Utah governor Gary Herbert awarded a Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology to research geneticist Kevin Jensen, a Utah State University adjunct professor of plant science and researcher with the USDA’s Forage and Range Research Lab. Jensen’s work played a significant role in helping to repair sites that have been damaged by fires and erosion through re-seeding disturbed wastelands with genetically improved plant materials.
Jensen repeatedly said he was “humbled” to receive the award.
“Wow. I had no idea I’d even been put in for a nomination,” he said in reflecting what his feelings were on hearing that he had been named among the recipients of the prestigious recognition. “I had no clue it was coming.”
Shortly after the awards presentation, Jensen learned that Jack Staub, a plant genetics professor who commonly works alongside Jensen, nominated him for the accolade.
Jensen said that even being a part of the evening with the governor, besides other politicians, state leaders and individuals well-versed and accomplished in their fields, was a tremendous experience.
“When I went to the awards ceremony, you had people in the medical industry receiving an award for their field,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t belong in this type of company!’”
Regardless of the overwhelming occasion, Jensen appreciated the opportunity for his and others’ work to be recognized as key cogs to the development of society.
“There was a level of gratitude that someone realized that we were doing something important,” he said.
Despite being the recipient of the award, Jensen was quick to note that the fruit of his work is a result of the significant efforts of a number of other research geneticists.
“We’re reaping the benefits of many of our predecessors who have gone before us,” said Jensen, who specifically mentioned Doug Dewey, Kay Asay and Jerry Chatterton as three distinct figures to helped lay the foundation for his work.
“We continue to develop natural plant materials that made a significant impact,” Jensen said, before giving credit to the project’s predecessors: “It’s really something the lab has put together over many years. Yes, it was an extremely nice honor, I’m not going to deny that, but it could have been a number of people. I’m just happy to be in the right time, at the right spot.”
The Forage and Range Research lab on-campus where Jensen works has been developing plant materials for the fields and rangelands of the western United States for over 30 years. The primary materials that will help to repair fire and damage and erosion include crested wheatgrass¬, Hycrest and Hycrest II; Siberian wheat grasses, and various types of Russian wild rye.
Jensen was appreciative of the exposure that the award can bring to Utah State University, the College of Agriculture and the USDA.
“This gives us visibility,” Jensen said. “As a geneticist, the most satisfying thing I could do is to develop plant materials and see them used.”