 400 students with the message that college is possible and that the rising cost of not going to college far exceeds the cost of college.
What is the most rewarding aspect? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part is the in-class response from students—and the response from teachers and administrators who know that the Harvard name gives weight to the "stay in school" message. The impact of getting these kids to actually stay in school and focus on going to college is powerful.
The most challenging is the difficulty in getting more Clubs and SIGs to adopt ECA as a public service project. Any one of the three ECA models is proven and easily implemented. There are many, many ways to yes.
What's next for ECA?
We hope what's next is that ECA becomes the default plug-and-play solution when Clubs and SIGs look for a service-related component to their alumni programming. It just makes sense for Harvard grads to be working in the community for a cause that's centered on and rooted in the value and importance of a college education.