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March 24, 2017

Jensen family fellowship will help CBE attract top grad students

Written By: Pat DeFlorin

Mike and Mary Jensen, long time Bascom Hill members, are adding to their history of giving to the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the Jensen Family Chemical and Biological Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Mike, a UW-Madison chemical engineering alumnus, and Mary, a University of Nebraska chemical engineering alumnus, met through their work at the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. As a result, they approach giving with a consumer mindset. “We want to uncover what would be the most impactful,” says Mary.

So they ask: What would make things better?

To address diversity, they created the Jensen Family Engineering Diversity Scholarship in 2006 for women of color studying engineering. “A more diverse work group means better solutions, better solutions help make the world better,” says Mike.

The Jensens created the Jeannie and Jinny Undergraduate Grant Scholarship for women pursuing careers in nursing and education in 2015. They matched funds from the Nicholas match (a one-to-one gift match established by Ab and Nancy Johnson Nicholas to inspire other donors to fund undergraduate and athletic scholarships and graduate fellowships for UW-Madison students). The Jeannie and Jinny grant honors Mike and Mary’s mothers, Ruth Jeannine Ries and Virginia Jensen Balentine, whose self-reliance and perseverance inspired Mike and Mary’s lives.

Next, they created the Jensen Family Volleyball Scholarship Fund to provide scholarships to volleyball student athletes in 2016. Mary and all three daughters played volleyball in high school and the scholarship recognizes the value of athletics in education.

The Jensens’ most recent gift also benefited from Nicholas match funds. This time they are funding the Jensen Family Chemical and Biological Engineering Graduate Fellowship. This fellowship addresses the department’s desire to remain competitive in attracting top graduate students.

Educational and professional success has laid the foundation for the Jensens’ giving.

After dabbling in math and astronomy, Mike graduated from UW-Madison in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Upon graduation, he considered an array of career paths, including a racetrack photographer, a Peace Corps volunteer, and a consumer goods researcher.

The photographer position would have been lucrative, and the Peace Corps path would have been an opportunity to embody the Wisconsin Idea of public service that education at UW-Madison had instilled in him. In the end, still guided by the Wisconsin Idea, Mike decided on R&D with Procter & Gamble in the consumer goods industry. He saw it as a means to improve many lives in many ways. “It was an opportunity to help a little bit every day—with drier diapers, better feminine care products, tastier coffee or even new to the world products like Febreze and Swiffer,” says Mike.

Mike thought he might be at P&G for a few years, but it hooked him. He started there in 1973 right out of college and worked there until retiring in 2008.

These days, Mike helps companies of all sizes innovate with a few consulting projects per year. He also volunteers with the Yahara Lakes Association in Madison and serves on the UW-Madison Chemical Engineering Advisory Board.

Mary’s path to engineering and consumer goods was more direct than Mike’s. At age 13, Mary decided she wanted to be a chemical engineer based on a survey from a Weekly Reader magazine, and the rest was history. In 1974, she became fifth woman ever to graduate from the University of Nebraska with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. Like Mike, she went to P&G straight from college and remained there for her entire career leading research efforts around the globe. Today she’s active with JDRF and Impact 100, a woman’s group that provides one-time transformational gifts to non-profit organizations.

The Jensens give to UW-Madison because of an affinity for the university that developed over the years. Besides Mike, three of the Jensens’ four children attended UW-Madison. “There’s a feeling you get when you’re on campus,” says Mike. “Other universities don’t have the same vibrant ambiance,” Mary agrees.

And Mary has personally contributed to the UW-Madison vibe in an unexpected way. Babcock Dairy’s ice cream flavor “Bec-Key Lime Pie”—all Mary (she submitted the winning name and flavor idea in a contest to develop an ice cream in honor of incoming UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank).