A psychology major’s peripatetic path to diplomacy
by Michele Nielsen ’99
As an investigative assistant at the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomacy office in San Diego, Val Jensen ’03 Johnston handles human-trafficking investigations and cases related to fraudulent travel documents.
Val graduated from Redlands with a bachelor’s in psychology and attributes his strong critical thinking and interpersonal skills to being involved in theater arts on campus, and credits a class in counseling techniques he took with Psychology Professor Fred Rabinowitz for sharpening his ability to listen to and empathize with others. “I love the problem-solving aspects of what I do. It gives me room to be creative and to use things like social media, too. Redlands is where I tried new things and grew socially and intellectually.”
After Redlands, Val studied at a Hollywood acting school and even did a stint at the San Diego Tribune. Raised in a military family that traveled the world, Jensen enjoys living in different countries, so when he found a master’s program at The Interdisciplinary Center near Tel Aviv in Israel that fit his career interests, he applied. Once there, he learned Hebrew and received an M. A. in government with a special emphasis in counter-terrorism and homeland security. “One of the most amazing experiences I had in Israel was seeing first-hand how the Iron Dome anti-missile system worked… . Something exploded, sirens went off and everyone scrambled. I had to follow along and do what the locals did. I learned not to ride buses and got a bike!”
In 2012, he received his second M. A., this time from Tel Aviv University, in Middle Eastern studies. While interning with the U.S. State Department, Office of Diplomatic Security in Washington, D. C., he became involved in their Pathways Program in Arkansas, a gateway to civil service work and his job in San Diego.
While working in his current position, Val is in the middle of a lengthy hiring process to become a diplomatic security service special agent, able to work at U.S. embassies around the world protecting diplomats, the secretary of state and foreign dignitaries. “Redlands helped me break out of my shell and prepared me for what I do today.”