SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Fleet-footed Jensen looking to make a difference

MINOT, N.D. – Jacob Jensen isn’t just looking for a routine 9-5 job following graduation.

The computer science major has his sights set much higher.

With a stellar career in cross country/track & field and a keen aptitude for artificial intelligence and data science, Jensen's unique blend of talents is a testament to his potential for success.

“I want to do something that will have an impact — a positive impact,” he said. “I don’t want to do something mundane just for corporate gain. If that is what I have to do as a beginning job, I guess I would do that, but the perfect job is in the realm of developing software that can be used in real-world applications.”

His desire to work in this ever-emerging technology field goes back to the start of his college career and was solidified with a summer undergraduate research opportunity.

“I’m going to graduate with a degree in computer science and a minor in math. I could have moved into the new cybersecurity area, but it would have extended school and I’m ready to move on,” he said. “I knew when I came here I was leaning toward computer science over something like computer engineering.

“It interests me because of an opportunity at Wisconsin-Eau Claire in their Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates run through the National Science Foundation in 2022. It was right before Chat GPT became a thing, and I was fascinated with working in the AI field because something that is learning that isn’t biological is really interesting.”

Jensen's indelible mark on the record books at MSU, particularly in his role as a harrier and his academic excellence, is a testament to his talents. He was honored twice as a member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference All-Academic Team of Excellence and twice as the NSIC Elite 18 Award winner, an accolade bestowed upon the individual with the highest GPA at the conference championships.

He holds the MSU D-II era record in the 8K, 6K, and 4-mile races in cross country, finishing 21st overall at the 2023 NSIC Championships. He owns MSU’s all-time record in the mile (indoor), the 1,500 meters (outdoor), 5,000 meters (indoor and outdoor), and 10,000 meters (outdoor).

Not one to brag, Jensen feels his career was solid.

“It had its ups and downs, but I guess that’s pretty common to have those. I learned a lot, especially as a freshman, in college running,” he said. “I probably learned more about how to train; we would train over the summer for two to three months, but if you stopped for a week or two, that training goes away, like back to zero. Consistency is the key — that and injury prevention is so important, you can’t just run and run and run.”

Jensen will finish his final conference meet at the NSIC Championships in Mankato, Minnesota, but isn’t quite ready to hang up his running shoes. He will compete in a marathon in two weeks in Fargo and aspires to run bigger events like Grandma’s Marathon, Boston and Chicago, and beyond. His first stop after college will be to move to Eugene, Oregon with his girlfriend, Alicia Murillo, as she completes an externship.

“I really want to try some of the other marathons. I want to do some of the big ones and not run them to race, but to take in the atmosphere,” he said. “Tokyo has a really cool one. I’ll probably take some time off after Fargo, but I’ll keep running. We are moving to Eugene, and, you know, it’s called Track Town, so I think that will be an interesting place to live.”

Being a student-athlete and the lessons in time management, leadership, and working as a team are already paying off for Jensen, who feels he either consciously or unconsciously uses those talents every day. He also feels getting a scholarship offer in athletics jumpstarted his decision to come to Minot State.

“Going into my senior year, our counselors were pushing us to apply to college and I hadn’t done that yet,” he said. (Then head coach Mark Del Monaco) recruited me fairly early on and I can remember filling my car up with gas when he called about offering a scholarship. I talked it over with my grandparents, who I lived with growing up, and MSU was close to home, pretty cheap, and was giving me money to run; it sounded like a good place to go.”

He credits his grandparents, Bonny Keplin and David Gourneau, Sr., with helping him take the next step, but acknowledges some felt his closeness to family would be a detriment.

“I think a lot of people in my family didn’t necessarily think I would finish, they’ve said, ‘honestly, Jacob, we didn’t think you were independent enough to live without your grandma or without your family,’” he recalled. “But I was ready. Starting off I knew how important a college degree would be, but I think I had an attitude that I would just do my four years and get the paper.

“My grandma really values it. Our final conference track meet is during graduation, so we have a special one for the team after we get back, and she keeps asking when it's going to be! After going through everything, I think I’ve come to understand how important it is.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 05/04/24   

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