Gerontology Center Celebrates 30 Years

The Gerontology Center is celebrating 30 years at the U with a party and open house on April 27 in the Union Ballroom.

The Gerontology Center is unique among academic units at the U because it is university-wide and perhaps the most multi-disciplinary program at the U, with representatives from art to zoology. Gerontology is the science and study of the aged and the process of aging.

“The students and faculty represent a wide range of disciplines,” said Dale Lund, the center’s director and professor of gerontology. “In any given year, there are 20 to 25 different academic majors represented among the center’s students.”

Undergraduate student Janeal Atkinson will be graduating in December with her master’s degree in gerontology.

She’s been teaching community education for many years and originally came back to school to renew her teaching certificate five years ago, but she became interested in the gerontology program because it was relative to the age group of people she’s been teaching.

“It’s a wonderful program for two reasons: I love the diversified backgrounds of participants who come from so many different disciplines here at the U,” Atkinson said. “Second, I enjoy the age variation of the program participants because it’s fun to see and hear their points of view. The youngest students are 21 and the oldest are in their 60s.”

Susan Schulman, graduate student in the certificate program, already had a bachelor’s in foreign languages. She said she “fell” into the gerontology program.

She had abandoned her languages to work in medical research. One day she saw an advertisement in The Chronicle about the gerontology program, and it piqued her interest, so she began taking classes.

“It’s been wonderful. The classes and the programs are so fascinating, the faculty is superb, and I would encourage anyone to take some classes,” Schulman said. “With the aging of the baby boomers, gerontology is going to be a big thing.”

Most of her research has involved cancer, and most people who get cancer are 55 or older, she said. Gerontology broadens her options and her ability to do her current work because it helps her understand aging, both the science and the art behind it.

“People approach growing older by putting their heads in the sand,” Atkinson, “so these classes are great because they are so cross-disciplinary and they help students understand the issues involved in aging.”

The Gerontology Program began on campus as the Rocky Mountain Gerontology Program in 1972 as part of a consortium of five Utah schools.

The Administration on Aging (AOA), a federal agency that promotes issues on aging in America, provided funding to help universities recruit and prepare students and faculty to establish academic programs on aging.

The consortium was dissolved in 1979, but gerontology at the U survived a few uncertain years through the work of many devoted faculty, which allowed the program to survive during the 1970s and 1980s.

The center, originally located in the College of Social and Behavioral Science, relocated in 1982 to the College of Nursing where it has been for 20 years.

The faculty now includes three tenured and 18 adjunct instructors who either have faculty appointments in other departments on campus or hold leadership positions as professionals in the community.

Each year approximately 75 students from nearly 20 different disciplines on campus are enrolled in certificate programs.

The open house follows the center’s annual graduation ceremony at 4 p.m., also in the Union Ballroom, at 3 p.m. Center officials have invited everyone to help celebrate the center’s first 30 years of success.

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