Larson, 27, the wife of U.S. Army Capt. Chris Larson, is the first student to receive a new University of Louisville scholarship for military spouses who want to earn a graduate degree. The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies established the award this spring and selected Larson for the honor.

The program will offer free tuition, a 20-hour graduate assistantship and a $1,200 monthly stipend to Larson, who began pursuing a master’s degree in social work this week.

“Last spring, my husband brought home a letter from Fort Knox describing the scholarship. When I read the letter it sounded just right for me, so I applied,” she said. “I was thrilled when I was accepted.”

Larson, who has taught English at several middle schools in low-income communities, said she often saw young teenagers struggle in tough situations at home that she could not address adequately in the classroom.

“One girl had been taking care of her younger brother and sister for weeks, getting them up in the morning, bathing them and dressing them, handling everything because their mother had left home. I realized there’s only so much you can do as a teacher, and I wanted to do more,” she said.

Larson will study, teach and conduct research under Pam Yankeelov, social work professor and associate dean at Kent School of Social Work. Yankeelov specializes in family and children issues, child welfare issues and educational outcomes.

UofL started the scholarship because military spouses nearly always have to put their educational goals on hold while supporting their husband or wife, said Renee Finnegan, who directs UofL’s Office of Military Initiatives and Partnerships.

“The partner serving in the military usually takes priority, especially when he or she is deployed,” Finnegan said. “This program helps the spouse advance his or her goal while his or her partner is actively serving, so both can move ahead in their chosen career field.”

Larson is glad she’ll be going to school while her husband is on active duty.

“At this point, we know Chris will probably work in a hospital after he ships out, since he’s a physician’s assistant, but we don’t know exactly where he’ll be,” she said.

“I know grad school will be a lot of hard work, which is a good thing. It will keep me busy so I won’t be sitting around worrying about him as much.”