UMGC’s Gerontology and Aging Services Program Educates Tomorrow’s Leaders

November is National Family Caregivers and Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month, and University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is proud of its role in educating tomorrow’s leaders in the gerontology and caregiving fields.

UMGC’s Bachelor of Science in Gerontology and Aging Services provides undergraduate students with a foundation in the physiological, social and psychological aspects of aging, coupled with an understanding of programs, services and policies that impact older adults and how they age and live.

“As a society we continue to ignore the issue of ageism. I think it has a lot to do with personal fears about getting older, which in and of itself is a form of ageism,” said UMGC Collegiate Associate Professor Katherine Im. 

Im, who has served as program chair of sociology, behavioral sciences and gerontology at UMGC for more than a decade, noted that 10,000 Baby Boomers a day are now turning 65. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that by 2030 the elder population will number 1 billion, or 12 percent of the projected global population. 

In an interview last year focused on COVID-19 and the pandemic’s impact on the aging population, Im pointed to the ageism on display in our social institutions, with long-term care facilities suddenly short staffed. 

“There was a heavy reliance on family members to provide informal care and to support the staff that was already there,” Im said, “[and] that suddenly got shut down because no one could enter the facilities. It led to a real crisis … and we’re still amid COVID.”

Before turning her attention to the aging population, Im had initially planned to focus on pediatrics. While pursuing graduate studies in clinical community psychology, her outlook changed.

“I did a year of externships in geriatrics/gerontological placements where I learned about the functional and neurological aspects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. I also spent some time in an adult daycare center, and it was there that I realized that we, as a society, don’t pay enough attention to caregiving and the caregiver burden,” Im said.

She added, “Professional caregivers aren’t given nearly enough respect – or compensation – and informal caregivers like family members provide care without compensation at great risk to their own health and well-being. We need better models, and we need leaders in gerontology to make this happen.”

Im joined UMGC in 2005 as an assistant director of psychology and social sciences and was later invited to oversee the gerontology program while pursuing a doctorate in gerontology at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Im is a strong advocate for UMGC’s bachelor’s degree in gerontology and aging services. She pointed to two required courses in the program that she feels could benefit the broader population: End of Life: Issues and Perspectives (BEHS 380) and Retirement and Estate Planning (FINC 355).

“I think students of all ages would benefit tremendously by thinking about and planning for later life,” Im said. “Being better informed about finances and retirement, health care, and the laws and policies that impact older adults helps us all to be better advocates for our loved ones and ultimately, for ourselves. We all deserve to live and age optimally, and education is central to this endeavor.” 

UMGC requires students in the program to find a relevant internship that will help them prepare for a career in the field. One student volunteered for an organization that helps keep seniors in their homes by assisting with yard work, cleaning and meal preparation. The internship led to a full-time position after graduation.

Another student started her own geriatric care company in Pennsylvania after graduation, working with people to protect their assets while also ensuring that they get necessary care. 

“What a great business opportunity to turn that into something where you’re helping people, using the knowledge that you’ve gained through this program, through practical work that you’re doing,” said Im.

For more information on UMGC’s gerontology and aging services program, visit umgc.edu.