Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology Graduates

Autumn Decker, M.S.

Completing this certificate impacted my career as I switched research fields and interests because of it. I got my M.S. in Kinesiology at UWM but after completing this certificate I realized I wanted to focus more on the whole older adult instead of just their physical activity. This led me to a more holistic social science career.

Read more about Autumn
  • Autumn Decker is a doctoral student in Prevention Science at Washington State University. She completed the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology along with a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in Kinesiology in Spring 2020.
  • What sparked your interest in gerontology? Why did you decide to pursue the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology (GCAG)?
    I spent a lot of my youth around people who were older than me as my father is the youngest of nine children. Because of this, I have very close relationships with my grandparents, so I knew I wanted to work with people like them! I worked as a certified nursing assistant during my undergraduate career which further cemented my interest in working with older adults. I decided to pursue the GCAG program because I wanted to learn more about the unique aging experience of our older adult population and apply that knowledge to research.
  • What are the strengths of the GCAG program?
    A strength of the GCAG program is almost all courses are offered online making it really easy to fit into your schedule without having to worry about interfering with required courses for your primary degree. Another strength is that the instructors come from many different backgrounds and careers, offering a broad spectrum of knowledge and advice that helped me shape my interests.
  • How has completing the certificate impacted your career?
    Completing this certificate impacted my career as I switched research fields and interests because of it. I got my M.S. in Kinesiology at UWM but after completing this certificate I realized I wanted to focus more on the whole older adult instead of just their physical activity. This led me to a more holistic social science career.
  • Where are you currently working and what is your position?
    Currently, I am a doctoral student in Prevention Science at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. I work as a research assistant for my advisor Dr. Raven Weaver researching rural aging, social determinants of health, health literacy, death anxiety and much more.
  • What are you learning while working in the field with older adults?
    I am learning a lot about the health behaviors of older adults, how to measure them and how to help. I am also learning more about the research process and the ins and outs of academia.
  • What advice do you have for future students who are interested in completing the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology?
    Take elective courses that you might be uncomfortable taking. My favorite course was Death and Dying and it had a profound impact on my career and interests. Also, make connections with your professors because they have a lot to offer and are more than willing to help you out!

Jessica Hickman, MSW, CAPSW

Whether your career path is an occupational therapist, nurse, or social worker, this program truly welcomes all as it highlights an interdisciplinary perspective and approach to supporting older adults.

Read more about Jessica
  • Jessica is a care manager for My Choice Wisconsin. She completed the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology along with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in December 2019.
  • What sparked your interest in gerontology? Why did you decide to pursue the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology (GCAG)?
    I have always had a special interest in helping others. This interest grew as I explored a more personal journey working as a nursing assistant in long-term care settings during my undergraduate studies. This is when I discovered my passion to work with older adults. After having gained some experience in the field, I returned to UWM’s Social Work program, but this time with a more specific goal as I pursued the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology.
  • What are the strengths of the GCAG program?
    Despite its very gero-focused instruction, GCAG’s career diversity is what makes it such a unique program. Whether your career path is an occupational therapist, nurse, or social worker, this program truly welcomes all as it highlights an interdisciplinary perspective and approach to supporting older adults.
  • How has completing the certificate impacted your career?
    Completing the GCAG has not only expanded my knowledge as a professional in the field, but I have also gained a deeper compassion and understanding for our elders as I have learned to value and respect their contributions to society. It has also allowed me to truly appreciate what it means to serve a population who may be underrepresented and simply overlooked.
  • Where are you currently working and what is your position?
    Currently, I work as a care manager for My Choice Wisconsin, a long-term care organization that manages the care of older adults and people with disabilities.
  • What are you learning while working in the field with older adults?
    Working in the field with older adults, I am learning to be the change they need by researching and implementing a system of resources and services that will aid a better life quality.
  • What advice do you have for future students who are interested in completing the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology?
    My advice for prospective students is to keep an open mind. Whether you’re just beginning or nearly finished, this certificate adds the perfect touch to a career of true fulfillment.

Megan Lacke, MSW, APSW

I believe that the knowledge that I have gained from the classes in this program has given me the opportunity to bring more to my day-to-day work with clients. I have a deeper understanding of how to effectively communicate with and assist my clients. This certificate has also set me apart from other candidates when interviewing for potential positions.

