Gerontology degree opens doors to opportunities

Huntington offers three and four-year undergraduate programs in Gerontology focusing on the biology, sociology and psychology of aging, and covering such varied topics as nutrition, physical activity, mental health and palliative care.

Program equips students to serve needs of retiring boomers

Given the impending demographic tsunami of boomers entering their retirement years, an understanding of the aging process and the needs of retiring boomers is more marketable than ever, according to Dr. Krishnan Venkataraman, assistant professor, Gerontology, Huntington University, an affiliate of Laurentian University.

“Keep in mind that the most powerful, most capable and wealthiest cohort of all time – the boomers – is going into retirement, and the boomers are very different from the people who retired before,” he said. “Boomers changed the world as we know it and they will have different needs when they retire. They’re going to have different expectations. It’s a very diverse and very large cohort and niche employment opportunities to serve this population are going to open up.”

Huntington offers three and four-year undergraduate programs in Gerontology focusing on the biology, sociology and psychology of aging, and covering such varied topics as nutrition, physical activity, mental health and palliative care.

One of the things that make the Gerontology program unique is that it’s offered as both a distance and on-campus program.

“One of the advantages of the distance program is its flexibility,” said Venkataraman.

The program draws students from across Ontario and beyond, and is ideal for mature, self-motivated students already busy with work and raising a family.
Students are given reading assignments and study guides, and are able to confer with professors by email or telephone.

“Most distance courses are offered on campus as well, so students who need the one-on-one interaction and don’t learn well on their own can attend classes,” said Venkataraman. “We also capture a lot of on-campus students taking Gerontology as an elective.”

Distance delivery of the program is also financially advantageous because students can study at home and avoid the expense of room and board in Sudbury.

Alternatively, they can finish a year or two at home and opt to attend classes on campus to complete the program. Even some students who live in Sudbury and have a full-time job find it convenient to study from home on evenings or weekends.

The optional fourth year of the program is currently only offered on campus, but plans are in the works to offer it on a distance basis as well. There are two four-year programs available: a Specialization in Gerontology which involves taking additional courses and doing a thesis, and a Major and Minor program that allows students to specialize in Gerontology and have a minor in another subject – for example, Psychology, Communication Studies or Commerce.

Students have access to professors if they need help.

“Typically, I can receive four or five emails a day from one course, so if you’re a professor with three courses, you’re responding to 20 to 30 student emails per day,” said Venkataraman. “Some students request a phone call.”

In addition to readings and papers, students are required to do a 40-hour internship at a long-term care home, adult day care centre or research organization and write a report about their experience.

Venkataraman estimates that only between 15 and 20 per cent of students in the program are straight out of high school.

“Some students straight out of high school do very well, but the majority have a hard time because they’re not equipped to handle university,” he observed.

“Students in high school don’t get failed anymore and they’re not used to seeing critical evaluations. Some get very upset when we fail them because they come in with high expectations of themselves that aren’t merited, but it’s human nature to want to improve, so after one or two hard semesters, they pull up their socks and are able to improve their marks.”

The program appeals to people who are already in the workforce and looking to upgrade their skills, as well as to students using it as a stepping-stone to further education.

“A lot of students come to us after being in the workforce for years,” said Venkataraman. “They could be personal support workers or activation therapists with diplomas from a community college. These diplomas get them a job, but don’t open as many doors as an undergraduate degree. We have agreements with several colleges, so we can recognize some of their credits.

“Our graduates also end up in long-term care management and in a wide assortment of businesses catering to older adults. One of our graduates is an entrepreneur with 10 or 12 employees who take care of older adults at home. Two of our grads went on to do MBAs to work in long-term care management.

One graduate went to medical school. Another is now doing a PhD in Epidemiology at Queen’s University.”

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