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Karin Jensen receives top national teaching award


Huan Song

Karin Jensen, teaching assistant professor in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received the 2020 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Biomedical Engineering Teaching Award. This award is a national recognition of her excellence in the classroom and outstanding contributions to biomedical engineering education. 

Since joining the department in 2015, Jensen has taught multiple core courses in bioengineering as well as served as a faculty instructor for the Cancer Scholars Program. She currently teaches BIOE 202, Cell and Tissue Engineering Lab and BIOE 360, Transport and Flow in Bioengineering. 

"I get to see all the students twice, first as sophomores and then as juniors or seniors," she said. "Because the lab sections are pretty small, I get to know the students very well. It's a neat experience to see them apply what they have learned in BIOE 202 in the following years." 

In addition to teaching, she also serves as a mentor for undergraduate students, graduate students and even peers across the university.

Bioengineering sophomore Shweta Khorana who had Jensen as an instructor in the Cancer Scholars Program and BIOE 202 said, "You can feel her excitement for what she does radiate from her. Her passion for her work really drives and motivates me." 

Jensen's former student Yanfen Li, now an assistant teaching professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell wrote, "She would spend all of her free time listening to her TAs, giving us advice, and pushing us to do our best both in the classroom and out. Without Karin, I truly believe that I would not be in the career path that I am in now, nor be as successful."

Jensen will serve as a faculty mentor for three IDEA Grant-funded projects including Bioengineering Teaching Assistant Professor Holly Golecki's project on inclusive research opportunities for undergraduate students. "Holly is phenomenal and I'm excited to work with her on this project," she said. 

Another key focus for Jensen is research in engineering education. Her first project was part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Initiation in Engineering Formation (RIEF) grant to better understand mental health challenges for engineering undergraduates. 

Relatedly, she received an NSF Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) to study the RIEF program with a goal of engaging engineering faculty in engineering education research. 

Jensen is also the first teaching faculty at the University of Illinois to receive an NSF CAREER Award. The CAREER project expands upon her work from RIEF and is a longitudinal study that follows students' perceptions of engineering culture over the course of their degree. 

"I want to dismantle the idea that a high-stress environment is necessary or should be normal in engineering and develop proactive interventions for students," she said. 

Jensen first developed a passion for teaching as an undergraduate student at Cornell University. She was in charge of a peer advising program where seniors mentored underclassmen. During her graduate studies at the University of Virginia, she further honed her teaching skills through the Tomorrow's Professors Today program. "These opportunities solidified for me that I wanted to go into teaching and I really enjoy working with students," she said.