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Writer: By Eric Marchese
Born in New York City, Bob Jensen was early on immersed in two worlds — that of New York City theater and the academia of Princeton, New Jersey. Both parents instilled within him a love of the arts. Donald B. Veix, Jensen’s seventh and eighth grade teacher at Hillsborough Junior High School in New Jersey, fostered within him a passion for the arts that Jensen says he has carried all his life.
Jensen attended Washington and Lee University, majoring in English, then enrolled at University of Virginia for his graduate studies. As most of his friends were MFA Theater candidates, Jensen began doing carpentry work for various theater productions. While his wife Sandy earned her Masters Degree in New Jersey, Jensen taught drama and English for five years at Watchung Hills Regional High School. His theatrical resume grew as he created set designs and handled the technical aspects of some 30 to 40 stage productions at local theater companies, high schools, and colleges. Watchung instructor Lee Stapleton mentored Jensen, helping him achieve tenure and gain access to professional theater contacts.
Relocating to Southern California in 1980, Jensen had set his sights upon working for Disney, taking a high school teaching job until he could land an interview with the entertainment giant. Following an unsatisfactory interview with Disney, Jensen was admittedly disappointed — but just a few months later, he landed a job in Fullerton College’s Theatre Arts Department. During his first 25 years at F.C., Jensen distinguished himself as an award-winning director, designer, and instructor and played a variety of roles as a set and lighting designer, technical director, playwright, director, managing director and department chair. He has also served as the director of all three of Fullerton College’s annual theater festivals: the High School Theatre Festival, which is attended by roughly 2,000 high school students annually; the Playwrights Festival, designed to help develop new plays; and the Directors Festival, which showcases the directing talents of student, alumni and local directors.
During his more than 30 years at Fullerton College, he has seen the institution’s arts programs develop into some of the largest in the state of California. Not only is the Music Department the largest in the state, but the Art Department is as well. He serves on the Fullerton Museum Center Board, the Fullerton College Foundation Advisory Board and the Directors Roundtable and is working toward creating a new performing and visual arts complex on the south side of Chapman Avenue.
Appointed Dean of Fine Arts In January, 2005, Jensen highly values the collegial process — bringing people together to talk about FC’s future facilities, programs, technologies and how to best prepare students for their own individual futures. Jensen has said that such discussions, and his role in guiding the college’s Centennial Project, serve a crucial goal — that of reaching out to the world beyond FC, Fullerton and north Orange County to become a leader in higher education rather than just a player.
“It took me a while to realize that (Fullerton College’s success) is so much about teamwork and collaboration, treating people well and developing relationships, and taking care of those relationships. Relationships trump talent and expertise every time.”
—Bob Jensen in 2011 Centennial Project interview
Bob Jensen said his landing a job in Fullerton College’s Theatre Arts Department “has been “a tremendous blessing ever since” he was first hired in 1980.
— Bob Jensen in 2011 Centennial Project interview
“I count myself extremely blessed and thankful for just about everything I touch in the daily rhythms of my life.”
— Bob Jensen’s personal and professional bio on Fullerton College’s website
I feel privileged to serve as Fine Arts Division Dean at Fullerton College, home to one of the most active and best-known community college visual and performing arts programs. Many experiences and influences prepared me for this current chapter in my professional life.
My elementary school days crossed between PS 170 in Brooklyn, NY, rural Flagtown School (New Jersey), Sunnymead School (NJ), Hillsborough School (NJ), and Somerville (NJ) High School. My favorite teachers at Somerville High School were Campbell Platt (Track coach), Mr. Rogers (US History, Cross Country, Basketball Coach), and Cynthia Hedin (who guided me through my student council leadership experience). The Dead Poet Society teacher of my life was Donald B. Veix, who was my seventh and eighth grade teacher at Hillsborough Junior High School before he taught at Watchung Hills Regional High School and Rider College. He created a tremendous love of learning and all the arts in me that I carry with me to this day.
After Somerville High School, I attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. I loved the rich historical and scenic adventure that experience created for me, and I made a number of special lifetime friends. I was an English major there, spent three years in a fraternity, and was the Sophomore and Junior Class President.
