Alex Jensen has earned the Provost’s Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement. The prestigious award is granted to a student who has demonstrated exemplary achievement in their major, stands out personally and academically, contributes to the learning community at CSUMB and has more than a 3.5 GPA. Jensen is a Human Communication major with a concentration in Peace Studies as well as a minor in Music. Jensen has earned a cumulative 3.98 GPA, and is graduating with Summa Cum Laude honors. Jensen will be attending Harvard this fall to pursue his Master of Divinity.
“I like to think I’m actually invested in everything I do. I really put my full heart into all my work,” said Jensen. Jensen is a researcher for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC), a Robert E. McNair scholar, a previous reporter for Otter Realm, a Resident Advisor, a writing tutor at the Cooperative Learning Center, the previous president of Pride Club, an educator for Student Health and Wellness Services, works with the campus chaplain, has facilitated an interfaith dialogue series and works as an investigative reporter for the Monterey Bay Justice Project. One of his greatest accomplishments is still managing a full eight hours of sleep.
Although he is one of the top students at CSUMB, Jensen lives a humble life. He can usually be found at the Peet’s Coffee on campus, hiding behind his laptop doing work. Except he’s not really hiding, as people walk up to him often to catch up, or to vent to him. Jensen said he purposefully sets up camp at Peet’s Coffee when he’s doing his work because he loves when his friends approach him. Jensen is a casual guy, but he is also a hard-working student, researcher, mentor and activist.
Jensen is also a bit of a rock star, as he’s toured Tennessee, Illinois, Texas, among other places to showcase his undergraduate research. Jensen’s research focuses on moral injury, which is the psychological and spiritual injury a person suffers when they commit an act or transgression against their moral conscience. He grounded his research based on the following questions: How do people help US veterans heal from moral injury after their return from war? Where can returning veterans find spaces for healing in the Monterey County area?
When Jensen first came to CSUMB, he did not consider undergraduate research, as he felt that research was reserved for people in lab coats with test tubes. However, through UROC, Jensen spent two fully-funded summers researching at Harvard Divinity School. Jensen was not only accepted into Harvard for his graduate studies, but he was also awarded the Dean’s Fellowship, which covers his tuition in full and provides him with an $8,000 renewable stipend. Jensen aspires to be a military chaplain in the Navy who serves people from underrepresented religions, as well as individuals who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite all his success, Jensen has not let the fame and fortune get to his head. When he found out he won the Provost’s Award, he was in disbelief. “It’s just incredible. I’ve never once done anything here expecting something for it. Initially, it felt weird. Why am I being given this award? I never did this service for that. I was really overwhelmed in a good way, not in a bad way,” said Jensen.
One of the professors most familiar with Jensen’s work who nominated him for this award is Dr. Sam Robinson. Dr. Robinson said, “I first met Alex in the spring 2016 when planning Humanities and Communication Undergraduate Research Week event. Alex was, at the time, our newest HCOM UROC Scholar. He graciously agreed to take part in our event present his research to other HCOM students and faculty, and to act as an ambassador for research in the Humanities.” Dr. Robinson notes that Alex has completed a great deal academically at CSUMB, all while being involved in several organizations and extracurricular activities. “I recommend him with absolute enthusiasm and without reservation,” said Dr. Robinson.
Jensen admits that his privilege as a white male has contributed to his success, but for that same reason, he has a calling to help others who do not have the access he has. Jensen is also Gay, and religious. He is a Unitarian Universalist, a religion characterized by a free and responsible search for truth-meaning. The religion praises people’s differences, social justice and activism. “Something told me that I just needed to be there; it was really valuable when I was finding my own faith. I reconciled with my sexuality. I am whole just as I am. There is nothing wrong with me, nothing sinful about me. That’s such a powerful thing, to have a sense of unconditional love and support. This religion lives that out. I’ve never once had a bible thrown at me,” said Jensen.
Jensen’s advice for prospective graduate students is to start planning your graduate studies trajectory early, and if you are able to, join UROC. At first, Jensen was scared of doing undergraduate research, but the risks he took as a researcher enabled him to take even more risks, such as applying to the top schools in the nation. Jensen said the scores one earns for the Graduate Records Examination test does not define anyone, and that one must be mentally fit for graduate school, as it is commitment and it is costly. He believes there is also power to admitting that you are not ready for graduate school if that is the case. “Don’t be afraid to take risks, and even if you are, take them. What’s the worst that will happen, somebody says ‘no’ to you? You get absolutely nothing out of opportunities you don’t take. Be bold and be fierce in the ways that you pursue your dreams,” said Jensen.
Jensen does not see his over-commitment as a vice, as he does not even consider himself to be busy. He finds the term “busy” derogatory, because it implies he does not enjoy the work he does. Jensen has reframed his life from saying he is busy, to saying his life is full, and he enjoys every waking moment of what he does. His keys to success are: turning off his phone if he has to, doing things without expecting anything in return and freely giving love. “There’s days where I’ve been exhausted, but I was able to go to bed those nights feeling like I’ve done something! I can go home not having these things follow me with regrets,” said Jensen.
Jensen’s favorite quote is from a 13th century Muslim poet and mystic named Rumi, “The world is in deep trouble, from top to bottom. But it can be swiftly healed by the balm of love.” This quote serves as a guidepost for Jensen each day to do what he does best—to be the best student he can be, to be the best activist he can be, to be the best friend he can be and to be the best version of himself.