URI French professor honored by French government

KINGSTON, R.I., Feb. 26, 2018—Fifteen years ago, Lars Erickson, a scholar of French with a passion for science, became director of the French International Engineering Program at the University of Rhode Island.

Over the years, he’s seen the program grow from 20 to 70 students, many of whom have interned at highly-respected French companies. Some students have even gone on to earn their doctorates at French universities.

Now the French government is saying, merci.

Erickson has been named a Chevalier (or Knight) of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques. The award recognizes his outstanding achievements at promoting the study of the French language and culture.

The Consulate General of France in Boston will present the award during a ceremony at URI in the spring.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by France,’’ says Erickson. “I’ve worked hard at sharing my passion for France and for French with my students. It’s a pleasure to do something I love every day.”

Erickson, of South Kingstown, joined URI as an assistant professor in 2001, becoming a full professor in 2014. He received undergraduate degrees in French and chemistry from Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minn., and his doctorate in French from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

He wrote his dissertation about scientific essays in 18th-century France, and has published widely on 18th-century French literature, with a focus on scientific and technical knowledge.

In 2003, Erickson became director of URI’s French International Engineering Program, a five-year program in which students obtain degrees in French and engineering. Students spend a year abroad, studying at the Université de Technologie de Compiègne for six months and then interning at a company in France, also for six months.

Erickson established the exchange program with the French university and has also cultivated relationships with French companies, including Total and Saint-Gobain. His “French for Engineering” textbook will be published in the spring.

“Our French engineering program is unique—and successful,” he says. “In fact, we’re seeing incredible growth in our entire French program at URI. We’re very proud of that.”

Napoleon I created the award as an honorary title to recognize members of the University in 1808. Later, the award was extended to foreigners and French people living abroad who have contributed to French education and culture.

JoAnn Hammadou-Sullivan, also a URI professor of French, received the award in 2017, and Joëlle Rollo-Koster, a URI history professor and a native of France who specializes in the late European Middle Ages, was honored in 2016.