Jakob Jensen: Swim instructor to strategic communication professor

Story and photo by TOM CROWELL

Jakob Jensen, an assistant professor of strategic and health communication at the University of Utah, never imagined himself in the classroom.

Jensen was born and raised in the tiny copper mining town of Circle, Mont. He remained there until it was time to pursue higher education at Concordia College in Morehouse, Minn., since there were no colleges or universities anywhere near his hometown.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in political science and East Asian studies, Jensen earned his master’s degree in communication at the University of Illinois. He received his doctorate in communication from the same university in 2007.

Like most college students, Jensen had a job while going to school. He first worked for Sprint as a communications specialist. His primary responsibility was to retain the business of Sprint’s corporate clients and make sure they were happy with the services they were being offered. Following his time at Sprint, he went to work for grocery distributor Supervalu in its human resources division and eventually became the director of HR for the entire company.

Jensen did not plan on remaining in corporate employment, though. While he was working on his doctorate, he was offered an assistant professor position in 2007 with Purdue University teaching health communications. Teaching wasn’t his first choice of employment, but someone noticed it might be a good fit for him while he was a swimming instructor in his hometown. He remained at Purdue until 2011, when he and his wife decided it was time to move west.

Professor Jakob Jensen.

David Vergobbi, an associate professor of communication at the U who chaired Jensen’s search committee, shed some light on the process of hiring new faculty members. To be considered for tenure-track positions at the U, a candidate needs a doctorate and to be adept in three specific areas: teaching, service and research. A secondary specialty is also required for employment; Jensen’s is health communication. Pointing out Jensen’s qualifications, Vergobbi said, “He is the complete package.”

Jensen was driven toward academia by a desire to help people, especially his students. It is not uncommon for him to point out certain items during lectures that students will be tested on and reemphasize those items throughout the unit of focus. He will also give his students bits of advice on how to become successful in strategic communication, including getting involved in the community, joining the PRSSA chapter on campus and applying for and participating in internships. As Jensen puts it, “I want you to succeed, I want you to do well.”

In addition to his responsibilities at the university, Jensen is also a family man. He has been married to his wife, Robin, also an assistant professor at the U, since 2001 and together they have a 5-month-old son, Jor.