UND’s Dr. Warren Jensen reflects on what it means to be a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor

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John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences


Dr. Warren Jensen, a professor in the Department of Aviation honored as a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor during UND's spring commencement May 12, felt honored by the experience.

Jensen recalled that one of the first Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors was the late William E. Cornatzer, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who taught him when attended UND.

"To be in that group of UND educators is really an honor," Jensen said. "Some of my friends at UND are also Chester Fritz professors, and it's an honor to be with them, too."

He also sees the honor as a reflection on his colleagues in the aviation department.

"Everybody here works hard and does a good job," Jensen said. "In a way, we all got this together."

The Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorships were established with an endowment gift from the late UND benefactor Chester Fritz, 1892-1983. Revenue from the endowment provides for cash stipends to one or more full-time UND faculty members, who thereafter may use the title "Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor."

Jensen received his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1982. He earned a master's in aerospace medicine from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, in 1993.

Today, he serves as the Odegard School's director of aeromedical research and as its flight surgeon. In nominating Jensen, Bruce Smith, dean of aerospace sciences, wrote, "Put quite simply, Dr. Jensen is an invaluable asset to the Aerospace College, the University, and the State of North Dakota."

Jensen received his bachelor's degree from UND in 1980 and came to work for the University in 1993 as a faculty member in aviation.

"I had the opportunity to work for NASA or come to work at UND," Jensen said. However, he chose the University because, "There was a more positive attitude and more energy here."

It's a decision he's never regretted.

"I've found my niche where I thoroughly enjoy the teaching part of my job in aviation," he explained. "I also teach at the medical school. I've been able to engage in collaborative research with others on campus, and that's been very rewarding."

Jensen's research areas include human flight performance, decision-making in emergency settings and oxygen delivery systems. He teaches courses in the Odegard School's aviation and space studies departments in the area of human factors in aviation and aerospace physiology.

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – for which the aerospace program at UND has become a world leader – is another research area in which Jensen has begun to collaborate with others on campus.

"It's exploded so rapidly that the research has just begun to scratch surface," he said. "We're looking at unmanned operations and what we can do to improve training and information systems design."

Jensen is working on ground station designs that help military UAS pilots get the information they need to make life-and-death decisions. He's also studying the human factors involved with the stress of operating remotely piloted aircraft.

"UAS pilots work for extended periods of times with high levels of fever-pitch activity," Jensen noted. "They're flying aircraft in combat support and engaging enemies on the ground in close proximity to friendly forces.

"It's one thing to face danger yourself, but another thing to have someone counting on you," he added. "It's a very complex setting, and it's very demanding. They know that other people are counting on them for their own survival."

Jensen is not only UND's flight surgeon, but also serves in the same capacity for the North Dakota Air National Guard. This means he determines whether a pilot is fit to fly. As a pilot, a doctor and a diabetic, Jensen knows all too well that pilots don't like to be grounded, even if there's a good medical reason they should be.

"When I walk down that hall and ask people how they are, they always tell me they're great," he laughed. "Pilots don't want to complain. They trust that you're going to do the best you can to keep them flying. They also have to trust that if you say 'No,' it means they have to sit."

As a guest lecturer, Jensen has presented such topics as medical aspects of aviation safety, medical certification issues in the aviation industry, aerospace physiology, human factors in flight simulation design and many others. He is also involved in the continuing education of pilots in an aerospace physiology professional development course offered through the UND Aerospace Foundation.

Jensen serves as an academic advisor to 25-30 aviation undergraduate and graduate students. He is the aviation medical advisor to students, flight instructors and faculty for medical certification issues.

"I determine if they're medically qualified to be in the career they've selected and I help them get their medical certification," Jensen said. "We've had kids with significant issues that need to be addressed. We have students with incredible depth and experience, and students who have faced many challenges."

He recalled one student who told him about being in the hospital while being treated for lymphoma, a sometimes fatal form of cancer. The student decided that if he survived, he would pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

"That inspires me," Jensen said.

Jensen has authored and co-authored articles in such publication as the International Journal of Aviation and Psychology, Proceedings of the Military Health Conference and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. He is the recipient of UND's Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award and the Humanism in Medicine Award from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Other service involvement includes serving as senior aviation medical examiner with air traffic control designation and assistant chair for faculty development in the Department of Aviation.

Jensen is the 69th UND faculty member to receive the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor designation since it was established in 1973.

"To support this honor shows that UND's administration is really working to create an environment that enables us to do what we need to do," he noted. "It helps us make a difference for our students."