Working with retired adults during an undergraduate internship helped Lizzie Thomas narrow her focus on the population she wanted to work with — the aging.
“I realized how much of an impact I could make with them,” she says. “I just realized that I really click working with that population, get along well with them, and understand where they’re coming from.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree, she enrolled in UNC Greensboro’s online Master of Science in Gerontology program and graduated this May.
Stand Out in the Field
Thomas hoped the master’s degree would help her stand out in a field that is growing rapidly. With life expectancy increasing, so are aging populations. According to Pew Research, 10,000 people turn 65 every day — a population the U.S. Census Bureau projects to reach 83.7 million in 2050, almost doubling the 2012 population of 43.1 million.
“Having a master’s degree in gerontology qualifies me for any job in the aging field that relates to aging adults — so any position within aging services, retirement communities, nursing facilities,” she says. “My hope is that it helps me stand out within the aging field and shows that I am qualified and extremely passionate about working with aging adults.”
After graduation, Thomas got a job as the In-Home Connections Coordinator for The Center for Volunteer Caregiving in Cary, connecting aging adults with volunteers who help with light housekeeping, friendly visits, and transportation so they are able to stay at home longer.
Gain Specialized Education
Thomas also wanted more specialized knowledge in the field than what her undergraduate experience offered, such as knowing what challenges aging adults face during the aging process.
She has learned that loneliness and isolation take effect as the aging lose friends and loved ones, and loss of independence also becomes a factor.
“That is why being involved within the community with local senior centers or volunteering is so important,” she says. “This creates community and relationships and also helps keep one’s independence longer.”
Use Skills Right Away
The gerontology program provided other skills Thomas used in her former job as a call center specialist at N.C. Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM).
Writing, communication, and research help her with presentations and finding and giving out resources. Gaining knowledge about homebound seniors, in-home care, long-term facilities, and Medicare and Medicaid proved beneficial when talking to aging adults or their families.
At NCBAM, Thomas helped aging adults access resources. When someone has a need, such as a wheelchair ramp or yard work, the agency tries to find the resources or volunteers to complete that task for them.
Flexible Online Learning
Being able to earn a master’s online allowed Thomas to work more hours at NCBAM and as an undergraduate advisor in UNCG’s School of Health and Human Sciences. She completed assignments in the evenings and liked the pace of the 7-week courses.
The fully online program offered an educational community for Thomas, who says students get to know one another through course discussion boards and other online assignments. Collaboration with academic departments, community organizations, and businesses provide an active approach to the study of aging.
Professors were helpful and responded quickly. Thomas found having students in the program from across the country was an added benefit because it offered the added perspective and experience of those already working in the field.
“My end goal is just to try to impact the lives of aging adults in a positive way so that they can age successfully, and that their families can understand the aging process and make sure they know the resources that are out there for them throughout this time in their life,” she says.
Find out more about the Master’s in Gerontology. Download a brochure.