Lela Jimenez lays foundation for legal career with master’s in learning design and technology

Diversity. Community. Belonging. Those are some of the reasons Lela Jimenez ‘21, ‘23 said she decided to attend Wayne State University after graduating from Woodhaven High School.

“I applied to several schools,” she said. “When I toured those campuses, I didn't fit in. I felt like I belonged at Wayne State the minute I stepped foot on campus, and I've made a lot of lifelong friends here.”

Lela Jimenez wearing a Wayne State University t-shirt
Jimenez is a two-time alumna of Wayne State

After earning a bachelor’s in political science and peace and conflict studies, Jimenez wasn’t ready to leave the university. She had planned to attend law school but, at 20 years old, wasn’t sure if that was the best next step. 

Jimenez decided to learn more about the online master’s in learning design and technology offered by the Wayne State University College of Education. She met with Assistant Professor Alisa Hutchinson, who became her advisor.

“The degree is a combination of industrial organizational psychology, business, education, design and technology,” she said. “It is all about strategic thinking and problem-solving, which is what lawyers do. They must understand how to put the pieces of a problem together and identify potential solutions. I figured I would take a course and see if I liked it.”

Jimenez was hooked. She said her courses expanded her view of instructional designers’ function and increased her appreciation for them. 

“When people hear ‘designer,’ I think they automatically think of fashion,” she said. “My design thinking class brought the word to life and gave it a new meaning. Designers think differently about solving problems.” 

Jimenez worked full time while she was in the program. Her first year, she was a legal assistant at a nonprofit in Detroit, working an average of 50 hours each week and handling hundreds of cases for several lawyers. Now, she serves as constituent services director for state Sen. Darrin Camilleri.

“I was his head intern when he decided to run for state representative in 2016, and we won,” Jimenez said. “After that, I campaigned for him until his election for state Senate last year. When he won, he asked me if I was interested in joining his core team in Lansing. It was a dream job that I couldn’t refuse.”

Although working in directly politics was not a path she originally considered, Jimenez indicated her interest in government was sparked by her firsthand observations of how immigrants are treated.

“Coming from an immigrant family, I see how people treat others differently,” she said. “My maternal grandparents were from Mexico, and my father is from Puerto Rico. They had accents, and some people were so rude to them; it drove me to become a social justice warrior. That is why I chose to study political science and peace and conflict studies. I want to help enact legislation that can impact the future for the next generation.”

Jimenez discovered she could immediately apply the new skills she learned in class — particularly those in needs assessment and evaluation courses — at work. 

“My role revolves around problem-solving,” she said. “Many constituents come to us with serious problems, and we are often their last line of defense. We must make sure the intended outcome is what they want and what we can realistically provide in the timeline we are given.”

Jimenez said she enjoyed developing a deeper understanding of the roles empathy and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) play in instructional design. Being diagnosed with ADHD and ADD while in the program also underscored the importance of considering learning difficulties, disabilities and styles.

“We discussed Universal Design for Learning, and a big part of that involves DEI and empathy,” she said. “I try to apply those principles daily. There are different types of learners, and you have to meet people where they are. Sharing content in multiple ways allows you to help more people and bridge those gaps. That is something I have trained myself to do.”

Lela Jimenez wearing a cap and gown
Jimenez poses in her cap and gown in front of the College of Education

In addition to dealing with her diagnosis, Jimenez is managing her grief after losing both grandparents within a nine-month period. She wears her grandfather’s wedding ring on a chain around her neck as a constant reminder of their love and her promise to them. 

“My grandparents were my pillars of strength, and my grandfather was my best friend,” she said. “He made me promise that if I did anything, it would be to get an education. I wear this ring daily to remind myself that no matter what I go through, I must live up to that promise.”

At 22, Jimenez is the youngest person to earn a master's in learning design and technology from Wayne State. She believes she has a strong foundation upon which to build her legal career — or any other profession she pursues.

“I gained so much from this program,” she said. “As a perfectionist, I struggle with failure, but I realized it is okay to make mistakes if you learn from them. Even though we don’t always know what will happen, we can do our best to be prepared, and I have learned how to overcome my fear of uncertainty. The most important thing I have learned is a new way of thinking about problems. Instructional designers solve problems, and that is exactly what I want to do.”

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