Read more about Megan
  • Megan Lacke is a care manager in the Family Care program at Community Care. She completed the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology along with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in Summer 2019.
  • What sparked your interest in gerontology? Why did you decide to pursue the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology (GCAG)?
    I have always had a passion for helping others, but this passion was really solidified when I helped my mom take care of my grandparents as they aged and became terminally ill. My passion for working with the older population was solidified when I was a senior in college. I volunteered at a local hospital and I would assist patients and their families navigate the hospital, sit with them, and listen empathetically to them share their feelings regarding what they are going through. I chose to pursue the certificate because the classes were focused on the older adult population and their unique and enormous needs going forward and the huge and long-standing need for geriatric social workers!
  • What are the strengths of the GCAG program?
    I would say there are several strengths to the GCAG program. The classes are flexible, there is a wide variety of topics to choose from, and the classes focus specifically on the older adult population. This program sheds a light on this relatively newer area of social work.
  • How has completing the certificate impacted your career?
    I believe that the knowledge that I have gained from the classes in this program has given me the opportunity to bring more to my day-to-day work with clients. I have a deeper understanding of how to effectively communicate with and assist my clients. This certificate has also set me apart from other candidates when interviewing for potential positions.
  • Where are you currently working and what is your position?
    I am currently working at Community Care in the Family Care program. I am a care manager and I assist my clients to connect with needed resources and assist them in remaining as independent as possible in their living environments.
  • What are you learning while working in the field with older adults?
    I am learning many things. I am learning how to help my older adult clients navigate their world, how to assist them in determining what their needs are and finding resources that can help them reach their goals.
  • What advice do you have for future students who are interested in completing the Graduate Certificate in Applied Gerontology?
    My biggest piece of advice is ask about the program. Talk to faculty, your field liaisons, or Dr. Galambos! You get into the program what you put out of it. So many learning opportunities become available when you join this certificate program. Ask questions and get involved!

Faculty

Julie Ellis, PhD, RN, GCNS-BC

The geriatric population is growing and most health professionals will work with the older adult, so it’s very important to receive skills and knowledge.

Read more about Julie
  • Dr. Ellis is an Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing at UWM. She is a certified Gerontological Clinical Nurse Specialist and has served on the Wisconsin Board of Nursing.
  • What sparked your interest in gerontology? Why did you choose to incorporate the study of aging and older adults into your work?
    I liked older adults since I was a child and watched the grandpa on the “Real McCoys” played by Walter Brennan.
  • What research are you working on or have worked on in the past that focused on older adults or aging? Why did you feel this focus was important?
    When I obtained my masters’ degree in nursing I focused on the behavioral traits of caregivers (CNAs) and what correlated with calming agitated residents. My dissertation research was a study of factors related to behavioral symptoms in older adults with dementia residing in assisted living and discovered that unrecognized pain influences agitated behaviors. Since 2005, my research has focused on African American older adults with multiple chronic disease in church-based health initiatives with volunteers, and medication self-management.
  • What gerontology course(s) are you teaching? How does your course help to develop students’ understanding of aging and older adults?
    I teach Nursing Care of the Adult and Older Adult and Processes of Aging. The first one is for pre-licensure students to learn how to provide nursing care for older adults with common medical and surgical conditions. The other course is a graduate course, elective for various disciplines, and covers aging from various angles and topics such as biology of aging, sexuality and aging, creativity and aging, etc.
  • Why do you feel that educating students about topics that affect older adults is important?
    The geriatric population is growing and most health professionals will work with the older adult, so it’s very important to receive skills and knowledge. It’s a great field, there are many job possibilities, and the skills of working with older adults is essential in many fields.

MSW with Gerontology Concentration Graduates

Eric Engelbart, MSW, APSW

I liked that UWM has such an engaged student body, it seems like everyone is actively working with older adults and always open to consult. Also the professors, particularly Dr. Colleen Galambos and Dr. Yura Lee, are very distinguished in their fields and have a wealth of information.

Read more about Eric
  • Eric Engelbart is a clinical case manager for the Milwaukee Center for Independence’s Whole Health Clinical Group.
  • Why did you decide to study social work with a focus in gerontology?
    I decided to study social work with a focus on gerontology based on my close relationship with my grandfather, and being by his side through life as an older adult. I also have a very close friend who is a septuagenarian who inspired me to seek out more interactions with older adults.
  • What did you like about this program?
    I liked that UWM has such an engaged student body, it seems like everyone is actively working with older adults and always open to consult. Also the professors, particularly Dr. Colleen Galambos and Dr. Yura Lee, are very distinguished in their fields and have a wealth of information.
  • How has your specialized knowledge in gerontology impacted your career?
    I currently work as a case manager for individuals of all ages, but I am our team’s specialist for working with older adults. I have found that my expertise is very useful at my current job.
  • Where are you currently working and what is your position?
    I am a clinical case manager at MCFI’s Whole Health Clinical Group.
  • What are you learning while working in the field with older adults?
    I have found that the importance of activity theory and continuity theory are both very easy to observe in working with older adults. Support systems and responsibilities seem to help build resilience and sustain older adults, both mentally and physically.
  • What advice do you have for future students who are interested in studying gerontology social work?
    I would encourage future students to take advantage of all of the opportunities presented by the graduate program, in order to build a strong resume and a wealth of experience. I’ve found that it’s very fruitful to dive in fully to the graduate student experience.