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In this episode of the Saturdays at Seven Podcast, Todd Ream interviews Daniel D. Jensen, the Westmont endowed Professor of Engineering and Director of the Engineering Program at Westmont College. Dan shares about getting into aerospace engineering and his transition from serving on the faculty at the United States Air Force Academy for 21 years to now teaching at Westmont.
- Walter Bradley, professor of engineering at Texas A&M and Baylor University
- John Lamb and Eric Swanson from Cru
- Compassion International’s engineering project with Westmont College
Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.
Our guest is Daniel D. Jensen, the Westmont Endowed Professor of Engineering and Director of the Engineering Program at Westmont College. Welcome, Dr. Jensen.
Dan Jensen: Oh, thanks. Welcome as well.
Todd Ream: Aerospace engineering, it’s one of those disciplines that sort of immediately garners a sense of awe due to its complicated and demanding nature. For those of us who depend upon the efforts of aerospace engineers, but know little of anything about the details, would you please start by sharing, uh, with us questions that capture your imagination and consume your time there?
Dan Jensen: Yeah. Well, thanks again for the opportunity to share a little bit of my story. And I guess I’d, I’d first say regarding that, that I have deep awe and respect for people in all kinds of different disciplines. Well, you’re right that aerospace engineering kind of has this, this thought that goes with it, that people are, it’s complicated and things like that. And that is in part true.
I think that anybody who’s ever raised children or worked with the homeless or tried to solve other problems in other areas, I think that’s just as complicated and I have deep respect for the work that they do in those fields as well.
But going back to the aerospace engineering thing, I think that what’s fun about that is the opportunity to solve really complicated problems.
And it, it gives you a chance as, as a believer, to, to do that in ways that I think can help people. And that’s what makes aerospace engineering fun and exciting and, uh, makes the complicated difficult part all worth it.
Todd Ream: Thank you. Just share us, share with us a couple of experiences that led you to take on the calling of an aerospace engineer.
Dan Jensen: Yeah, I like to build things. I got a chance to do some construction work when I was, was young and I don’t know that I’m always good at the things that I build, but man, it’s a lot of fun when you can create something that starts as an idea, a solution to a problem, that’s just lots and lots of, of fun to be able to do.
And I think that as followers of Jesus, when we get to do that in ways where we take care of the wonderful planet that God has given us and, and care for people as well, that, that is just, is extra exciting when we can do that in that context as well. So those things always intrigued me. When I was in school, I got involved in a campus ministry while I was studying engineering at the same time, and I think that made a big difference as well, in terms of just my thoughts regarding what it was like to potentially pursue engineering.
I at one point considered, well, maybe what I should do with my life is, is more of a ministry role and through conversations that I had with colleagues at other schools, as well as, as people that were my, my mentors in the spiritual realm, um, they kind of said, well, of course, people that are in full time ministry have tremendous opportunities for impact, but if you choose to become a professor and a working engineer, you’ll have opportunities for a different sort of impact.
It’s, it’s not better or worse one way or another, but the fact that God has made you so that you appear to be able to be successful in the technical realm, that might be the avenue through which you could have the most impact on the world around you in lots of different, different ways as an engineer, but they kind of encouraged me to think about ministry and engineering as something that fits a little bit like this instead of two separate things. And that was very, very helpful to me.
Todd Ream: Thank you. Yeah. Is there anyone in particular that you would credit with being more responsible for that kind of thinking and, uh, uh, the development that you underwent?
Dan Jensen: Yeah, I have a, a mentor, um, named Dr. Walter Bradley, who was, uh, then a professor at Texas A&M. It looks like, Todd, maybe you even know Professor Bradley and, and then worked at Baylor for a while and, and taught at the School of Mines in Colorado for a while as well. He was very integrated in with the campus ministry that I worked with. It’s now called Cru. We used to be called Campus Crusade. And, um, as a faculty member, he, from my perspective, at least sort of led the charge on what it looked like to be a faculty member and be a follower of Jesus at the same time.
And he and I would have lunch at conferences all the time. And he’d just go, hang in there, DJ. I know graduate school is nasty. And, and, uh, you know, just keep on, he, he’d encouraged me both in the engineering work and in the ministry work. You know, he said, don’t, don’t ever give up on trying to publish as much as you possibly can and write grant after grant after grant and work hard to be absolutely excellent at the technical engineering work that you do and at the same time never give up on living wholeheartedly for the kingdom of God.
