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Alumni Essay: Steven J. Jensen '82 (International Studies Major)

I have spent most of my working life in emergencies and disaster management in the United States and abroad. I have been fortunate to work at all levels, from front-line firefighter to developing national policy. For 25 years my career has never followed a linear path… for which I am grateful. I have raised a family and still managed to be a part of some of the pivotal global events of our age.

My undergraduate work was in international studies (with a focus on development issues). I also have a master of arts in emergency management from California State University at Long Beach. I have done graduate work in theology at Fuller Seminary and am currently working on a doctorate in policy and planning at the University of Southern California.

I have worked in some tragic situations. In Southeast Asia I managed refugee camps for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I witnessed the impact of Pol Pot on Cambodia and learned how fragile a nation's stability can be. Refugees were streaming out of Cambodia into Thailand, where we built a city of 130,000 in six weeks. It was the first taste of what I could do when I made myself available. In Malaysia, I again worked for the UNHCR, managing a camp for the Vietnamese boat people. There I was also responsible for protection of the rights of the refugees. This was a tough task in a hostile environment and gave me an appreciation for the challenges of defending others.

My work in Southern California has been with the Long Beach Fire Department as a firefighter and the disaster manager. I have worked in the midst of the violence of the inner city, the riots of 1993, the Northridge earthquake, and scores of fires. I have seen the inadequacies of our strategic planning for emerging problems and our reluctance to improve the ways we deliver critical services, in spite of the expenditure of vast resources.

My work in New Zealand stands in contrast. While New Zealand faces serious disasters and has minimal resources, I saw what was possible when an open approach is taken to critical reforms. I was able to help set new directions for the emergency services through strategic changes in policy and systems development. My time there taught me that much can be accomplished with very little.