Julie Jensen

When I left for college, I remember my always-pragmatic dad saying, “Major in whatever you want, as long as you get a job when you are done, because in four years you’re off the payroll, kid.” In truth, I was probably more intentional about what I didn’t pick for a major in college than what I did pick—math and computer science. I intentionally explored English, biology, and physics in my first two years and found none of them were for me. I didn’t really decide I wanted to be a math major. I had simply always taken math in school, and I couldn’t imagine that changing in college, so I figured I’d just take a math class a semester—which is basically what it takes for a major.

I did make sure I was taking the right courses to finish a math major, in case I didn’t find another major, so I took introductory computer science because I thought the catalog said it was required for math majors. I ended up enjoying computer science, so by the end of my sophomore year I had finally settled the question of major—math and computer science. That seemed a good choice given my parents’ expectations for employment upon graduation. It wasn’t until my senior year that I learned I had misread the catalog. Computer science was not required for a math major then—a happy accident.

I stayed settled on my major for all of about two semesters. I had enjoyed being a track and cross-country athlete at Luther, and by my senior year I was starting to think that my real passion was for sports, and I was considering coaching as a career. So, while doing my job hunt in computer science and math as a senior, I wrote to graduate schools about programs in things like exercise physiology. Ultimately, I had an excellent job offer and decided to work for a while and save some money to go back to grad school in something that would lead me to coaching. My IT job was just to earn some money before I figured out what next.

What I found out in my first job, though, was I really enjoyed being a systems analyst in IT. I enjoyed my work greatly and ideas of coaching drifted to the background. I did go to grad school—in an IT-related program while I continued to work. Then one January a Luther faculty member brought a group of students to the Twin Cities for a course and hosted a reception for Luther alumni to talk with the students. It’s a long story, but the punch line is that evening set me on a path to applying for and accepting a position to teach MIS at Luther.

Having never taught before, I wasn’t sure if I could be an effective teacher or if I would enjoy teaching, but there were two big reasons I took the job. First, the coaches and teachers I had throughout my education shaped me greatly into who I am. They played a positive role not only in my learning, but also in my development as a whole person. It is those special teachers and coaches who invested so much in my development that made me want to do the same for others. Second, as much as I enjoyed my IT work, I found myself feeling confident every day that I could do my job. That seemed good, except there is some part of me that has always thrived on challenge, on being pushed to do the thing I am not sure I can do. Teaching offered such a challenge. I knew I enjoyed and could handle the MIS, but I wasn’t sure I had the interpersonal skills it would take to be effective as a teacher. I wanted to develop those skills, to develop more as a whole person.

I realize now the bigger reason the challenge to teach felt so compelling. After almost seven years of teaching, when students ask me why I left the corporate world, I tell them because I believe the heart of a little league coach beats within me. Teaching is the coaching I once thought might be my vocation; I just traded the track for the MIS classroom in Olin. I think my best teaching is really more like coaching, and the part of my teaching I enjoy the most is that which I consider most like coaching—helping students learn new skills and do the things they never thought they could do.

That’s the short version of how I got to where I am, but I don’t think that’s the end of the story. I feel I have learned a lot about my vocation in the last 15 years, but I think there is more to learn. I find myself restless again, ready for a new challenge. I have never enjoyed traveling much and have been content as a small-town Iowa kid. Yet, I feel I need to see more of the world, to know people who live very differently than I do. Although I cannot name them, I feel like I have lessons to learn about life in the world that require me to step out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen until one of my colleagues invited me to be part of a trip to Tanzania this summer. Tanzania seems like a good place for me to start seeing a larger world, and fortunately my colleague knows a group in need of someone with computer skills! So, this summer I hope to use my education and computer experience to help a group of Tanzanian teachers pursue their vocation, while they help me learn more about my vocation.

Julie Jensen