Memorial for Ph.D. student to be held today

The USC School of Social Work will hold a memorial service Wednesday to remember Jennifer Paek, a Ph.D. candidate who died in New York last Wednesday.

Remembered · Jennifer Paek (right), pictured here with a friend, was studying health disparity and policy at USC’s School of Social Work. - Photo courtesy of Young Sun Lee. (Corrected 4/14/2010 to reflect the correct identification of Paek.)

The service for Paek, who was in her second year at USC, will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Social Work Center Gabilan Courtyard.

“She was just a really, really beautiful person,” said Minah Kim, Paek’s close friend and classmate in the Ph.D. program. “So many people were surrounded by Jennifer’s love.”

Paek was born in New York on October 7, 1979, but was raised in Southern California. She received a bachelor’s degree in Asian American studies from UCLA before moving on to receive a master’s of social welfare from the same school.

“She was very passionate about learning, education and educating as a social worker,” Kim said.

In her doctoral work at USC, Paek focused on health disparities, health policy, case advocacy for vulnerable populations and end-of-life care. According to Prisca Wu, who has been friends with Paek since high school, Paek was heavily involved in the community and focused on advocating for people without a voice.

“She was already taking care of people before the social worker program,” Wu said. “She was always looking to see how she could make things better for other people.”

The owner of two dogs, Paek combined her passion for social work with her love of animals in her veterinary hospital social work project, said Brooklyn Levine, who developed the program with Paek.

The program established a philosophy of caring for an animal and its guardian or family to best serve both their needs and outcomes.

“Jennifer wanted to alleviate the strain on professionals doing good work in a difficult economy and create new jobs in an unexplored niche in Los Angeles,” Levine said in a written reflection about Paek.

Friends said Paek was caring, warm and generous and had a great sense of humor.

“She was really thoughtful and [was] always talking about you,” Wu said. “[She] put herself way last and would remember specific things about your life.”

Paek was known for putting together care packages for her classmates during midterms or finals, Kim said.

“She was like a big sister to me,” Kim said. “Because I’m international, she was always correcting my English … She told me what restaurant is better for me [and] where to go for sightseeing.”

Wu echoed this sentiment.

“She just had such a way of including all her friends into her life,” Wu said. “By extension, all of her friends were like a family.”

According to The Brooklyn Paper, a local newspaper in New York, Paek died after jumping from the roof of the 51-story building she lived in. The paper reported that Paek had left suicide notes in the apartment she shared with her husband.

Paek is survived by her parents Chung Ja and Nam Paek and her husband, Luis Diaz.

Correction: Jennifer Paek was originally identified in the photo caption as the woman on the left, but is the woman on the right.