Professor Jillian Jimenez was the ‘Energizer Bunny’ of social work department

Jillian Jimenez, a long-time friend and mentor to many at Cal State Long Beach, died Oct. 15. She was 66.

Jimenez had been diagnosed recently with cancer. Part of what makes Jimenez’s death so painful was the “speed and aggressiveness of the cancer which took her; friends and family had absolutely no time to prepare,” said John Oliver, director of the social work department.

The Department of Social Work, where Jimenez taught since 1988, was silent last Thursday. So many faculty, staff and students attended her memorial service that the department was virtually shut down for the day.

“To think that the students loved and cared and respected you so much, that’s what any teacher could ever want. I’m so proud of [Jimenez] for having an impact like that on her students,” said Dr. Rebecca Lopez, associate director of the social work department.

Jimenez’s students were like her children; she didn’t have any of her own, Oliver said.

“She became genuinely interested in her students and often followed them in their careers, helped them get started by publishing articles and even presented papers with them in conferences,” Oliver said.

Students particularly liked Jimenez due to her fun and “off-beat” personality, Oliver said. She was able to talk to students about academic issues as well as everyday issues that interested them.

“We celebrate a colleague whose sense of humor and camaraderie will be sorely missed. She has touched us all in many ways. … She was a brilliant star in our lives and in our social work community. She will continue to burn brightly in our hearts and in our actions,” read a message written in memoriam on the department’s CSULB Web page.

Friends and faculty had just shared happy memories with Jimenez on her birthday, Aug. 30.

“She was like the Energizer Bunny. She had so much energy; you always knew when [Jimenez] was in the room,” Lopez said. “She was a social animal, not the kind to hold back in the corner.”

Jimenez was known to have an affinity for teaching and a habit of taking on a mentoring role to new faculty members. She made sure teachers never gave up on their students, Oliver said.

“She had probably taken more young professors in our department under her wings to begin their careers — probably as much, if not more than, anyone in our department,” he said.

Her teaching style was described as Aristotelian because of her preference for asking questions. She would help students come up with ideas and concepts without ever letting on that she was helping direct them to their conclusions, Oliver said.

“That’s kind of one of the neatest things in the world because people like to feel that when they stumble upon a good idea that they have some ownership of it. She was very expert at navigating you in a direction where you experience ownership,” he said.

Jimenez’s own career began with her education at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where she earned two doctorates in American history and social policy. Before attending Brandeis, where she met Lopez and Oliver, Jimenez earned her master’s degree in literature from UCLA.

“She was a friend first and a colleague second,” Lopez said.

In addition to teaching classes on social policy and acting as a thesis adviser to graduate students, Jimenez was the editor of “Reflections.” The nationally recognized journal was composed of peer narratives and a forum for current social issues.

Impeccable writing and a unique ability to get emotions into print characterized Jimenez’s writing and brought new a new dimension social consciousness to the journal and the department, Lopez said.

“She was vibrant, dynamic, always searching for underlining meaning. What I will really miss about her, she was always the one that asked the really hard questions about any changes at department meetings,” Lopez said.

Her book “Social Policy and Social Change: Toward Social and Economic Justice” was published over the summer by Sage Press. In it, she focuses on how capitalism and the market economy have added to the creation of social problems and new public policies.

However, the book will not be her last legacy, Lopez said.

“Her legacy is the thousands of students and faculty she has touched and helped in their careers,” she said.

She is survived by her husband, Daniel Jimenez, who is also a professor in the department. 

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