Q&A with the Dean of the College of Natural and Computational Sciences

Q&A with the Dean of the College of Natural and Computational Sciences

Human Resources turned the spotlight on Brenda Jensen, Ph.D., the Dean of the College of Natural and Computational Sciences (CNCS). Dr. Jensen joined HPU in 2005 as an assistant professor of biology and progressed to associate professor. In 2008, she was appointed the associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences, and in 2016 she was named the dean of CNCS.


--As Told to Tameron Hodges


1. Tell us something about your childhood. Where is your hometown and where have you lived? What were you like at age 10 and what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and consider my hometown to be Omaha, Nebraska. I was fortunate to have grown up when parents told their kids “be home when the street lights come on,” so I spent much of my time riding my bike around the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ag campus. Perhaps related, I loved animals and I wanted to be a vet.  

2. Before joining HPU, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
The most interesting job I had was working at a pet store. The most unusual job I had was a tow-truck dispatcher for AAA Emergency Road Service. I like to think both contributed to my current crisis management skills.

3. Tell us about your journey in choosing higher education as a profession?
This might be my most boring answer, since it was a rather straight path for me.  From undergrad, I knew that I wanted to be a university professor. I never changed my major, and I never took a break from college or grad school. I have been very fortunate that my chosen pathway has worked out…so far!

4. What brought you to HPU?
The Navy brought me most of the way. When my submariner husband and I needed to find a duty station that would work for both of our careers, we picked Hawai’i because we knew that there was “enough Navy” for us both to have a chance to stay awhile. I was surveying the military education options to see who might need help in science, and I quickly found HPU. I was in a classroom at KBay about a week later.

5. Why have you chosen to be part of HPU since 2005?
Working at HPU has always been my “dream job.” I’m a marine biologist, so it is truly hard to top the opportunity to teach and do research in Hawai’i at a university with high quality marine science education. Soon after joining the College of Natural Sciences, I had the opportunity to participate in creating the MS Marine Science degree, and I have always been proud of the research and student training that comes out of that small but mighty program! I also love the fact that the faculty are here because they love to teach, and students can truly find their strengths and thrive here.  

6. What led you to seek the administrative position of dean?
It started with arm-twisting when I was first asked to serve as associate dean 10 years ago. I chose not to apply for the dean position for several rounds thinking that fresh ideas from outside were the best thing for the college. When the job came up again in 2016, coincident with critical changes affecting the college, I knew that I did not want to watch from the sidelines, and it was time to throw my hat in the ring.

7. What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most? 
Seeing positive change. I like solving problems, so it’s a good thing that my current role gives me the chance to do just that. I am never bored because every day is different.  

8. Is there anything new and exciting going on in the College of Natural and Computational Sciences?  
We are launching three new Engineering degrees in Fall 2018: BS Electrical Engineering, BS Biomedical Engineering, and BS Biotechnology Engineering. This is a huge advance for our College, and we believe these programs will be a valuable service to Hawai'i and beyond. We are also making quiet progress on finding a new home for CNCS downtown. I am excited about our options. It will be very tough to leave Hawaii Loa (campus), but I am confident that we will be moving into a space that will be modern and designed to allow us to accomplish more hands-on science than our tight quarters currently allow.

9. What lessons have your work life taught you?
Really smart, highly educated people often see things in wildly different ways, so be empathetic and try to find the common ground.  

10. If you were not an educator, what would you be?
A veterinarian.

11. Biggest challenge in your life?
“Work-life balance”

12. What are you most proud of?
My master’s students who have gone on to publish their thesis work, get PhDs and/or great jobs.

13. Do you have a personal motto, mantra or philosophy? Or do you have a favorite quote?
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” – Dr. Suess, The Lorax

14. What do you do for fun on your days off? 
I drive my teenagers around (horseback riding, band events, music lessons, swim meets, etc etc.) 

15. Where is the best place you have traveled to and why or where would you like to go on a dream vacation?
South Georgia Island (near Antarctica). I witnessed in Technicolor the impact of whaling and its subsequent slow recovery. Where hundreds of thousands of whales were removed, seals, sea lions, and penguins expanded their populations to fill the krill eater’s niche. I also saw how nature takes back — the abandoned whaling stations were completely overrun with seals and penguins, to the point that it was comical to see them defend their particular rooms and porches, yet clearly impossible to displace them.

16. Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I am a football fan (my teams are the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the New England Patriots), and my husband pretty much hates it; he is a soccer fan.  I’ll buy a beer for the first person who can tell me why I had a legitimate football interest in Tom Brady before he ever joined the Patriots.