I graduated from Ithaca College’s Aging Studies program in 2012. I was saddened by your article “Students disinterested in studying aging studies,” but also glad that you shined a light on this issue. When I toured Ithaca College my senior year of high school, I remember the tour guide telling us about the Gerontology Institute. I had no idea what Gerontology was. Later, my dad explained that the field of aging is growing rapidly due to the Baby Boomers and the aging population and it is a good field to get into because there will be lots of job opportunities and a shortage of workers. I figured I would give it a try and ended up finding my calling.
I graduated with a cohort of eight aging studies majors. These eight students were some of the kindest and most passionate people I know. We all absolutely love working with older people, even though many of us had never worked with this population before starting college. I started my freshman year as an Aging Studies major, but most of the others switched into the program after taking an Aging Studies class as an elective or having a meaningful field experience with older adults.
During my time as an Aging Studies major at Ithaca, I also noticed ageism among my peers, and was asked on many occasions questions like, “why would you want to study old people?” The Aging Studies program is an undervalued and misunderstood program at Ithaca for many of the reasons you discussed in the article: ageism, a lack of understanding, fear, etc. However, I am forever grateful for how the professors, classes, fieldwork and internship experiences prepared me for a career in aging and I feel lucky to have stumbled into the program.
While many of my non-Aging Studies friends struggled to find jobs after college, this was not the case for me given the significant need for professionals who specialize in aging. After graduating in 2012, I worked for two years as a case manager at an Aging Services Access Point in Massachusetts, managing home care services for older adults, alongside a fellow Ithaca Aging Studies graduate. I then went back to school for my Masters in Social Work and now work as a guardianship case manager. My agency is the legal guardian for older adults who have extensive histories with protective services and have often been neglected, exploited, and/or abused. As guardian, we are responsible for all decisions regarding the health and welfare of the client.
There are endless ways for someone from the Aging Studies program to work in the field, which allows for a lot of creativity and diversity in a career path. I have worked or interned in state-funded home care, a day program, nursing homes, a continuing care retirement community, outpatient mental health, hospice, and now at a non-profit. I agree with Mary Scouten’s sentiment in the article that having an open mind can make all the difference.