Taking up their parents’ banner in supporting UA journalism, brothers Matt and Scott Harelson and their families will be honored by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences during Homecoming weekend. They will receive the Harelson Family Award at the annual UA Alumni of the Year Awards Ceremony on Oct. 27.
“The journalism school and its mission were very important to both of our parents, particularly in the later stages of their lives,” Scott Harelson said. “They believed strongly in maintaining its ability to continue producing quality journalists as it had done for them so many years before. For them to be honored now by the school affirms their commitment and dedication to the school.”
The family’s relationship with the School of Journalism spans seven decades, starting with Hugh Harelson, who graduated from the UA in 1952 in what was the Department of Journalism. He worked as news editor of the Arizona Republic, news director at KTAR-TV in Phoenix and director of UA relations and information services, before being named publisher of Arizona Highways in 1982, where he worked until retiring in 1992.
Hugh himself was awarded the UA alumni achievement award in 1991. He was part of efforts to save the Department of Journalism from closure in 1994-1996, and he helped start the Journalism Advisory Council, which remains strong today.
When Hugh died in 1998, his wife, Jan, created a reporting lab endowment, operations endowment and annual teaching award for the school. She also served on the Journalism Advisory Council until she died in 2015.
Matt, who earned a degree in Business and Public Administration, and Scott, a Radio-TV major, continued the family tradition at the UA. Matt’s oldest daughter, Sara, plans to graduate with a journalism degree in 2018.
“The family’s academic achievements at the UA are matched by their philanthropic commitment,” SBS Dean J.P. Jones III said.
Since 2012, Matt and his wife, Julie, have provided an annual $25,000 match toward the Harelson Operations Endowment, which helps sustain the School of Journalism. The couple has also supported another SBS department, Judaic Studies, to restore a Torah and build a case to store it in on campus. The couple’s daughter, Sara, also launched her own philanthropic campaign on campus raising money for the Hillel Foundation.
“The Harelsons exhibit an incredible passion for public service and making Arizona better,” School Director David Cuillier said. “Few have had such an amazing impact on the school.”
When Jan died, the family rededicated the Hugh Harelson Journalism Reporting Lab to include Jan’s name. The family encouraged friends to support the lab as well. Sara, who came to UA as a soccer player, is now studying in the lab created by her grandparents.
“It seems these days it can be easy for people to forget or dismiss the importance of good journalism,” Scott Harelson said. “Matt and I are both very proud the school continues to produce quality graduates. Our communities are better off for their work.”
Scott and his brother said their parents taught them the importance of knowledge and language.
“We learned early to appreciate the gift of books and the pleasure of reading the morning newspaper,” Scott said. “Our parents never told us how to think, but they gave us the tools to learn and encouraged us to be active in the community and act on our beliefs.”
Since 2000, the Hugh and Jan Harelson Award for Teaching Excellence has been given to a faculty member who exemplifies the highest quality of teaching, based on nominations from students.
“We are fortunate that the professors and instructors at the UA School of Journalism are as dedicated to their craft as those who preceded them,” Scott Harelson said. “While they continue to stress the fundamentals and ethics so important to young reporters, they are also very creative and are helping today’s students learn new techniques and approaches to reach audiences in a changing digital world.”
For demonstrating the value of family, roots and philanthropy and for their generous support of the UA, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is proud to name the members of the Harelson family, collectively, its 2017 Alumnus of the Year.
Written by Mike Chesnick, School of Journalism