Shari Azinger: Combining Love and Passion to Create Something Beautiful

By: Hannah Lipton
Summer 2015 Communications Intern
Junior majoring in media studies with a minor in political science

Shari AzingerShari Azinger has spent most of her life wanting to impact the way we care for aging adults. After attending art school for two years at UWM, Azinger wasn’t sure if that was right for her. Trying to figure out where she wanted to go in life, Azinger started working in an assisted living home and fell in love with the idea of working with and benefiting the lives of aging adults.

This past summer, she completed her Masters in Social Work in conjunction with the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology at UW-Milwaukee. Azinger also has a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration with a minor in Business. In addition, she serves as a board member for both the UW-Milwaukee College of Health Sciences Alumni Board as well as the Foster Grandparent Advisory Board- Interfaith Older Adult Programs.

Before receiving her degrees, Azinger created ‘Melodies for Memories’, a small business providing sing along entertainment that improves the lives of older adults with dementia in Milwaukee and surrounding counties. For almost nine years, she combined her passion for music and the arts with her love of caring for aging adults. Azinger got the idea while she was working as a private duty caregiver in several different assisted living communities in the Milwaukee area. After seeing the entertainment that was provided for others, she felt compelled to create her own show to activate audiences with music, fun props and large print sing-along books. During that time, Azinger contacted UWM to ask them what degree would allow her to run an assisted living community. UWM put her in touch with the College of Health Sciences. She graduated with her Health Care Administration degree in 2008.
When speaking to Azinger, I could feel the level of excitement and passion that she exuberates regarding improving the quality of care of aging adults.

What made you return to school in 2011 to get your advanced degree in social work and a graduate certificate in applied gerontology? “I was a property manager for two income qualifying, independent, senior living communities. The residents tended to be younger members of the aging community, roughly aged 55 and older. Essentially, I had to get people in the door through marketing and advertising and be sure to income qualify people to live in our buildings. To income qualify, the residents had to be under a certain annual income to receive the reduced rental rates. With a lot of my residents being a part of the aging community, many of them required some assistance with community resources. They would come into my office feeling lost about how to handle certain challenges and I found myself providing them with resources. Oftentimes, this is part of what a social worker does. It was in that realization that I decided to go back to school for my MSW and pursue a career in working with/for aging adults.”

How do you think you’ll benefit the community with what you are learning? “Because of my education and life experiences, I feel that I can inform others of the needs and challenges that older adults face. I hope to give the younger generation a bit of the senior’s perspective. It’s challenging for younger people to see the world through an older adults eyes. I will attempt to be that individual who can share older adult’s point of view. ”

What drew you to UWM? “I grew up in the Milwaukee area, in Pewaukee. My Dad went to UWM, so I explored his alma mater and found that it would be a good fit for me. My Dad was thrilled that I chose the school that made such a big difference in his life as well. I originally attended UWM as an art major for two years, but didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do. At that point I became a caregiver for aging adults. From then on I knew that I wanted to effect and change the quality of care for aging adults after seeing and experiencing it firsthand.”

Could you tell me more about the UWM College of Health Sciences Alumni Board? “I was invited to assist in reigniting the chapter, after it being dormant for several years. My name was passed along by one of my professors who knew that I was passionate about volunteering and health care. Collectively, our group created a scholarship by hosting revenue-building events, such as the ‘College of Health Sciences Annual Career Fair’. Those events afforded our group to create the CHS Alumni Chapter Scholarship for future deserving health science students.”

How does it make you feel to be a part of such a prominent board? “I love to be a part of the alumni board. The College of Health Sciences was very good to me when I was a student; they have earned my loyalty. I recently attended the College of Health Sciences 40th anniversary planning committee meeting where I was asked to co-chair the College of Health Sciences 40th anniversary celebrations on campus. I feel incredibly honored to be considered.”

What are your future plans? “It is my hope to be able to influence the care of seniors in whatever capacity that is presented. The baby boomers are hitting the age where they will need a variety of adult services. This is the perfect timing to be in this career. Things are different now and we live in a busier society. People aren’t as invested in focusing on the care of their aging parents or family members simply due to lack of time. My future plans definitely involve being able to provide and hold prominence over the quality of care for aging adults.”
Azinger is currently interviewing for jobs where she hopes to inspire quality care of aging adults.

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Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology!

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