By Jon Clark
Every semester, Alma College’s Phi Sigma Sigma Chapter gives out its “Faculty of the Semester” award. The choice for the 2014 winter term acts as both an associate professor in the physics department and the associate provost. Steuard Jensen is this semester’s recipient and was nominated for the award by Natalie McNeill (’14).
Part of what led to Jensen’s nomination is his tendency to include tidbits of general knowledge on each of his homework assignments.
In addition to learning physics, Jensen’s students have the opportunity to read about various cautionary facts and stories, located at the bottom of every physics handout.
When Jensen began to include his blurbs of information a couple of years ago, a student could expect to see examples such as “Tylenol/acetaminophen overdose can be awful: no symptoms for 12 hours, but without help in 8 you need a liver transplant to live” included with one of his worksheets.
Since then, Jensen’s once small quips have grown into long asides, often covering an entire page. In the last year, the issues he has tackled have been centered on gender equality.
“On every single homework assignment, he gives an excerpt or a link with an explanation of general knowledge that is useful in life,” said Julian Birge (’16), a past student of Jensen’s.
A story which Jensen shared just this February was titled “Creeper, No Creeping!” and included a story from an online advice column about an ethical dilemma in an adult social setting. Jenson’s offering to his students included an analysis of the situation by Jensen himself. In this particular aside, he also encouraged students to read the full column for themselves and provided hyperlinks to the Website.
In addition to the situations he addresses on paper, Jensen also has a collection of stories and advice on his personal Website under a section titled “Stuff Nobody Thought to Tell You (Probably).”
Between his promotion of social justice and in-class teaching of physics, it is evident why his students agree with the sorority’s decision to honor Jensen with this award.
“I think he is definitely deserving of this award,” said Birge. “Based off of my one semester as his student, I can see how he truly cares about the well-being of his students in and out of the classroom.”
Past and present students boast of Jensen’s professionalism, intelligence, and teaching process.
“He’s a really smart professor and knows a lot about his profession,” said Joonas Kotka (’15), a physics and math major who is currently enrolled in one of Jensen’s classes. “He is really knowledgeable and shows passion for a lot of different subjects.
“He is one of the smartest professors I’ve worked with and he is very precise and organized. The methods he uses are successful and he also offers lots of help to students.”
Jensen may have his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago, but he also clearly cares deeply about promoting gender equality in the sciences, as well as all walks of life. Jensen said he knows that there has been gender inequality both in his own field of physics, evident in the lack of women in the profession, as well as society as a whole.
“My goal has mainly been just to put these aspects [social justice issues] of our society on my students’ radar,” said Jensen.
If you feel like congratulating Jensen on his recent recognition, or would simply like to learn a little about social issues, he works in the Provost’s Office in the Swanson Academic Center.
“I care about this subject because lots of women, arguably every woman in our society, suffers countless unnecessary little miseries — and too often some incredibly big ones as well — that I am mostly exempt from for no good reason, simply because I was born a man,” said Jensen.
“It makes me unhappy to see the people around me suffer, people I care about, especially if I might be able to do something to help.”