Magazine Feature / People

Fellowship program creates community for gerontology students

In a profession where students more typically choose to work with abused children, troubled youth or battered women, it can sometimes be difficult to find others who share a passion for social work that focuses on older adults. 

“Gerontology can be a bit isolating,” admits Jessica Haxton, a PhD student entering her third year at the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). “When most students are pursuing other fields of practice, you can feel very alone.”

Now a pre-dissertation doctoral fellowship program, offered by the John A. Hartford Foundation, is helping to end that sense of isolation by creating a network of like-minded doctoral students from around the country. 

The fellowship includes membership in the Gerontological Society of America and the Society for Social Work and Research, and covers students’ expenses to attend both organizations’ annual meetings. 

“The program nurtures your interest in gerontology and prepares you to be a scholar,” says Haxton, one of only 20 fellowship recipients in the country and the only one in Colorado. “The conferences give you the chance to meet people doing breakthrough work in the field.”

Although the fellowships are usually given to students during their third year of a doctoral program, Haxton’s award came during her second year, which already enabled her to attend both society’s annual meetings. 

Haxton will focus her dissertation on relationships among caregivers and care-receivers. She says she chose GSSW because of its “ideal balance between research and clinical work” and because of its strength in the growing field of gerontology. 

Once her dissertation proposal is approved, she plans to apply for a Hartford doctoral fellowship that pays up to $25,000 per year for research.

“We are rapidly becoming a nation of older adults,” explains Assistant Professor Colleen Reed, co-director of the Institute and a former Hartford Foundation Doctoral Fellow. “This demographic imperative is focusing new attention on aging,” she adds.

Haxton, whose long-term goal is a university faculty position, counts teaching research classes among her favorite aspects of GSSW. 

“Social work students are so strong in their purpose and commitment,” Haxton says. “I love sharing my knowledge with them and maybe inspiring them the way others have inspired me.”

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