Take a peek inside Prof. Jensen’s office on Instagram!
Click the arrows to move to the next photo.
Title: Assistant Professor
Best Office Artifact: Women of STEM wall
Mathematics professor Sara Jensen uses unique teaching methods to prove to her students that math can be fun. As a 2008 Carthage graduate, Prof. Jensen has a special connection and understanding with her students and says she can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.
Prof. Jensen received her Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before returning to Carthage. She brings a large amount of enthusiasm, passion, and creativity to the classroom each day. Her activities and lessons have students moving around the classroom, knitting, and solving intense puzzles, proving to them that math is far from boring.
We asked Prof. Jensen about her teaching philosophies, hobbies outside of the classroom, and unique experience as a student-turned-professor.
Q: How did you become interested in Mathematics?
A: “For a long time, I wasn’t particularly interested in mathematics, but that all changed when I took my first calculus course. For me, that was the first time mathematics felt like critical thinking and problem solving, all of which could be checked in an algorithmic manner. What I needed in order to move from indifference about mathematics to liking mathematics was the ability to create it myself.”
Q: As a Carthage graduate, how does it feel to be on the other side of things as a professor? Any surprising realizations or experiences?
A: “It has the feeling of a dream sometimes, where you are in a familiar space but things are different than how you remember them. As I was graduating from Carthage, Charlotte Chell and I were pondering what my career path might look like, as I was going to the same place for graduate school that she did. We joked about how similar we were, and her last words to me during this conversation were, “Now you go get that Ph.D. so you can come back here and take my job”. We both laughed, but it dawned on me recently that this may be exactly what happened.”
Q: What was your journey to becoming a professor at Carthage like? Why did you choose to return to Carthage?
A: “After graduating from Carthage I went straight to a Ph.D. Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When I finished my time there, I saw that Carthage had a job opening for an applied mathematician, which is almost completely the opposite of my field (algebra). I took the risk and applied anyway; Carthage is a perfect place for me and I couldn’t imagine a better undergraduate program than the one I was so grateful for. It turns out that after posting the job for an applied mathematician, Carthage’s algebraist had found another position, and I didn’t look so crazy after all for applying for a job I was totally unqualified for. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Q: Students often talk about your creativity in the classroom. What do you hope students take away from courses like The Mathematics of Knitting for example? How do these courses reflect your teaching style?
A: “One of the things that bother me most about the stereotypical view of mathematics is the idea that math is boring. Even when people argue that a mathematics course should teach you how to read the newspaper or do your taxes (great life skills!), I feel like what’s missing is the idea that math can be fun! It can be different! It can be found in places you’d never expect! This is one of the greatest lessons I hope people take away from my classes. In terms of my teaching style, I really want to get people involved; math is no spectator sport. If you’re not playing, you’re not learning.”
Q: How have you pushed students beyond their comfort zones?
A: “How have I not? Small things I do to push students outside their comfort zones include working with all different members of the course, writing on the board even if they don’t want to, and speaking out even if they think they are wrong (“Strong and wrong!” is a motto in many of my courses). To the other extreme, I’ve made students physically move around the room tied together with yarn, participate in a dramatic reading murder mystery event, play with Disney princess dolls (repeatedly), throw a lot of things in boxes, and literally solve puzzles to break free of a locked classroom.”
Q: What are some hobbies or interests you have that may be surprising to students?
A: “My more well-known hobbies or interests include knitting, exercising, reading, and consuming excessive amounts of coffee. My less well-known hobbies I have/had include singing, drawing, playing the Oboe, and dancing.
Q: Any favorite moments or memories from your time at Carthage, as a student or as a professor?
One of my favorite memories as a Carthage faculty member is participating in the Tough Mudder. As a student, I went to the Galapagos islands with professors Matt Zorn and Jeff Roberg, and it was the TIME OF MY LIFE. I had also just started dating my husband before that trip, and Jeff kept threatening to marry us on the boat. Looks like we showed him!”
Q: What advice do you have for new or prospective students interested in Mathematics? Anything you wish you would have known as an undergrad?
A: “To those interested in Mathematics: Welcome! I’m fairly certain you can do almost ANYTHING with this degree, so you’re making a great choice. And don’t believe for a minute that a mathematician needs to be a certain way. After all, the mathematical community found a place for someone as ‘creative’ as me.”
— Interview by Madeline Paakkonen ’21, Photos by Jenna Link ’22