Alumnae Bulletin May 2008

News from The Graduate School of Social Work & Social Research

Leaders in Service to Older Adults

Message from the Deans

Emerging concern for the welfare of the aging population is coming to the forefront of social work scholarship and service, and our faculty and alumnae/i are rising to the challenge of improving service to this population. New faculty member Sara Bressi Nath, Ph.D., M.S.W., brings substantive expertise and research focus in this field to enhance our curriculum, while Field Liaison Jacqueline Salmon supports the training of students as they confront gerontological issues in varied settings. Renee Cunningham-Ginchereau, M.S.S. '05, shares the rewards of a life of service to older adults. The School is proud of not only these members of our social work community, but also the many others who work and volunteer in their field of gerontology.

—Raymond Albert and Marcia Martin, Ph.D. '82, Co-Deans

Sara Bressi Nath Answers the Call

Scholarship in the field of aging is a priority for academic institutions and emerging social work scholars, according to the National Association of Social Workers and the Council on Social Work Education.

To answer the call, Sara Bressi Nath, PhD, MSW, our new assistant professor at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, participates in the Institute on Aging and Social Work, a research training institute sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and the John A. Hartford Foundation.

As a result of the Institute's guidance, Bressi Nath, in cooperation with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, applied to the John A. Hartford Faculty Scholars Program to fund a research project that will examine the effectiveness of community-based long-term care services in improving the functional status of older adults with severe mental illnesses. This project extends Bressi Nath's research agenda, which focuses on the health needs of persons with severe and persistent mental illnesses.

In addition, Bressi Nath revitalized our curriculum on aging with her elective Issues in Adult Development and Aging. In this course, Bressi Nath explores with students theoretical formulations of adult development, relevant social policies that affect the well-being of older adults, and the range of social services available to this vulnerable population. She hopes in the near future to collaborate with faculty in the psychology and sociology departments to develop courses related to issues in aging for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Enhanced Placements in Gerontology Strengthen Interest

In order to encourage more students to work with older adults, we now offer an enhanced field placement in gerontology. (A gift from an alumna of our program who was concerned about the lack of services for the rural elderly in her county initiated this effort.)

Field Liaison Jacqueline Salmon meets with students to support this work. She brings a rich background in work with older adults in their own homes as well as in agency-based and private practice settings. Many students initially are reluctant to work in the field of gerontology because, Salmon acknowledges, it can be hard to stretch beyond one's own developmental level, and it can be anxiety-provoking to work with clients who may be in decline physically, mentally, and cognitively. Yet, she believes, for those students who engage older adults in their practice, the rewards are enormous. Older adults often have significant strength to draw upon and frequently bring a creative spirit to their problem solving.

Demographics make it clear that the number of older adults is growing at a faster pace than any other segment of our population. For students selecting placements and ultimately employment in the field of gerontology, the personal and professional challenges may be enormous, Salmon believes, but are more than balanced by the rewards. While the numbers of students who currently work in this area is relatively small, we are encouraged that through the educational support provided by Bressi Nath and the field support offered by Jacqueline Salmon, those numbers will multiply.

From Education to Practice in Gerontology

Renee Cunningham-Ginchereau, MSS '05, is the associate director of Center in the Park, a nationally-accredited, urban, nonprofit community senior center in Philadelphia which offers services for adults age 55 or older.

"I have always been drawn to working with older adults," Cunningham-Ginchereau says, "and can't imagine working with any other population. The most rewarding thing about working with older adults is helping them to realize their potential, maintain their independence, and overcome their own stereotypes about aging."

CIP has been promoting positive aging for 40 years and, to that end, supports more than 80 programs and services and more than 5,000 members, approximately 1,000 of whom receive social services in their homes with the goal of helping them to maintain their independence.

"It is so fulfilling to be able to offer vibrant older adults a platform to try new things like pottery, computer classes, and belly dancing" she says, "while still providing for the basic needs of those who have lost their functional ability over time."

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