And, uh, what a tremendous mentor he has been to me and then the, the staff for Cru that were my mentors as, as well, guys like John Lamb and Eric Swanson, um, help me just really understand what it looks like to, to try to have your work be your ministry and your ministry be your work. And, uh, for me, that was tremendously helpful.
Todd Ream: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah, no, I had the, uh, the pleasure of getting to know Walter when I was a postdoc, actually. And yeah, and the, uh, the encouragement, uh, in, in many ways was comparable, even though my field, you know, it was very different, but still was an encouraging presence on campus to lots of young scholars who were getting their starts.
And yeah, yeah. Um, yeah, that’s, that’s neat that you, you had a very comparable experience and the two of you talk the same language when it comes to disciplinary efforts too.
Dan Jensen: Exactly. Right. Yeah. When I was at the Air Force Academy, he came and did a guest lecture on scientific evidence for the existence of God. So my wife and I got to have dinner with he and his wife. And it’s just, that’s been a rich relationship. I know he’s had that sort of relationship with literally hundreds of people over the years, but in my case, it was, it was quite impactful.
Todd Ream: Yeah wonderful. So, as you just mentioned, you served on the faculty at the United States Air Force Academy for 21 years. You retired. And then you began a second career at Westmont College. How would you compare the cultures of those two institutions? In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different?
Dan Jensen: Yeah, so in one way, students are students. When you’re 18 or 20, you’re, whether you’re at the Air Force Academy or a student at Westmont, you’re still just trying to figure out what the heck is going on in life. Um, in lots of different ways: academically, and you’re away from family for the first time, and, and all of those things. And trying to understand what, for a lot of them, what’s going on spiritually as well is, is really important for a lot of them.
The opportunity to have impact on the next generation of our country’s leadership at the Air Force Academy is fairly distinctive. And that was so much fun. The students there are tremendously bright. Um, just lots and lots of fun. They work so hard and they’re so talented. Some of the most talented men and women, I believe on the face of the planet. And that’s just a blast to get a chance to, to work, to try to have some formative impact in their lives.
I feel the same way, however, about the students at, at Westmont, here’s a group of folks in, uh, you know, a brand new engineering program at Westmont. We just graduated our first set of seniors last May. And so a new opportunity to take folks that feel like God has gifted them and called them to to work in a technical area. And at the same time, if you’re coming to Westmont, then you’re at least open to conversations about spiritual things. And most of our students are very engaged in that realm, although not all of them.
And we welcome students kind of no matter where they’re at with regards to the spiritual journey that they’re on, but I love the chance to interact with students, in a, in a more open way than would be appropriate at a public university, um, in the, in the spiritual realm. And obviously I can do that at Westmont.
So it’s just, it’s just fun. It’s fun from a, from a kind of life development standpoint. Students, both at the Air Force Academy and other places that I’ve taught in, Westmont, they come over to my house. They interact with my wife. They play with my dog. They meet my sons. They get a chance to see one example of someone who is trying to figure out how to live life well, and sometimes not doing a great job at it, and sometimes by the sheer grace of God doing okay. And then a chance to, to teach them about how to design machines and be creative and solve wicked problems and all those kinds of things. You put all that together and I’m a blessed man to get a chance to do the things that I get a chance to do.
Todd Ream: Thank you. Yeah, in terms of solving those wicked problems then, you’ve taken, uh, Walter Bradley’s advice and published over 135 peer reviewed articles, secured over 4 million dollars in research and consulting, funding, and oversaw the creation of dozens of patents over the course of your career. But as you look back on your career, what efforts or projects did you find perhaps more fulfilling than any of the others?
Dan Jensen: Well, when I was at the Air Force Academy, we got to work on a lot of really cool problems. Um, the details of many of them we can’t talk about, um, for classification reasons, but it’s just so fun to take a problem that you’re working on that at first when you look at it, you almost get a pit in your stomach going, oh my gosh, there’s, there’s no way. We’re not going to be able to pull this off. We’d have people come and say, can you make robots climb walls? And we’d go, wow, you know, man, not so much, you know, robots just don’t climb walls. And they’d go, well, we sure wish we had one that would.
