A Forever Flash and Educator for Life: Dr. D. Louis Christensen

Dr. D. Louis Christensen served as an educational force at Kent State University’s College of Education and University School in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As he celebrates his 90th birthday this month, the College of EHHS looks back on his incredible professional life.

Dr. D. Louis Christensen
His career started in 1950 — at the beginning of the Korean War. He served as a Naval Intelligence officer in Great Britain during the war, and remained active duty for a decade while earning his Bachelor’s in English from Western Michigan University. He soon took a position as a teacher, and the rest is history.

Taking advantage of his GI Bill, Dr. Christensen launched his career in education by earning his Master of Arts and Educational Specialist degree in Educational Administration from Michigan State University. During those years, he took on multiple school principal positions, preparing him for what he calls the “highlight of his spirited educational career” in 1966: serving as Principal of Kent State University School.

“The laboratory school, K-12 and 750 students, was a gem of an opportunity,” Dr. Christensen said. “The school was considered to be one of the most innovative campus schools in the nation and contributed ideas and services to public schools throughout Ohio and surrounding states.”

Kent State University School served as a teacher training school in affiliation with the College of Education from 1913 to 1982, paving the way for the current Child Development Center, which opened in 1972. Dr. Christensen developed an extensive, flexible high school schedule plan, and other various student programs at University School. While serving the youth of Kent as principal, Dr. Christensen also served graduate students in the College of Education as an assistant professor.

University School aerial photo from 1960s
University School aerial photo from 1960s
When Dr. Christensen wasn’t busy leading University School or teaching his graduate students, he was taking classes himself. Encouraged by Dr. Robert Wilson and supported by his GI Bill, Dr. Christensen embarked on his Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Curriculum in the College of Education.

Dr. Christensen was firmly established as a force in Kent State leadership and education when the National Guard took up camp in the University School gymnasium in the spring of 1970. In the early morning of May 4, the National Guard exited the gym before University School students arrived. As tensions grew on campus between Kent State student protestors and National Guardsmen, the school was subsequently locked down after classes began. 

“The athletic director and myself stationed ourselves outside the school building to ensure no one left or entered,” Dr. Christensen said. “Yelling was heard, objects being thrown. It was around noon when the shooting began. Within minutes, ambulances were passing by, turning to the commons area. We quickly re-entered the school and notified all to move into the hallways, away from windows [after hearing the] school loudspeaker announcing snipers were on nearby roofs.”

With decisive action, Dr. Christensen helped load all University School students onto busses to safety about 40 minutes after the shooting.

Kent State student protestors in the Commons on May 4 before the shooting
Student protestors in the Commons on May 4 before the shooting
“The shootings on May 4, 1970, prepared me for the challenges I would meet in the next 25 years in education,” he said. “It changed my viewpoint on life and I realized that education is not always in books.”

After earning his Ph.D. from Kent State in 1974, Dr. Christensen took his knowledge, skills and leadership to several new educator opportunities, serving as Superintendent in districts in New York, Michigan, and Illinois. His final position was Director of ITT Technical Institute in Houston, Texas before retiring in 1999.

“Being a principal was the best job anywhere, any place.” he said. “My overall experience at Kent State on a scale of 1-10 was an 11. I will always remember the opportunities and support given to me by my Kent State school staff and mentors in the College of Education.”

As for a bit of advice for an up-and-coming leader in education? 

“Looking back at age 90, I would advise a young graduate today to look for different alternatives as to how we can improve our administration skills to help our teachers provide the education our youth deserves.”

Learn more about the history of KSU

Some photos courtesy of Kent State University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives.

Photo citations:

“KSU-Kent, Center Campus,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed June 9, 2021, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/964.

“Michael J. Schwartz Center,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed June 9, 2021, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1749.

“My 1st photo of gathering on Commons, 5/4, noon,” Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives, accessed June 9, 2021, https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections/items/show/1268.

POSTED: Wednesday, June 9, 2021 - 2:38pm
UPDATED: Thursday, June 17, 2021 - 10:02am
Julie Selby