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Spotlight on Metcalf Alumni: Mari N. Jensen

Eighteen years after attending Metcalf Institute’s Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists, alumna Mari N. Jensen remains a steadfast supporter. She took that support to a new level in 2012 after receiving an email from the Institute requesting a donation, which led her to pick up the phone.

“I called Sunshine and explained that journalists don’t make a lot of money,” says Jensen, reflecting on her conversation with Sunshine Menezes, Metcalf’s executive director. “Sunshine explained that being able to show support from Metcalf alumni, regardless of the size of the gift, tells other potential donors how much alumni value their Metcalf training experience.”

Jensen immediately spread the word to her fellow journalists through Metcalf’s alumni listserv. “So that means small donations really do help,” she wrote, stressing that even $20 donations make a difference because “there is strength in numbers.”

Her message led to a record number of donations from Metcalf Institute alumni that year. “Sometimes people think you have to give a lot for it to matter,” says Jensen. “In this particular case it was the overall demonstration of alumni support that made a big difference,” she explains.

Jensen came to the 2000 Annual Workshop as a freelance reporter. She holds a an undergraduate biology degree from Cornell University, two master’s degrees, in renewable natural resources studies and in ecology and evolutionary biology, from the University of Arizona, and a graduate science communication certificate from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has written for numerous publications, including The Economist, the Arizona Daily Star, Science magazine, ABCNEWS.com, ScienceNow and Discovery.com.

In 2003, Jensen joined the staff of the University of Arizona as a science writer and editor. She went on to become a senior science writer and public information officer in the College of Science. She’s credited with expanding media coverage of U of A research.

Her work captured the attention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2017 when she was elected a Fellow. This coveted designation honors Jensen’s “distinguished contributions as a communicator dedicated to explaining science to the public and to the strategic management of science information at a major university.”

“I am honored to have been elected a Fellow of the AAAS and am pleased to have my contributions to science communication recognized by my colleagues,” says Jensen.

Jensen’s news releases and science stories cover a wide range of topics about peer-reviewed research by U of A scientists including ecology, hydrology, atmospheric sciences, geology, physics, molecular biology and climate change.

Jensen also applies her expertise to expand science communication skills at the University of Arizona. She organizes workshops to help U of A scientists do a better job of engaging the news media and non-expert audiences in their research. “People need coaching on how to explain their science in a clear way so that the retired music teacher who lives next door can understand,” says Jensen. “They need practice. You get better at it over time.”

Jensen’s commitment to professional development continues to benefit Metcalf Institute. As a lead alumni donor in the institute’s 20th anniversary annual fund, she helped to raise a record amount from alumni in the last fiscal year.

“I wanted to donate because I thought Metcalf Institute was worthy and I wanted to give back,” she says.

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