From canoes to motorboats, one-room school rooms to lecture halls, the course of education over time changes rapidly and yet hardly at all. As part of the College of Southern Maryland’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration, CSM has been interviewing the faculty, students, staff and community leaders who have helped the college grow into the “crown jewel” of Maryland’s community college system.
Retired biological sciences Professor Belva Jensen, 80, was among CSM’s (formerly Charles County Community College, CCCC) first faculty and one of the region’s most enduring and admired educators. During her interview, Jensen discussed the beginnings of the community college, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and what it means to be an educator. Jensen worked with Bruce Jenkins and others as the college evolved, and worked initially as 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.
In 1968, Jensen, her husband Roy and several CCCC students left Charles County to retrace the 1804-06 journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who conducted the first American overland expedition of the West and Pacific Northwest on behalf of President Thomas Jefferson. Traveling largely by canoe, the Jensens and their students traveled 3,500 miles through 11 western states studying water, flora and fauna along the way.
“When we [the college] were small, over at the Nike site, we could do so many things without having to go through any kind of rigamarole. [When we decided] to take a class cross-country to redo the Lewis and Clark trip which, you know, no college would say anything like that. We didn’t really have to ask, we just decided who would like to go.”
“[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,” recalled Belva Jensen.
“Oh, gee. How much things had changed and how little they’d changed. I kept a copy of the original journals with me so that I could tell where we were exactly and there’s a very interesting place in Lewis’ journal where he talks about the hills as though they were on fire, smoking, and described things like that, and we happened to come around up close to Gates of the Mountain, I think up in that area, and there they were! There were the hills and this smoking coming out of them. I was reading it and at the end it said — Lewis said he was alarmed because the woods on the other side of the river were on fire and they tried to put them out–put this fire out, which they did. It was so weird because there was a fire when we finally came out. It was just amazing to have that experience–making the comparison.”
At the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1968, Belva Jensen wrote, “The extent of pollution of our natural resources is being brought sharply into focus by the expedition– [every town is] vitally interested in what we are trying to do on pollution…the pollution problems are fantastic, and people are beginning to realize the need for the type of technician we propose to train and the absolute necessity for solving their own pollution problems.”
Belva Jensen and others worked diligently to increase environmental awareness through classes, including one in the 1970s that addressed the energy crisis then facing the country. The course was so successful that the University of Maryland took it over as a graduate level course. In 1982, the Maryland Center for Environmental Training (MCET) was established at CSM’s La Plata Campus. MCET provides environmental, safety and health training and compliance assistance and courses to organizations in Maryland and throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
“I don’t know that this is true now — but for a while because we were in high school and the elementary school buildings and didn’t have really any place to call our own, people looked down on it and thought, ‘well, you know, they are just there trying to get a name to say they are in college and stuff.’
[But] I felt that the teachers that were [at CCCC] were all really wonderful because they were professionals in their own field in their own right and probably more so than is true in a lot of regular colleges. Being small we were able to do and get across so much more than you do sitting in a great big lecture hall with 400 people [where you] never have a chance to ask a question or to have follow-ups. Things like that.”
“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.”
What CSM should be the most proud of:
“[CSM offers] a sound, solid college education close by and within financial reason and that is probably the most important thing, but it also is able to offer some of the best professors. [The community] should be proud of it from the beginning to end.
Happy Birthday, 4Cs! Proud of you!”
For information on CSM’s 50th Anniversary events, history and more visit http://www.csmd.edu/50th/. To share how CSM has impacted your life, then and now, visit the “Your Stories”page, http://www.csmd.edu/50th/memories/YourStories.html, where alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members are able to share their CSM Story.