After graduation I returned to New Jersey, worked briefly but importantly for Somerville Savings, where I met my wife, Sandy Lyng (Bridgewater East alum) who was working there part-time. I left the bank to work as a carpenter's helper for a local contractor and learned how to do construction for the first time in my life. A little over a year later Sandy and I were married, and we moved to Virginia for me to attend graduate school at UVA, and where for a time we lived with friends from our undergraduate days. I ran the Theatre Scene Shop for one summer at UVA, and I ran a small carpentry business working on the large horse farms and an apartment owner in Charlottesville and the surrounding areas.
After that graduation we returned to New Jersey to permit Sandy to finish her undergraduate degree at St. Elizabeth's College, and I spent five years teaching drama and English at Watchung Hills Regional High School. I spent every summer and every spare moment developing a theatrical resume through set designs and technical theatre for a number of local theatre companies, high schools, and colleges. I was blessed to work with extremely dedicated and bright high school theatre students at Watchung Hills and many of them joined me on my outside projects. Several became college theatre majors and excelled in the entertainment industry. My mentor at Watchung Hills was instructor Lee Stapleton, who helped me get the job, achieve tenure, and gain access to professional theatre contacts.
Sandy's family moved to California in the mid 1970s, and we visited on a couple of vacations. On one such vacation I landed a couple of job offers in Southern California and a potential opportunity with Walt Disney Engineering, then working on the designs for Tokyo Disneyland. We decided that I should move ahead of our family (Garrett was born in Princeton two years before), and I accepted a high school teaching job in hopes of being geographically closer to Disney when the job opening occurred. That prospect didn't pan out, but a few months later I was offered a tenure track position as theatre professor at a community college in Orange County, CA.
I have worked at Fullerton College for 25 years as a theatre professor and for the last eight years as Dean of Fine Arts. I loved the variety of all the roles I was able to experience in theatre in an exciting time of growth and development. As Dean I now work closely with Art, Computer Graphics, Theatre, and Music and collaborate regularly with TV Radio, Photography, and Dance. We have one of the largest community college visual and performing arts programs in the nation with 2400 majors and nearly 8000 enrollments every semester. We have great contacts with the local amusement parks, theatres, and Hollywood.
The Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival, LA Times, and OC Weekly have recognized me for my work in fine arts education, and I have been recognized three times by the college. I appeared as a featured alumnus in the Washington and Lee alumni magazine in Fall 2002. I received the inaugural James Young Award for contributions to Theatre in Fullerton in 2011. My greatest sense of professional pride comes from former students doing great things in the entertainment industry.
At Fullerton College I wrote one original play about Raoul Wallenberg (2000), designed scenery and/or lighting for 60 productions, directed about sixteen shows, and served as the department’s managing director for about 15 years. I also loved serving as the faculty advisor for our high school theatre festival, which draws 2,000 young actors and designers from over 60 high schools every year. I had several chances to lead the Playwrights Festival and Directors Festival and to serve as part of the leadership team of a college sponsored dinner theatre off campus at the Muckenthaler Cultural Arts Center for four years. My favorite productions as a director were the Kentucky Cycle (6 1/2 hours), The Grapes of Wrath, The Crucible, Indians, Mister Roberts, Antigone 3000, and the Diviners. I worked with Oceanography professor Dr. Sean Chamberlin on the Nautilus Project, which combined study of Oceanography, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and a theatre production that visited local high schools and which won a national award for innovations in education.
As Dean I have been much more focused on marketing, student and faculty recruitment, grant writing, and career technical education initiatives. I love the constant energy of the division faculty and students. I sit in meetings far too long, but I have mastered the fine art of daydreaming while appearing engaged.
