Jen Kerns

Jen Kerns BA '90



Degree and Class Year

BA ’90


Eugene, Oregon

Current City

Portland, Oregon




Religious Studies


Track and Field (1 year only!), SOFA (Students Organized for Activities)

Overseas study

Washington, D.C. (1987) and Germany (1990)

Job Title, Organization

Teaching Associate Professor, Department of History, Portland State University

Continuing Studies

PhD in U.S. and Comparative Women’s History, University of Arizona, 2002

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Beautiful, Inspiring, Transformative

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

The campus and small liberal arts environment.

What have you been doing since graduation?

After a brief stint as a server at McMenamins, I went to Tucson, Arizona, to pursue my PhD in history, as my professors at L&C imparted to me a love for lifelong learning and, quite frankly, I just wanted to be them. I literally wanted to be just like the professors who had opened my eyes to the world of deep, critical thinking. After completing my graduate studies, I returned to Portland in 1999 to finish writing my dissertation, had two children, bought a 100-year-old house in NE Portland, worked at L&C for a few years teaching in the first-year humanities program (Inventing America), and, as of 2009, have been teaching full time for Portland State University’s departments of history and women, gender, and sexuality studies. I am also very active in PSU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and recently became a member of the L&C Board of Alumni.

How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for job?

Well, I learned about critical thinking and changing the way that I learned through my courses at L&C and thus when I went to graduate school, I was ready to engage with the discipline in history through the skills I developed here. As for being a professor—my professors were so kind and welcoming to me and therefore I have chosen to be as kind and generous to my students as possible. I think that creating a sense of belonging for students is important for their success and my professors at L&C did that for me.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned at Lewis & Clark?

That the world is complicated! It requires deep inquiry to make sense of things.

How do you stay connected to Lewis & Clark as an alumna?

I serve on my reunion committees and also as a member of the Board of Alumni.

Have you been to Alumni Weekend or other programming, like Homecoming, etc.? What did you enjoy about the event(s)?

I attend lectures, symposia, Alumni Weekend, Homecoming and Family Weekend, and the winter events hosted by the president. It is just always so nice to come to campus!!

Why did you major in history?

History is just such a fascinating discipline. You learn about so many things—politics, economics, culture, people, etc. I love making sense of the world and understanding its complexities, and history as a discipline helps me to do that.

Why did you minor in religious studies?

Cliché as it may be, I was a young person with a religious background and coming to L&C turned my whole small-world mindset upside down. Thinking about religion from a scholarly perspective was incredibly helpful to me personally and intellectually.

What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?

History of the Holocaust. It was really impactful to think more deeply about antisemitism and violence in world history. It was really intense, but the professor promoted excellent critical thinking and guided us through this very difficult topic.

Where did you find your community on campus?

The dorms and overseas an off-campus programs!

Who was your mentor on campus? Why do you consider this person your mentor?

Former professors Henry Bair and Mark Valeri. Dr. Blair was intellectually inspiring and Dr. Valeri helped me think about religion through a historical lens. Both were also friendly and welcoming.

If you studied overseas while at Lewis & Clark, how did you choose your program? What did your overseas study add to your L&C experience?

I first went to Washington, D.C., as a political science major. It was great to spend time in D.C., where I learned that politics were not for me but the history of the country was! While there we also took a History of Art and Architecture course, which was incredibly fascinating and promoted a life-long love of … art and architecture! I also went to Germany my senior year, which was an indescribable experience.