In Carlos Jensen’s office, the “We the People” prints on the wall help to remind him of the diversity of students he serves as the associate dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Engineering. Photo by Gale Sumida.
Born of two cultures, Carlos Jensen embodies diversity. As his name might suggest, his mother is Spanish and his father Norwegian. It was the 6,000 miles separating the two sides of his family that first gave Jensen an appreciation for advancing technology.
For Jensen, who grew up in Norway, staying in touch with Spanish relatives used to mean an expensive phone call or a long trip. The advent of the internet completely changed his ability to interact with his family.
“I realized how research could help change the way we live our lives,” said Jensen, an associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.
To pursue his interest in technology, Jensen came to the U.S. to earn his bachelor’s degree in computer science at SUNY Brockport and his doctorate at Georgia Institute of Technology. His graduate work focused on helping people handle overwhelming amounts of information. One highlight of this research was attending six Olympic Games, where his application to coordinate satellites and communication systems was used.
His more recent research looks at the barriers that exist for people to join open source projects, and why so many people struggle despite being highly motivated.
“It matters because there are a ton of companies developing open source and there isn't enough talent. And so, creating a bigger and more diverse talent base is a necessity,” Jensen said.
Helping people to move beyond barriers is a central part of Jensen’s work as the associate dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Engineering. He moved into the position two years ago, when he realized he wanted to have a broader impact.
“At one point I came to the realization that I actually get more pleasure and more reward out of helping other people be successful than out of being successful myself,” he said. “This job gives me the opportunity to impact even more students.”
In his first week on the job, he helped students navigate barriers that he did not expect. In January 2017, an executive order that banned travel for some foreign nationals went into effect, impacting 170 students in the college. Students didn’t know if they would be allowed to finish school or work in the U.S.
“These students were distraught, so my whole job that first week was figuring out who was affected, getting them counseling, and connecting them with lawyers, or visiting lawyers to figure out what we could do to help them,” Jensen said.
Hanging in his office are portraits of people of different ethnicities. The collection is from the “We the People” series by artist Shepard Fairey.
“I have them there to remind me of the diversity of our student population and the fact that we want to embrace diversity,” Jensen said.
Even in his leisure time, he embraces diversity. Jensen has been to every continent except Antarctica. It’s not the variety of countryside he is interested in — but the people.
“I like to go to different places and immerse myself in another world, eat wonderful new foods and just soak in the culture,” Jensen said.
“Understanding that we all come with different skills, different perspectives, and have different contributions that we can make has been a very strong theme in my life.”