- Herman Frederic Lieber Award (1964)
Donald D. Jensen was born April 29, 1930, in Holdrege, Nebraska. He and his identical twin brother Ronald were the youngest of the family. The twins were inseparable as children until August of 1945, when they were 15; Don and Ron were at the train station, and Ron was walking outside. He did not hear an approaching train and was killed. Don graduated from Kearney High School in 1947 and went on to attend the University of Nebraska. Don was in ROTC at the University and so was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Military Police Corps upon graduation. He served in the Army from 1951-54, in Michigan and Germany. He returned to Lincoln in 1954 to work on a masters degree in psychology which he received in 1955 from UNL. Don then moved to Connecticut as a Ph.D. student at Yale University and continued his interest in animal behavior and experimental psychology. In his three years at Yale, he co-authored several articles on experimental procedures, and completed his dissertation—“Behavioral effects of feeding, fission, and ultraviolet microbeam irradiation in Paramecium aurelia.” He received his Ph.D. in comparative and experimental psychology from Yale in 1958.
Following Don’s graduation, the family sailed to the Netherlands, where Don spent a two-year NSF postdoctoral fellowship studying at the Zoological Laboratory at the University of Groningen with G.P. Baerends. Don was one of the first Americans to study ethology (animal behavior) in a European laboratory. From the Netherlands, the family moved in 1960 to Bloomington, Indiana, where Don began nine years on the faculty of the Department of Psychology at Indiana University, including a year’s sabbatical at the Anatomisk Institut in Oslo, Norway. At IU, Don was assigned to teach introductory psychology classes, and became interested in methods for teaching large lecture classes. He developed what he called a “cafeteria system” for introductory psychology in which students could come at any time to listen to videotaped lectures and then take computer-generated repeatable tests. The success of these innovative methods led to an outstanding teaching award at IU.
In 1969, Don moved back to Lincoln and began what would be more than thirty-four years on the psychology faculty at the University of Nebraska. He continued teaching large classes in introductory psychology using his computer-based methods and then upper-level courses in animal behavior, research methods, and, in later years, scientific approaches to parapsychology. His research interests were in the early evolution of the vertebrate behavior apparatus (brain, sense organs, and effectors), conceptual and methodological issues in the study of learning, and the use of ethological data (i.e., behavioral content and time budgets) in laboratory studies of learning and motivation. Don’s life centered on teaching (he received awards for outstanding teaching at both Indiana University and the University of Nebraska) but he also participated enthusiastically in academic and community service.
Over the course of his life he taught thousands of students. They, as well as his colleagues, friends and family, will long remember his passion for using the scientific method and critical thinking to decipher hidden truth in the world. Don married Janet Kepner in 1950 and the couple had three children.