Karin Jensen, researching mental health in engineering, earns NSF CAREER award - first for teaching faculty at Illinois


Karin Jensen is researching how students feel about and cope with the high-stress engineering education environment and how to develop a positive healthy culture, and the National Science Foundation is supporting her research with a CAREER award.

Written by

Karin Jensen, teaching assistant professor in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her project, “Supporting Undergraduate Mental Health by Building a Culture of Wellness in Engineering.”

With a total grant of more than $581,000 over five years, Jensen will study how mental health in engineering undergraduate programs is perceived by students in the programs, as well as exploring the roles that faculty, administrators and staff play in supporting or dismantling the idea that a successful engineering degree requires a high-stress environment.

Her aim is to learn how students feel about the high-stress environment and what positive strategies they develop to cope with it. The eventual goal for this project is to develop and implement proactive, research-based training in engineering programs for faculty, staff and administrators to promote student wellbeing and create a positive healthy culture.

“The support from the NSF CAREER award will help my team better understand the undergraduate student experience, particularly in regard to mental health," Jensen said. "Ultimately, we want to promote a culture of wellbeing in engineering programs that supports all students thriving.”

Jensen is the first member of the teaching faculty at Illinois to earn the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the most prestigious award the NSF presents to junior faculty. The NSF established the award program in 1994 as a way to recognize and support early-career faculty who are engaged in research. Up to 500 awards are given nationally each year to encourage and support faculty to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Jensen also is engaged in research on three other recently received NSF grants. She serves as principal investigator on one for $325,000 from the NSF's Early Concepts Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) program for the project, "Developing Engineering Faculty as Engineering Education Researchers Through Mentorship," a collaboration with co-principal investigator Kelly Cross, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. Jensen is also the principal investigator on a two-year NSF Research Initiation in Engineering Formation (RIEF) grant totaling almost $200,000 for "Understanding Student Perceptions of Engineering Stress Culture." She is co-principal investigator on the nearly $300,000 award for the NSF's Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) project, "Gendered Elective Track Choices in Engineering Undergraduate Education: Antededents and Career Path Implications," a collobaration with Maria Teresa Cardador, associate professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at Illinois. 

“I am very proud of having a colleague like Prof. Karin Jensen in the Grainger College of Engineering who has excelled in research as well as in teaching," Dean Rashid Bashir said. "This NSF CAREER award ... is a national recognition of her excellence and of her very bright future.”

Jensen started her career in Bioengineering at Illinois as a lecturer in 2015 and has been a teaching assistant professor since 2016. In addition to biomedical engineering education, her research interests include drug discovery, cancer biology, and systems pharmacology. She earned a B.S. in Biological Engineering from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Virginia and did post-doctoral work at Sanofi Oncology in Cambridge, MA.

Share this story

This story was published January 13, 2020.