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Marilyn Jensen in airplane


Marilyn Jensen is flying high in retirement—literally.

"I started flying when I was still with the City of Torrance,” said Jensen, who retired in December 2000 as CSULB’s Academic Affairs associate vice president/dean of University Academic Programs and professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies. “After I finished my license, I participated in an air race from Sacramento to Delaware. I’ve been out of the cockpit for a few years, so I’m presently refining my skills. At the moment, local flight destinations include Solvang and other California locations, but more cross-country trips are part of my future plans.”

Her love of flying is only one of Jensen’s passions. The other is her lifelong advocacy for the use of computers and technology to enhance efficiency in recreation administration, city government and university access.

“When I was the assistant department head with the City of Torrance, I realized that so much of what the people working in the office were doing could be done more effectively by other means,” she recalled. “So I started pursuing the possibility of using data processing and applications in local government. There was some controversy in my career because I was so involved in technology and told people that computers were going to be the direction that we’re going to go, that small computers were really going to take over. Back then, the computer programs ran on large mainframe computers. Now, my iPhone has more capacity than those computers ever did.”

Jensen’s innovative outlook helped propel her towards projects that upgraded city government resources for the communities they served.

“One of the projects I worked on was funded by the U.S. Army Office of Civil Defense,” Jensen continued. “What we discovered is that Civil Defense had more information about a community than anybody else did. I thought from the standpoint of trying to understand a community, with this project, we were able to demonstrate that decision A did impact decision B and you’d better know where your streets and electrical hookups were, or if you closed something off, what kind of an impact it would have. We realized quite quickly that we could even determine from an aerial photo the income level of various parts of the community by water usage as evidenced by green lawns in one area but not in another.”

During her tenure at CSULB, Jensen found a way to use aerial photography by flying over communities and using infrared film to inspect, for example, wear patterns on the grassy areas and condition of trees.

“It was a team building experience for the Recreation Department,” Jensen explained. “In some instances, the park personnel thought it was recreation’s use of the grass fields that was causing so much damage to the turf, but we found out that it wasn’t the participants at all. It was the spectators because they all gathered in a certain vicinity of the field. It became a community project and involved several departments.

“The serendipity sometimes was as interesting as the actual,” Jensen added. “By accident, for example, we realized there was a different wear pattern in the grass along a water reservoir and discovered there was a leak. This aerial view also made it possible to determine the health of trees that were infested by beetles.” 

Jensen, who was hired at CSULB in 1965 and taught a variety of courses including administration and supervision, considers the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department and the campus as part of her extended family, and says the students were her primary reason for a 35-year career.

“I happened to be in a field where there were so many different opportunities and so many directions that people could grow. We’ve had students become successful whether it was in therapeutic, outdoor, municipal or nonprofit agencies,” she said proudly. “But I think there comes a time when various programs on campus have to develop their own leadership as the next group of faculty takes over.”

Although she is officially retired, Jensen is still very active in the CSULB community. She has remained involved with the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, Women and Philanthropy, Friends of RALSAA, Alumni Association, and is a member of the Athletics Directors Circle, Carillon Society and Legacy Society.

“I think the biggest difference (since retirement) is that I only take on short-term assignments as opposed to a lifelong commitment,” she said. “I was on the Hall of Fame committee for the Athletics Department, and I’ve worked with Jewels of the Night. The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well on this campus, and I think there are many people who feel strongly and would like to pay back in some way. I think we’re fortunate to be on this campus, and it’s been exciting to watch it grow and evolve over the years.”