Profiles in Social Work
Identifying as a Gerontologist: Finding your Niche
Tracy Schroepfer, Ph.D
My passion for gerontological social work was ignited when I was a child and has continued to this day. My mother’s parents were German and had lived through several wars and the Great Depression. They shared their experiences and wisdom with me whenever we were together. They also showed me warmth, kindness and firmness grounded in love. I still to this day remember their scents: grandpa smelled of tobacco and grandma of the kitchen. I not only felt enveloped by their love but also by their belief that I could be whatever and whomever I chose to be in this world. I chose to be a gerontological social worker.
Being a gerontologist is not what I do; it is essential to who I am as a person and a professional. My passion for elders and aging has led me to want to inspire that same passion in others. As an undergraduate, I often heard students scoff at the idea of working in the field of aging. After I received my Master’s in Gerontology, I worked as a part-time lecturer at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I choose to teach the undergraduate introductory gerontology course because I wanted to incite in students a passion for the field of aging. My efforts were rewarded yearly when many of my students chose to major in gerontology. These successes led me to obtain a Master’s and Ph.D. in Social Work so that I could teach on a full-time basis.
I have been a part of GSWI since 2001 when I was chosen to participate in the first cohort of Hartford Doctoral Fellows, and then again in 2004 when I was chosen for the fifth cohort of Hartford Faculty Scholars. Being a part of these two GSWI programs has been a life changing experience. Prior to Hartford, I often felt alone in my love of elders; however, GSWI has introduced me to numerous other gerontological social workers. I now have colleagues who share my passion for elders and who are there whenever I need materials for papers, courses, or grants, or advice on my research. The funds I have received have not only furthered my research, they have allowed me to employ doctoral students to work as my research assistants, thereby exposing them to the field of aging. As I see my students apply for the Hartford Pre-Dissertation Award or the Hartford Fellows Program, I know that the GSWI is continuing to create new generations of gerontological social workers.
As I go up for tenure this semester, I do so with a stronger package than I would have had without having participated in the GSWI programs. The funds, skills, knowledge and mentoring I have received, have assisted in strengthening my teaching, mentoring and research skills. They have also been the prime factors in my successful quest to become what I chose to be so very long ago: a gerontological social worker.
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November 18, 2010