By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Always leave a place better than you found it.
Susan Jensen learned that value from her parents, and it’s something she’s always strived for.
“I want to do what I can to make a positive impact,” she said. “And I think teaching is a really great way to have the potential to do that. As teachers, we can have a big impact on people by helping them grow, learn and figure out what kind of person they want to be. It’s very enriching. I feel like what I do matters.”
Education has always been a “top priority” for Jensen’s family. Her grandmother, father and older sister all attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney before starting their careers in public education and her younger sister also teaches in Wyoming.
Teaching was Jensen’s final career. “But I think it’s my favorite,” she said.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration/finance from the University of Kansas, Jensen began her professional life as a bank examiner. She went on to earn a Master of Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis and worked in investment banking before returning to Nebraska.
“I needed to have a more family-friendly job. Investment banking was a great experience and I learned a tremendous amount, but we had two boys at the time and we wanted to get them closer to grandmas and grandpas,” said Jensen, a Nebraska native who graduated from Sandhills Public Schools in Dunning. Her husband Bernie attended the same school and they met in seventh grade.
Jensen found the “perfect environment” at UNK, where she was hired in 1994 as assistant director of the Nebraska Business Development Center, a program that provides consulting and other services to businesses across the state. She was also asked to teach classes as an adjunct lecturer.
“Even though I come from a family of teachers, I never really envisioned myself as a teacher,” she said. “But once I had a chance to do it, I realized this is really fun.”
Jensen was promoted to director of the Nebraska Business Development Center in 1996, a position she held for four years. However, Galen Hadley, then-dean of the UNK College of Business and Technology, and several others noticed her skills in the classroom. They encouraged her to pursue a doctorate so she could become a full-time faculty member.
She completed a doctorate in organizational behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003 and returned to the UNK College of Business and Technology that same year as an assistant professor. Jensen worked in the Department of Management since then, advancing to associate professor in 2008 and professor in 2013. She taught 20 different undergraduate and graduate courses at UNK, ranging from small business management and entrepreneurship to principles of marketing to leadership and organizational behavior, and is a certified Gallup Strengths Coach.
“I love teaching,” Jensen said. “I’ve always really, really enjoyed that. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing students grow both in confidence and in knowledge.”
With a “license to explore,” Jensen extended her impact well beyond the classroom.
During her first semester as a full-time faculty member, she started the Students in Free Enterprise team on campus. Now known as Cultivate, the student organization promotes entrepreneurship, leadership and small business development. Members partner with local businesses on projects, network with professionals and attend conferences and competitions. The group also hosts New Venture Adventure, an annual event that introduces area high schoolers to entrepreneurship.
“That turned out to be so much fun and so rewarding. I met so many great kids through that whole process,” said Jensen, who was involved with Students in Free Enterprise for several years.
She served on countless committees during her time at UNK, as well, and was an associate dean in the College of Business and Technology from 2009-16. That role allowed her to visit China and South Korea to build partnerships with universities there while strengthening her passion for international travel.
“It was a really great learning experience,” Jensen said of her time as an associate dean. “I didn’t necessarily seek the role, but I viewed it as a way to serve the college and university and hopefully help make a positive difference. I’m proud of some of the things we were able to accomplish during that time, but I was also very happy to eventually come back to teaching full time.”
Jensen has a lot of great memories from her teaching career, but there are a couple semesters that really stand out. She took students on a study abroad trip to Ireland in spring 2017 and spent the spring 2023 semester in the Czech Republic and other European countries with another group of Lopers.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities that have been available to me here,” she said. “There are a lot of little moments that collectively make you feel really fortunate and really grateful for having had the chance to interact with the people here.”
A recipient of numerous campus honors, including the Outstanding Teaching Award, Outstanding Research Award, Outstanding Service Award and Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Business and Technology, Jensen can confidently leave UNK knowing it’s a better place because of her.
She recently retired after 26 years with the university, allowing her to spend more time with her parents, husband, two sons and three grandsons. She also plans to travel and volunteer with community organizations.
“I will miss teaching. There’s no doubt about that,” Jensen said. “But I want to be able to devote myself more to family at this point in my life and I’m really lucky to have that opportunity.”