And then the students are so good at kind of, grammatically I know this is incorrect, but they don’t know what won’t work yet. And so they go, the proverbial thing we talk about all the time is let’s use a kangaroo. And so they go, let’s just try something crazy. And one of the coolest quotes I had from a student one day was when somebody asked him, I didn’t even ask him this question, it was a colleague. And I just happened to be standing close. He said, what was your design process like in Dr. J’s class? And they went, you know, the stuff that we said was impossible in August, we brought to the customer and showed them that it worked in May. And I just laughed. I just thought that’s so fun. It’s so cool.
And then they, it’s not only what they create, it’s the capability to create that we’re giving them that’s exciting for me. So they learn a process. We call it design innovation, and it’s got parts of design thinking from the Stanford model in it, but it’s got integrated in other aspects from systems engineering and even business planning and engineering design into it. And we teach them this skill set.
And even yesterday in class, one of my students said, you know what I’m excited about, Dr. J, is using the problem solving process that you’re teaching us that infuses innovation and creativity into it. I want to go start businesses with this. Will it work in that context? And I go, oh, let me tell you some stories.
It’s a, I can tell you story after story about really cool things that people have done using this process to, to infuse creativity and innovation into solving really, really hard problems. And, uh, so it’s just a blast. I’ll even give you a quick example and tell me to move on if I need to, Todd, I get excited about this stuff.
So this one day we’re talking about literally having robots that climb walls and we have this group of kind of almost like sub techniques. They’re questions that we have our designers ask that help them to expand the design space to think creatively about it. And so we said, well, what we’re going to do is we’re going to turn off physics. And so we asked him, well, what, what physics would you like to turn off? You know, half the class is going, this is just dumb. You can’t turn off physics. It doesn’t work, right? F is equal to ma over and over again. And, but we said, okay, just play with us here. We’re going to, we’re going to just have some fun with this.
So what would you, what would be advantageous if you could turn off physics? And one guy goes, well, I’d, I’d turn off gravity. And everybody goes, yeah, that’d be great. It’d be easy to get robots to climb walls if we could turn off gravity. But that’s stupid. You can’t do that, right? And then somebody goes, well, actually, problem isn’t gravity. It’s the direction that it points. It points down. Could we get it to point a different direction? Everybody goes, well, you can’t do that either, right? Then somebody goes, well, why would we want it to point a different direction? The guy goes, well, if we could, if we could get it to point towards the wall, then we’d push the robot against the wall, and then it would be able to climb the wall. That’d be great. Somebody goes, well, let’s not use gravity. Let’s use something else to push it against the wall. And now we have a patent.
We created a robot that has ducted fans embedded in the body of the robot that pushes it against the wall so that it can climb up walls and even hang around on ceilings and stuff like that. And nobody had done that, but it all comes from these box buster techniques where somebody goes, let’s turn off physics. You can’t do that, but it helps your brain to think of potential solutions that you wouldn’t have otherwise. So long, long answer to a short question, I realized, but-
Todd Ream: That’s a great story.
Dan Jensen: It’s just so fun. And the students are just having a blast going, oh my gosh. Now I see how we can try to think about problems differently.
And, and then at Westmont, we even go: right now, because you’re created in the image of God, and God is wildly creative, in my worldview, you’re, you’re acting like God. You’re, you’re you’re functioning as, as someone who’s created in the image of God, because you’re creating, being wildly innovative, and I think almost like the Eric Liddell thing in Chariots of Fire, when he says, God made me fast and I feel his pleasure when I run. I think my students go, God made me creative and I feel his pleasure when I create something that we didn’t imagine beforehand.
Todd Ream: Great story. To this day, you also serve as a fellow with the International Design Center, which is located at Singapore University of Technology and Design and at MIT and is the largest of its kind in the world. As an aerospace engineer, what benefits have come from serving as a faculty member at an institution such as the Air Force Academy and now at Westmont, as well as serving as a fellow with such a center?
