By Dixie Reid
Maridith A. Curfman-Janssen ’82 (Recreation Administration) vividly remembers the undergraduate class assignment that required her to traverse Sacramento State in a wheelchair.
Everything went smoothly until she encountered Guy West Bridge, which spans the American River alongside the campus.
“I had no idea how steep it was, and I pushed myself partway up but ended up rolling back down,” Curfman-Janssen said. “Finally, another student came along and asked if I wanted assistance. Too embarrassed to admit that I really didn’t need the wheelchair, I graciously agreed and allowed him to push me over the bridge.
“I always think back on that experience and laugh with fond memories of the class that required the assignment, as well as the great learning opportunity it afforded me.”
It was just one of the passages that helped form Curfman-Janssen, leading to accomplishments that are part of a career that is being recognized with conferral by Sacramento State of a 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Curfman-Janssen is director of the California Pre-Doctoral Program at the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Office. There she supports economically and educationally disadvantaged CSU students interested in pursuing doctorates.
She previously served as professor and chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at Long Beach State. She earned her master’s degree in Recreation Administration/Therapeutic Recreation from Chico State and her educational doctorate in Applied Educational Studies from Oklahoma State University.
Curfman-Janssen developed the first activity-therapy professional certificate program in Stanislaus County. She founded the Central California Therapeutic Recreation Symposium, held at Fresno State, and the BEACH Symposium in Long Beach. Those programs offer continuing education to recreation therapists in California.
She also was a founding member of Miller’s Place, an Alzheimer’s daycare and resource center, in Modesto.
Curfman-Janssen's professional influence reaches beyond California: She serves on a national accreditation council and developed the first curriculum in therapeutic recreation at National Taiwan Normal University.
“Dr. Maridith Curfman-Janssen typifies the type of faculty in health disciplines at the CSU,” said Fred Baldini, former dean of Sac State’s College of Health & Human Services, who recommended her for a Distinguished Alumni Award. “Faculty are practitioners first, and often practitioners of the highest degree.”
Curfman-Janssen’s career spanned 20 years in skilled nursing, physical rehabilitation, community mental health, group homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities, private consulting in skilled nursing and group homes, and Alzheimer’s care units in four California cities.
“Academically, the discipline of recreation therapy/therapeutic recreation prepares students to work in clinical, community, and consulting positions,” Baldini said. “Dr. Curfman-Janssen has performed all, leaving an impact on California’s Central Valley and beyond.”
When Curfman-Janssen was an undergraduate at Sac State, the academic side of recreation therapy was just 25 years old. It had, she believed, significant room for development, research, and growth.
She said she is grateful that Sac State professors not only taught the basics of therapeutic recreation but instilled the idea of helping her chosen profession grow through advocacy and leadership.
“Little did my professors know that I was paying attention in class and took their message to heart,” Curfman-Janssen said. “My entire career has been filled with service and giving back to advance the profession of recreation therapy.”