After more than 33 years of service, Helen Jensen, professor of economics, is set to retire from Iowa State University. “I am ready to shift gears,” Jensen said. “I have had the opportunity to have a career that started with 80 column computer punch cards and now is carried out on hand-held devices. However, today’s economic issues are remarkably similar to those I worked on when I started.”
Jensen came to Iowa State in 1985, and began her affiliation with the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) in 1986. “My affiliation with CARD came relatively early in my time at Iowa State,” Jensen said. “Stan Johnson became the new director of CARD in 1986. He was looking for someone to help with several initiatives on agricultural and food economics issues.”
Jensen’s knowledge and understanding of food economic issues proved her a good fit at CARD—she was named head of the Food and Nutrition Policy Division in 1986. Through the years, Jensen’s research at CARD garnered her several awards and accolades, including the Board of Regents Faculty Excellence Award, the Dean Lee R. Kolmer Award for Excellence in Applied Research, and being named Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. More importantly, her research received national and international attention, which prompted her inclusion in many high-profile panels and committees, including six with the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences, and five with the National Research Council’s Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Jensen’s career in economics has been distinguished; however, she almost took an entirely different path. “My time in college started with the expectation of following a pre-med major,” she said. “After taking a first course in economics (Principles of Macroeconomics), I got interested in studying social sciences—an area that was new to me, and not part of the traditional high school curriculum.”
While her interest in economics was driven by that first college course, her interest in social sciences came about partially due to the cultural changes of the late 1960s. “My time as an undergraduate marked a period of renewed interest in civil rights and the beginning of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. My interest in social programs and policies started at that time and has carried through to today,” Jensen said.
With her career winding down, Jensen said she has fond memories of CARD, and several things she’s looking forward to in retirement. “The students, staff and faculty have been great colleagues. CARD’s environment continues to provide a dynamic opportunity for research on challenging problems related to food, agriculture, and the environment,” she said.
“I look forward to starting each day a bit more slowly and mindfully. Some professional activities and research will be part of that, but I also look forward to more travel—less travel to DC, and more to see family and grandchildren in Alaska and to northern Minnesota for summer lakeside and winter snow-based activities. Ames will be ‘south’ for a while,” she said.
The beginning of the 2018–19 school year marked Jensen’s formal retirement from “active work status,” though she will have a continued presence at CARD for the immediate future.