Sociology instructor Jared Olesen asks, ‘What comes next?’


Andrea Neff

Professor Jared Olesen examines a test tube full of water testing for pH, ammonia,and nitrates used in the IVCC greenhouse aquaponics system. The system uses mineral substitutes to grow plants without soil.

It was 2005 and Ireland, along with several other countries, was erupting with protests against the anti-globalization movement. It was a time to push for sustainable development and the overall advancement of human rights. Jared Olesen was 25 during this time and had the opportunity to take part in the disputes saying, “I was right there in the thick of a lot of violence.”

As a child Olesen grew up wanting to be an archeologist. At a young age he was fascinated by digging up things and being able to realize these old treasures were really just recent artifacts used by real humans. As he continued to grow, his passion for archeology grew with him and he got a bachelor’s degree in archeology from Illinois State University.

However, it was during this time that Olesen felt a need to go out and break from his back-water Illinois lifestyle. In his early 20s he set out to find himself by backpacking across Europe. Even with the chances to travel and break the norm, he never really found himself in Europe. “You don’t need to go anywhere to find yourself,” he said. “Yourself isn’t somewhere else.

Truth isn’t somewhere else. A better life isn’t necessarily somewhere else. Most of that stuff is right in front of you if you recognize it.”

Upon returning home his views began to shift and his perspective with what he wanted to do with his life took a turn. At Illinois State University, Olesen had a professor who influenced him a great deal and began to help him find interest in sociological ideology.

“I imagined myself changing the world…but started looking at myself in this role in a different way.” When Olesen decided he wanted to pursue a study in sociology he saw himself writing for scientific journals and solving the world’s problems with others who aimed to do the same. He soon realized that these goals may not be as effective as he thought.

Olesen earned a Ph.D. in sociology through the University of California Irvine. He returned to Europe due to his still keen interest in archeology. He was in Ireland for roughly three months on an archeological dig, which is where he began to put his new interest to practice. In Ireland Olesen took part in several different demonstrations.

Coming back home he once again realized that there was a way for him to change the lives of others by practicing his beliefs. He decided that teaching students and building communities around these values of change would make the biggest impact. “If I spent the rest of my life doing obscure research and publishing in journals I was not going to be very effective as a person,” Olesen said. “I have a much bigger impact from a practical standpoint teaching full time.”

Although he now stands in front of students every day at IVCC and spews aspects of sociological thinking, he still takes part in promoting the same things he fought for in Ireland. One of his main goals is to be able to provide people with larger ideas on how to make a well-developed sustainable community. He lectures to students but is also in charge of IV Sustainability, a program at the college that encourages students to work to promote the values of sustainability across the campus at IVCC as well as in our surrounding Illinois Valley communities.

Through these pursuits Olesen wants to be remembered as a person who has made a practical difference in his community. He gets a great deal of joy from helping students, families, and communities through his ideas. He focuses on ways to benefit the now. He takes into account all of the vast opportunities the world has today saying, “I don’t think I would live in a different time, this is great. There’s never been a more comfortable time.”

Olesen’s consistent push for bettering communities is relevant through his different interests and involvements throughout his life. He works with students to teach them new ideas but also takes away a great deal of lessons from those around him. He is comfortable admitting his ignorance to certain things, saying that, “If you’re going to be a successful person you have to admit you’re ignorant.”

After all he’s seen, Olesen still strives for the future around him. From a sociological standpoint he sees the world in a different way and reads into the events taking place. The question on his mind is quite simple yet uniquely profound: “What comes next?”