Dan Jensen: Yeah. It’s been just a tremendous opportunity and blessing to get to work with the people at the International Design Center and at Singapore University of Technology and Design. I’ve got a dear friend and a person that I think is probably one of the best design engineers on the planet named Kristin Wood, who was, um, ran part of the International Design Center and started a part of the Singapore University of Technology and Design that asked me to come be a part of the group of folks that were working with him at SUTD and in the IDC.
And man, we had a lot of fun. We trained thousands and thousands of people in the design innovation methods that I was mentioning before. And over and over again, you’d have those same sort of experiences where people are able to create options for solving hard problems that they had not imagined, until we took them through the process that we use. And, uh, it’s just been, it’s been fantastic. It’s been so much fun.
And just to get a chance to hang around with people that are so good at what they do in contexts like that is, uh, is just a tremendous blessing and tons of fun. Creates lots of opportunities as well. People are constantly asking that group of folks to solve, to solve really, really difficult problems. And, uh, to get a chance to be a part of teams that work on those sorts of things is a lot of fun, a lot of work and, um, but tons and tons of, of fun.
Todd Ream: Yeah, I would imagine that being able to spend time in such a community then, you know, the ideas that you’re able to bring back, say to Westmont, uh, to introduce students to, and then take back to them. I mean, the transaction between those two would be enormous and, uh, be of great benefit, to both entities there.
Dan Jensen: Totally.
Todd Ream: So going back to Walter Bradley, he gave you some advice. Um, gonna ask you if you would now at your, at this point in your career to scholars who are beginning their careers. What advice would you offer concerning how to invest your time, uh, and energy in terms of teaching and research and service?
Dan Jensen: It’s a tough road. And, and I, I, the, you know, we’re hiring brand new faculty here and they know that it’s going to be a lot of work to try to be successful in all three of those areas. It’s a… any chance that you get to get them to overlap can be really helpful, I think. Um, as, as folks that, that might be listening to us here probably know better than I do in the engineering realm, one way to do that, that can be helpful for some people, with respect to integrating teaching in with scholarship can be to have part of your research portfolio be to think about the scholarship of teaching.
And that’s been- in the last 20 or 30 years, that’s often accepted along with regular technical scholarship at many schools and I’m a big fan of that. I think that as professors, not only should we try to be advancing the state of knowledge in whatever field you’re in, but it’d be wonderful if we could also be just absolutely fantastic teachers.
I think that’s one of the mandates that we have is to communicate well and create environments that help people learn well. As in addition to, um, trying to advance the state of the art in whatever area your, your technical scholarly research is in. So trying to combine those can be super, super helpful.
If the faculty member was a believer, then I think my, if I was asked to give advice, permitted to give advice, I’d tweak a little bit what that might look like. I think for, for Christian professors…. There was a famous quote by Stephen Covey. He said, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And for me, that’s been quite helpful. The demands of teaching and scholarship and service can be so intense that there is a tendency to say, I don’t have time to continue to develop the spiritual piece of my life.
And if you’re a person that believes what, what I believe, that’s not a good plan to let that fall to the side. My students hear me say all the time: one of my main goals is I want to act like a normal person would act if they actually believe the things I say I believe. And Jesus is either who He said He was in the Scriptures or He’s not. And if He’s not, that has tremendous implications. If He is, that has tremendous implications in my opinion.
I happen to be convinced that He is who He said He was in the Scriptures. And for me, that means that on a daily basis, I try to keep the main thing, the main thing. So I invest in the spiritual piece of my life. And it’s, it’s difficult, again, with teaching, scholarship, and service being so demanding, but if Jesus is who He said He is then those aren’t the main thing. He is. He’s the main thing. Now it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be great at those other things. You should. But even then, you should be doing that with Him and for Him.
Todd Ream: Yeah, it gives an added dimension of purpose, uh, to, to one’s efforts, um, and hopefully a greater impetus because I think your advice is quite wise. The more you can integrate those dimensions of your identity and your efforts in higher education, um, the better off you will be. So, you know, pursuing projects with students, which lead to research outcomes, but are in class, which also we know, too, is one of the highest impact forms of teaching, in terms of student learning.
Um, yeah, just, yeah, tremendous. So, yeah, that’s great advice. Great advice.
As we talked about earlier in your career, I mean, earlier in our discussion here, you retired from the faculty at the Air Force Academy in 2018 and then came to Westmont the next year to help lead the creation of its engineering program. What led you to embrace launching a new program and embrace what’s arguably a second career?
