Dean of Fine Arts, Robert Jensen will be turning a new page into the next chapter of his life after more than three decades at Fullerton College.
During his ten years as a dean, the art and music departments have grown to be the largest of all community colleges in all of California in terms of enrollment.
Prior to being appointed dean in 2005, Jensen worked as a theatre professor at Fullerton College. He began his career in 1980 and immediately took to a hands-on approach with all aspects of the theatre department.
Upon graduating from Washington and Lee University in Virginia with a degree in English Literature, Jensen attended graduate school at UVA and began working as a carpenter.
While working as a carpenter, Jensen was approached with an opportunity to work on set design as the Theatre Scene Shop Manger at UVA. His knack for working with his hands, coupled with his affection for literature formed a perfect marriage in the theatre department.
He loved building and designing sets so much that he moved to California with aspirations of becoming a Disney Imagineer. Jensen’s career path shifted course when the job never materialized for him. Less than six months later he was offered a position at FC and what he thought would be a few years turned into a lifelong labor of love.
“I absolutely fell in love with the place, fell in love with the people, my partners in the theatre department would start to build a tenure program and the students,” Jensen said.
Jensen credits Todd Glen for taking a risk and bringing him aboard at FC with minimal technical training in the field.
“He taught me so much of what I didn’t know, because he was a formally trained technical director and I was a self taught technical director… so I started to follow and shadow him everywhere he went,” Jensen said.
Jensen’s list of awards while at FC is extensive and includes; a Lifetime Achievement Award by OC Weekly, Excellence in Theatre Education by Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival, Innovations in General Education for The Nautilus Project by the National Council for Instructional Administrators and was the first honoree of the James Young Fullerton Legends Award for contributions to the arts in Fullerton in 2011.
At Fullerton College, Jensen was named Administrator of the Year in 2011 as well as a Teacher of the Year finalist in 2010.
Jensen’s productions have also been recognized. “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Indians” were both named top OC Production by the LA Times. His production of “The Kentucky Cycle” won Top Orange County Production in 2000 by OC Weekly.
Looking back, Jensen talks about not being worthy of all of the wonderful people that have blessed his life. He credits those that took a chance on him throughout his career for his success.
His passion for education traces all the way back to his junior high teacher Donald Veix, who he refers to as the “Dead Poets Society teacher of his life.”
“He made learning come alive for me,” Jensen exclaimed.
Jensen is also appreciative of his students for teaching him a thing or two along the way, insisting that teaching is not just a person standing up delivering information one way. He believes that it is through collaboration that true learning is achieved.
“Any teacher that doesn’t think that he learns anything from his students doesn’t know anything about teaching, it’s not just delivering information to someone,”Jensen said.
Jensen believes that one of the reasons he has lasted this long in the educational sphere was learning what not to do from other teachers.
“I think what sustained teaching for me was I did not want to engage in shortcuts. I met some people back early on in my teaching career that taught me, this is the way you get through, you take shortcuts and all of them I thought were bad teachers. I did not want to be that, the shortcut teacher that shortchanged the kids.”
One of his greatest joys in teaching was being able to bring students to the theatre, art exhibits, opera houses or an orchestra for the first time.
“Art shouldn’t be an aristocracy or elitist… art is for the people by the people,”Jensen said.
Jensen believes he is leaving at a time when the future is bright in the field of fine arts, pointing to the exploding popularity of new mediums for the expression of art. Parents don’t need to fear their child for choosing to study art. With so many jobs now available in the many different disciplines of fine arts, that train of thought is antiquated.
“I’m excited because there are so many ways to make a living through art, especially in Southern California, but not uniquely here… art alumni are getting employed, they are getting jobs and exciting careers,” Jensen said.
Figuring out what direction to go in college can be one of the most difficult and confusing decisions one will ever make. Thereafter, students can be fraught deciding which career path to choose. Jensen’s advice is to find what excites you and be fearless in your pursuit.
“The actress Stella Adler once said, ‘Figure out what you can do, and do it like Hercules,’ figure out what gets you excited, what gives you joy in life. Figure that out, no one says you have to know that right now. Go experiment with lots of different things and see where that joy is going to come from and do it like Hercules, go after it,” Jensen said.
As Dean of Fine Arts, Jensen has invested much of his time into recruiting top notch faculty and students as well as marketing for all of the disciplines under the Fine Arts umbrella.
Lou Kavanaugh has been an administrative assistant in the fine arts department for over a decade and worked with Jensen closely. The admiration she expressed for him is shared amongst many colleagues Jensen touched within the fine arts community.
“He has been a pleasure to work with, he has done some really great things for our division and will truly be missed,” Kavanaugh said.
Over the past five years Jensen has worked on the Fullerton College Centennial project which has produced over 30 events and projects. Projects including the Tell Us Your Story Campaign, development of the Centennial website and most notably a five-year-long fundraising effort to install and dedicate a statue of late legendary Fullerton football coach Hal Sherbeck.
“The Centennial was such a wonderful production, it’s something that I don’t think anybody will ever forget,” said Kavanaugh.
The Sherbeck Memorial Statue will have a dedication ceremony which will be held August of this year. Although Jensen will no longer be an official paid employee at FC, he will remain the head of the committee until the project is complete.
“I would get inspired every time I talked to Coach Sherbeck, I get inspired when I talk to his men and I get inspired when I read the notes that come along with the checks,” Jensen said. “It’s this constant surge of goodwill and I am loving being at the center just privileged to be part of it.”
Even though Jensen is retiring, his presence will still be felt on campus. He will continue to be active in fundraising efforts for the Fullerton College Foundation.
After a distinguished career doing what he loves, Jensen is now looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 41 years Sandy, three kids Clay, Garrett and Kaitlyn. Even more important than all of the joy he has found working at FC is his relationship with his family. He and his wife are looking forward to traveling and getting involved with both local and international compassion-based projects.
“I have been blessed. I have a beautiful family, a wife that is still the love of my life, three kids, two grandchildren. I don’t deserve them, they are the ultimate blessing in my life,” Jensen said. “I mean it, I am one of the luckiest guys I know, anywhere.”