With the field of gerontology on the cusp of catering to the burgeoning “boomer” population, three Virginia Tech students are prepared for the challenge as they were recently selected for the 2005-2006 national AARP Scholars Program. Libbey Bowen, Nancy Brossoie, and Erica Husser were chosen by a panel of educators and AARP staff to each receive a $10,000 scholarship. In addition, they will participate in a leadership seminar and recognition event at AARP in Washington, D.C., in March 2006.

A total of 30 graduate students were selected based on academic excellence, faculty recommendations, and a commitment to the field of aging. Virginia Tech received more awards than any other university.

"Virginia Tech has a long and distinguished history of producing high-quality graduates from its gerontology program,” said Betsy M. Sprouse, AARP's senior academic adviser. “The three AARP Scholars selected from Virginia Tech reflect that tradition, and we are confident that they will make significant contributions to the field of aging."

With the upcoming demands of an aging demographic, the graduate certificate program in gerontology at Virginia Tech, which is recognized as a “Program of Merit” by the Association of Gerontology in Higher Education, has become increasingly popular since first offered 20 years ago. The award-winning students credited the program’s flexibility and the supportive mentoring by its faculty members as its strongest assets. The Center for Gerontology, which administers the graduate certificate program, serves as the university’s organizational unit and focal point for aging-related research and educational activities.

Karen A. Roberto, director of the Center for Gerontology, called the students “innovative, creative, and productive individuals who continuously seek and engage in new challenges for professional growth and development.”

Bowen, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology, assists in the Adult Day Services program at Virginia Tech. “Working in ADS has been a very rewarding experience and I have not been able to leave,” Bowen said. “We provide quality, empathetic care for these older adults and relieve their caregivers for a few hours a day. It is a very important service, and it gives me a better understanding of frail older adults and their needs.”

Bowen plans to use part of her scholarship to attend the Gerontological Society of America conference in November in New Orleans. There, she will present a paper with her adviser entitled "Taking 'Women's Work' like a Man: Husbands' Experiences of Care Work." This research examines men's spousal caregiving work, the type of care work they do, how they do it, and what it means to be a man in a "female" role. Bowen’s research interests include inequality and health with an emphasis on race and ethnicity.

Brossoie, a Ph.D. candidate in human development who has worked with nonprofit and formal service agencies, is particularly interested in community supports of aging parents raising adult children with developmental disabilities or mental illness. “Virginia Tech’s certificate program is very flexible because it provides a core basis of understanding of aging issues but recognizes that gerontology is an interdisciplinary program,” Brossoie said. “Age-related issues influence all aspects of our lives. It is not just limited to the study of Alzheimer's Disease and nursing home issues. The certificate program encourages students to incorporate their knowledge, skills, and abilities gained from their main course work and view it with an aging lens.”

Husser, like Bowen, was drawn to gerontology because of her relationship with her grandparents. A master’s student in human development, Husser also has a passion for the natural environment and wants to “bridge this interest by developing opportunities for older adults to connect with the planet and younger generations.” Husser also works at ADS, where she facilitates intergenerational activities.

One out of every nine people in America is now age 65 or older. This is the fastest growing segment of the population, and the trend is projected to continue for decades ahead. As a result, analysts predict the creation of 900,000 additional jobs in gerontology and related fields in the coming years.