Dan Jensen: I wish that I could say I’m, I’m smart enough and wise enough to say that I had pre-planned this whole thing. That’s not the case. It’s more like the providence of God, I would say, Todd. And I’m excited about it. I’m really having fun doing the things that I’m doing at Westmont. To have an opportunity to, to start a new program, and as you can tell from our previous conversation, in my case, to get a chance to do that in a context where integration of faith and engineering is not only kind of quote, “allowed.” But is, is something that’s highly valued to do, to do this with those two things is, uh, is an absolute blast.
To get a chance to do that, to engage students in thinking about what does it look like to, to have faith integrated in with what you do engineering wise, what does it look like to, to take Jesus’ commands in Matthew 22, where He says, two most important things: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love other people as well.
As engineers, part of the way that we love people well is by creating things for them. What does it look like to, to, to do that? Um, we started a program. Well, it wasn’t we started. We entered a program that’s part of something that Compassion International does with a few different universities. Baylor and Westmont and Belmont now, I believe as well, called the, I think it’s called the Christian Consortium, Consortium for Social Innovation, CCSI. And my students in one of my design classes, we design STEM educational products for low resource cultures and then we take them to Ecuador. So my students travel with me in Ecuador, to Ecuador in May of each year. And we use them in after school programs that Compassion International has sponsored.
And what an unbelievably fun thing to do. And my students, I think, come away, in fact they’ll say this, they come away going, I, I understood the words you said, Dr. J, when you said, part of engineering is to learn to love people well by the, by the things we create. But now I got to do it. And to see the Ecuadorian kids- we had a, we had, we had a kid that traveled 12 hours on a bus to show up for the afterschool program that we were doing. And we’re so honored to get a chance to, to have any impact and just hopefully to tell these kids implicitly, if not explicitly, we love you because Jesus loves us. And that’s the reason why we’re designing for you. That’s, that’s the sort of thing that I get to do at Westmont and who wouldn’t want to do that? That’s a blast, right?
Todd Ream: Yeah, no, absolutely. The rewards are obviously then great. Um, what are some of the challenges that come with starting a new program? Um, and perhaps starting a second career or at least a second iteration of your career?
Dan Jensen: Yeah, yeah, good question that it’s, you know, fundraising and accreditation and development of curriculum and hiring new faculty and all of those things are tremendously challenging. They’re far beyond my natural capabilities I’ll tell you that. Luckily, I get to work with a group of tremendously talented administrators and faculty colleagues that share the load on all of that. But, but it’s, it’s really hard. And, uh, it’s, you know, being a small Christian liberal arts school, it’s a tough time to be that too. Westmont, by the grace of God, has done very well in terms of, of having a full student population and things like that. But, but it’s, it’s a dicey time for, for liberal arts, small liberal arts institutions in general.
So it’s, it’s, there’s just challenge after challenge after challenge. And those things are, are often quite daunting. And at the same time, I’m, I’m happy for them. On a good day, when I have the chance to try to act like a normal person would act if they actually believe the things I say, I believe, then on those days I do okay and I realize that the challenges aren’t so big for the God I serve. They’re just big to me.
Todd Ream: Well, as has been echoed a number of times already in our conversation, you know, I think it’s just inherent in how, uh, your DNA arguably, but also in terms of how you’ve been professionally shaped to solving problems, um, creating opportunities out of challenges, you know, it’s just part of, part of what gets you up in the morning.
So when you think about this program at Westmont, what goal do you, what goals do you have for it, say for over the next five years?
Dan Jensen: Well, we’d love to continue to, to grow the program appropriately as it fits in the Christian liberal arts education system that we have at Westmont. So recruiting students. Um, accreditation is obviously a big deal for us, and I think those are sort of the necessary but not sufficient pieces in my mind and even in my heart.
What, what I really want to see happen, in addition to those foundational things of recruiting students, developing curriculum, setting up all of our labs, raising funds, all those kinds of things, hiring faculty, in addition to that, I’d love to get better and better all the time at creating an environment where the students can wrestle through big questions about what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus and an engineer at the same time.
