Belva Laughlin Jensen, MS, PhD, 91, who was among the first faculty class of 12 instructors when the College of Southern Maryland was established passed away on May 20 in Waldorf. Overseeing the biology laboratory, Jensen was one of 12 members who composed the college’s first faculty class when Charles County Junior College opened on September 17, 1958. From night classes held in the former La Plata High School (now the Charles County Government Building), Jensen continued at the college as it relocated to the Nike Site on Bumpy Oak Road and finally to its La Plata Campus, dedicated in 1968.
During the college’s 50th anniversary, Jensen was interviewed and discussed the beginnings of the community college, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and what it means to be an educator. Jensen worked with the college’s first dean, Bruce Jenkins, and others as the college evolved, and was initially a part-time instructor before becoming the chair of the biological sciences department in the late 1960s; she held the position until her retirement in 1982.
“Oh, I loved to teach. I think to be a professor you have to want to teach, and I think that word has actually lost its meaning for so long now. Your job is to teach something, not to try to snow somebody, not to try to be bigger or smarter or show whatever. You need to be able to teach and so I wanted people to love studying as much as I had done all my life. My dad was a professor at Ohio State, and Dad taught me. Every day I lived he was teaching, and that’s what I tried to do, is make people want to learn about new things and experiences and do things — take chances.”
Jensen worked with U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings for three years to acquire a collection of resource materials, books and other information collected from federal agencies to support the college’s Pollution Abatement Technology Center, the first such curriculum in the nation, as reported by the Maryland Independent July 18, 1968. “The Senator noted that, ‘She (Belva Jensen) and other members of the Department are currently on a 2 ½ month trip, the Second Lewis and Clark Expedition. Travelling by canoe and truck, the group will be collecting data and making tests of the water along the original expedition route. That data will be studied at the Center when it opens in September.”
Charles Wesley Larkin Jr. in his dissertation, “Charles County Community College: The History of the First 20 Years,” also described Jensen’s efforts in developing the college’s Pollution Abatement Technology program. Many of Jensen’s students were inspectors for Charles County Health Department and interested in sewage plant operations. As a result, the college developed a one-year course in Waste Water Management with 51 students enrolled in its first offering.
“In an attempt to broaden this initial course offering, Dr. Jensen, her husband, LeRoy Jensen, and a crew of six students from Charles County Community College retraced the Lewis and Clark Trail,” Larkins wrote. “The trip was designed to bring recognition to the Pollution Abatement Technology curriculum. Charles County Community College was the first institution to create this curriculum in the nation.”
“[College President] Jay Carsey wrote the governors of each state we were going to go through, told them what we were going to do — that we were going to retrace the trip, that we were going to do it in canoes on the water, except we had six-horsepower motors, and that we were going to follow the journals. It worked beautifully because every governor of the state greeted us, sent people to be along the line to talk to us. We took the full two-and-one-half months and it was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
During the college’s 30th anniversary, Maria Wills Johnson, a 1966 graduate of the college and a longtime member of the college’s board of trustees, was quoted in an Oct. 6. 1988 college news release, recalling, “Our instructors were outstanding. One of my favorite college experiences was a trip to Deep Creek Lake with Belva Jensen’s botany class. We had a real sense of community.”
Jensen’s legacy at the college is far-reaching as the college has expanded over its 60 years. As referenced by CSM Vice President Dr. Dan Mosser regarding the Maryland Center for Environmental Training, the college has established a reputation for excellence in environmental, safety and health training, and compliance assistance. “In 1968, the year this(La Plata) campus was built, Belva Jensen, the head of the college’s biology department, with a number of students undertook a 3,500-mile trek by water to retrace the Lewis and Clark expedition through the Northwest with the purpose to sample the once-pure waters and to develop an index of pollution. Belva’s conclusions helped prepare instructional material for the new curriculum in pollution abatement technology that was offered at CSM.”
As shared in her obituary, Jensen’s “life was dedicated to education, service and advocacy. She was one of a few individuals instrumental in the establishment of Piscataway Park in the 1960s which was created to preserve the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.…She was incredibly devoted to her family, especially her grandchildren, teaching them to enjoy her creative hobbies like wood carving, poetry, flower arranging, sewing and painting, as well as sharing with them her love and respect for nature.”
A Memorial Celebration will be held at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, 2301 Bryan Point Road, Accokeek, on Saturday, June 1 at 11 a.m. For the full obituary, visit here.