Dr. Lia Jensen-Abbott Strikes New Chord as Honors Director

The Music Department piano professor is using her own positive undergraduate honors experience as inspiration for leading Albion College’s Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program.

January 19, 2022

Dr. Lia Jensen-Abbott, associate professor of music, Albion College

Dr. Lia Jensen-Abbott has taught at Albion College since 2008. In addition to her bachelor’s degree, she received her doctorate in piano performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

By Jake Weber 

Dr. Lia Jensen-Abbott, associate professor of music, came to Albion with four degrees in music (one doctorate, two master’s, one undergraduate) along with an advanced certificate in piano performance. Beyond teaching music theory and keyboard practice and literature, she has spent the past two years commissioning and recording original piano compositions, and just received College support to do more.

You might think Jensen-Abbott would have little time for anything outside the Music Department—and you’d be wrong. Jensen-Abbott was recently named the new director of Albion College’s Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program, a job she describes as a “dream come true.”

Jensen-Abbott joined Albion’s Honors Program faculty more than a decade ago, thanks in part to a similar program in a very different place. “It was an incredible experience,” she says of her undergraduate years in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Honors Program. “I loved engaging with the faculty and the community of students. I even loved writing the thesis. That’s why I started teaching Honors courses here as soon as I possibly could.”

As an Honors professor, Jensen-Abbott has developed two seminars focused on the arts, culture and society, teaching each multiple times.

Her first course, with an added focus on education, inspired students to create the Albion Film Festival, which operated for several years as an annual fundraiser for Harrington Elementary School. Her other course, The Music, Art and Culture of Downton Abbey, had students writing variations on the television program’s theme, a direct tie to Jensen-Abbott’s scholarly work on Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations.” The students also used the 1912-35 time period as a focal point for historic social, political and arts-based research projects.

She now steps into the program’s director role after Dr. Carrie Booth Walling, professor of political science, became faculty director of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service last fall.

Jensen-Abbott believes that the interdisciplinary aspect of Honors is one important reason for the program’s continued success. Together with Dr. Joseph Ho, assistant professor of history and Honors associate director, and Renee Kreger, the program’s assistant director, Jensen-Abbott will continue to work on recruiting a more diverse population of Honors participants.

That diversity, Jensen-Abbott says, extends to attracting students who initially may feel intimidated by the additional work required by the program.

“It’s valuable for students to do the thesis project, to know they can go the extra mile when they get a job. It harnesses your creativity and effort,” she says. “Nothing else allows you to explore what you’ve learned in quite the same way.”

Jensen-Abbott is quick to note that in all her teaching—with private piano students, music majors and Honors students—she includes materials that open every topic to larger contexts. Still, she says, “Directing the Honors program is a dream come true, to help our students have those experiences to go out into the world and think creatively about problems they may be facing in their careers, to be good citizens, to every day find ways to make their work, their lives, better places,” she says.

“I hope they look back and see their Honors experiences played a significant role in that development.”