Um, asking questions about things that, that, the people on your, in your Christian scholars network would know way more about than I would about what does it look like to think about the creation story and, and at the same time, what we know from science, from relativity, and how does, how does evolution fit in all of that? And what does it look like to love people well in really difficult situations like, you know, the social issues of our day? What does it look like to take the mandate that we have in Genesis 1 to care for the creation that God has asked us to tend for? What does it look like to do that well?
I think that part of what’s exciting about having an engineering program at Westmont will be the continuation of work that other scholars at Westmont and other places have done in those areas with an engineering bent to it. And that’s exciting to me. I’m learning every day from my students and from the scholars around me about how to think well about some of those really hard questions. And so I’d like Westmont to be a place where we do that, do that really well, and create an environment where students can engage with those hard questions thoughtfully and kindly.
Todd Ream: Yeah. Yeah, thank you. That’s wonderful. I’m sure your provost does not want to think about, uh, the day when you come and, uh, talk with her on a serious note about retirement and what that transition might look like. Um, but yeah, that kind of trajectory and what the program will become when you do hand it off, you know, one day, you know, to your successors, that will be enormous.
In terms of Westmont and its mission, in what ways does the cultivation of that Christian imagination fostered by the liberal arts- you’ve mentioned Westmont’s commitment to the liberal arts on a couple of occasions, but it’s fostered by the liberal arts. In what ways does it contribute to the practice of innovation and innovation as exercised in engineering?
Dan Jensen: Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure that the folks in your scholars’ network, again, know more about this than I do, but there’s an idea that people call the Medici effect. And in fact, there was a book that was even written about it. And my, my possibly naive, and I know somewhat restricted idea there, um, uh, kind of to encapsulate it the question was, what happened during the Renaissance when da Vinci and all of his buddies come together often through the funding that, uh, the Medicis created for them? There was this wild explosion of creativity, innovation, invention. How did that transpire?
And one of the hypothesis statements behind that is that if you bring people that are tremendously diverse together, that what will happen at the beginning is sort of the banging heads thing, trying to understand how do people think about this differently, learning each other’s vocabulary. Um, learning the lens through which they see different things. And so there’s a period there that often is quite turbulent. But then what happens after that, if this hypothesis rings true, and I believe we see this not only in the area of the Renaissance, but other places as well, what happens is a wild explosion of creativity and innovation.
And so the liberal arts gives my students a chance to, to have at least a little slice of that experience, where they’re getting together with people that think really well about religious studies, people that think really well about political science, people that think really well about communication and they can do that in ways that I would never be able to help them do because those aren’t my areas of expertise. But when they come together with that skill set, I believe that it creates a foundation for them to be able to love well by creating well as engineers. And so we love the Christian liberal arts foundation.
By the way, I’ve got a board of directors for my engineering program that has some unbelievably talented leaders in technology industry across the spectrum. People that run hundred million dollar plus construction companies, people that are VPs for names that everybody recognizes like Northrop and Raytheon and places like that. When they come together to talk about the mission at Westmont, they’ll say things like, we’re really excited to hire your grads, Dr. J, because engineers that are excellent have to do the technical stuff with excellence, but that’s necessary but again, not sufficient. What we want is people that are technically trained and absolutely excellent in that area, but they also work well on teams. They also have a skillset that allows them to work through, through difficult conversations with people.
Really what they’re, what they, what they even will almost sort of whisper in my ear is, could you give us excellent engineers that are kind? And we believe that that, you know, being part of a Christian liberal arts institution doesn’t automatically make you kind. But we believe that it facilitates an environment that helps you learn to interact with people thoughtfully and kindly, and hopefully with the humility that goes, oh, my gosh, I need to understand more about how you see this problem. Tell me more about that. Even though we might disagree, I really want to understand you because I know that you think well, and your friendship’s valuable to me.
If we could create engineers that could have conversations like that, and they can also use Laplace transforms to solve differentials the right way and all those kinds of things that engineers do, then we think we’ve created something that’s really fantastic.
Todd Ream: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Yeah. As our time gets closer to closing here, I can’t help but ask you about the rate at which innovation is moving and discovery is moving now. And as that increases and occurs at more rapid rates, what would you encourage us to consider, in terms of pursuing how we educate the next generation of engineers?