A recent project at Fullerton College illustrates the collaborative force of the students, faculty, and alumni with whom I regularly interact. In October 2009 Fine Arts produced a five event series on diversity, which was anchored by a staged reading of a new play, the Laramie Project Ten Years Later: An Epilogue. 150 theatres worldwide, including Lincoln Center, the Arena Stage, and McCarter Theatre performed readings on October 12, 2009 as part of the exploration of hate crimes and a community's reaction to them. Tectonic Theatre Works, the creative force behind the project did a two day residency with our theatre students and the general public (October 1,2), and our cast for the reading included school administration, faculty, alumni, and students in an attempt to create our own "community" with which to explore the themes of the play. Simultaneously the Matthew Shepard Foundation was working with Congress for the approval of new Hate Crime legislation. A Fullerton College alum, Allen Moon, who was employed by the theatre company, approached me with the idea the preceding spring, and we were thrilled to be a part of the reading, residency, live web broadcast on October 12 with playwright Moises Kaufman and host Glen Close, and the on-line communications involved.
The Laramie epilogue project reminds me of an alumni-sponsored production of Largo Desolato by Vaclev Havel, directed by alums Jim and April Breslin. During the rehearsal phase, the communist regime in Czechoslovakia fell and Havel was elected President. On opening night, the President of Amnesty International spoke in the Studio Theatre (now called the Bronwyn Dodson Theatre), and asked us to pray for Havel, since it would be hard under the pressures of governing a country for him to serve truth as he did each day as a poet and playwright. Bronwyn Dodson was one of the leaders of the students involved in the production and organized a silent auction in support of Amnesty International.
One more example of the Theatre Department serving a larger community is the 1989 production of Tracers by John Difusco. Our production, directed by Pamela Richarde, connected strongly with our local Vietnam Veteran community and with Mr. Difusco as well, so well that he nominated our production for inclusion in the Fringe Festival at the Edinburgh Festival. With the help of the Brothers of Vietnam and the Fullerton community at large, $26,000 was raised to send the production to Scotland. Serving on the crew was Bronwyn Dodson.
Bronwyn was a young theatre major who personified our educational approach to theatre for our young charges: you touch every side of production and gain insight into all the personalities and disciplines incorporated in theatre production. It was my mentor at Fullerton College, Todd Glen, who articulated that vision statement when he first hired Gary Krinke, Tom Blank, Gary Krinke, Pat Scribner, and me. When Bronwyn died tragically in an accident on the way to school, the department decided that to honor her and to symbolically represent the student-centeredness of the theatre program at Fullerton College, we would re-name the Studio Theatre the Bronwyn Dodson Theatre. To gain permission, a large army of supporters wrote 800 letters, attended 11 presentations, and created with Board approval a new policy for naming facilities. With the great help of Bronwyn’s family, a scholarship fund was created in her name, one that honors the most promising theatre student and/or the most well-rounded theatre student leaving the college to begin the next stage in his/her training and professional life.
I drew great satisfaction from hosting the TedxFullerton conference at the college in fall 2010. The day included Ted.com videos and a series of sensationally inspiring speakers who explored creativity and the role of the arts in contemporary society, and a concert involving both jazz and electronic music. You can still find their videos on Youtube.
My current project is the Fullerton College Centennial, now in its long awaited year of celebration in 2013, on which I am collaborating with a large cadre of staff, alums, and community members. We have already produced Legends and Legacies: Fullerton College's First 100 Years at the Fullerton Museum Center and a special student, staff, and alumni photography show at the La Habra Art Gallery. We are currently preparing for a series of events designed to return our alumni, retired staff, and friends to the college to celebrate the stories of remarkable people who spent some length of time at FJC or FC.
I describe Fullerton as a "city that celebrates the arts every day of the year." I serve on the executive boards of the Fullerton College Foundation and the Fullerton Museum Board and try to help local arts organizations as much as possible. I also serve on the missions board of my church.
I often think about my mentors, Don Viex, Lee Stapleton, and Todd Glen. I hope that each of you reading this letter have such positive forces in your life as well.
We have survived the latest round of budget cuts; the Arts and Athletics become the easy targets of legislators and administrators who suffer from imagination deficit disorders. The continuing success of our transfer students and alumni working in the entertainment and visual arts industries provide compelling testimony of the value of arts education.
As my career at Fullerton College approaches retirement from the college, I count myself extremely blessed and thankful for just about everything I touch in the daily rhythms of my life. The next chapter of my life will focus on my family and compassion based ministries both locally and globally.