Dan Jensen: Yeah. What an insightful question. And I think that people that think well about this, I’m sure think a lot more strategically than I do about this. That being said, I think that getting a chance to interact with people that, that are on the forefront, the, the tip of the spear, as it were in the area of, of innovation, I would wholeheartedly agree that the velocity at which that’s occurring is both wonderful and frightening. And I think as followers of Jesus, we need to try to think really well about how to, to curate that innovation velocity well.
What does it look like to use AI in ways that are kind to people in under-resourced cultures? I don’t know, but I know that we’d better think about that, or we’re going to end up creating potentially solutions to problems that don’t love people well. And as Christian engineers, we need to, we need to say, no, we’re not going to allow that to happen. We need to, we need to do everything we can from, from thinking really well to in my worldview, being on our knees and asking for mercy from God to solve problems well, so that we love well.
And not every innovation is an innovation that helps, um, or that helps in the long run. Sometimes we create things that are fine for solving a quick problem, but they create more problems that we had not seen, and maybe if we would have thought or even prayed harder about those things, we would have been able to anticipate the way that some of those innovations played out and we could have done so in ways that were… helped us to love well.
So I think that we have a mandate as Christian scholars to try to think well about those problems. And sometimes it means just, just putting the brakes on something. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it means full court press. Let’s go get it. Let’s try to solve issues that are that surround things like sustainability and homelessness and things like that. Let’s full court press that and use all of o our resource. But let’s do, let’s do that in contexts that take a step back at the same time and say, what are the potential longer term ramifications of, of these things? Will we be, will we be loving well, in the long run and the short run? And boy, we need really smart people to engage fully in that with a Biblical set of values I believe. And I know that that Christian Scholar’s Review has a group of people that are engaged there and boy I just applaud them. Keep going.
Todd Ream: Thank you. I love that phrase, the curation of an innovation philosophy, and how we can help our students appreciate that kind of thinking as well as take ownership of it for a season, develop it, and then pass it on to the next generation, uh, when that time comes too.
Dan Jensen: Yeah well said.
Todd Ream: One last question, if I may, so for engineering lay person, such as myself, and who depend greatly upon this culture of innovation, what questions would you be encouraging us to think about? Uh, and where should we be investing our energies and our interests and support for you and your colleagues?
Dan Jensen: Yeah. Well, I think our conversation on the last point, Todd, might be one place where colleagues and other disciplines have been tremendously helpful to me and could continue to, to do so to, to me and my, my colleagues. We need, we need sociologists and political scientists and communication experts and business experts to, to provide guide rails for us as engineers and, and to not hesitate to come in and step on our toes and go, hey, you know, the way you’re doing this, I’m not really sure that’s going to play out in a way that ultimately, that ultimately does what you say you want to do, Dr. J.
You say that you want what you create to love people well in the name of Jesus. And I, I see some things coming out of this that I don’t think are going to do that. And hopefully I would have the maturity and the humility not to bristle at that, but instead go, tell me more about that. I want to understand what it looks like to design things, to engineering, to engineer things well so that we can love well in the name of, of Jesus.
And I need the help of the people that think well in a variety of disciplines to, to come and, and give me their wise advice. Um, and, and I’ll, I’ll reciprocate and try to do that for them as well, but, but, I think that’s one of the things that’s wonderful about an organization like, like the one you’re with, Todd, is it brings together this, this group of disciplines that- I, I get the journal that you guys send out, um, every month and love the, the publications in there. They helped me think things that aren’t what engineers sit around thinking about all the time. And I love that. It helps me to, to try to make some, some progress into being the professional and the Christ follower that I want to be.
So, so encourage your colleagues, look at what the engineers are doing and go tell them when you think they’re messing up would be, I think, the invitation that I would have. And help us, help us love people well in the name of Jesus and we’ll try to do the same for you.
Todd Ream: Thank you. Thank you. It’s a wonderful encouragement to end our time on here today. Our guest has been Dr. Daniel D. Jensen, Westmont Endowed Professor of Engineering and Director of the Engineering Program at Westmont College. Thank you for taking the time today to share your insights and wisdom with us, Dan.
Dan Jensen: Oh, my pleasure. It’s been a lot of fun. Thanks.
Todd Ream: Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven.