A social work career in the field of aging

Miriam Simmons and Ellen Line. Photo by Martin do Nascimento.

By Martin do Nascimento

About 10,000 “Baby Boomers” in the United States will turn 65 every day until the year 2030. By that year, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. This demographic change brings with it generational and cultural shifts that challenge traditional thinking about how older adults live their lives. Professionals in the multidisciplinary and exciting field of aging help this growing segment of the population stay productive, independent, and aging in their place of choice.

At the UT Austin School of Social Work, master’s students get ready to meet the anticipated demands of tomorrow’s aging population through the GRACE program, which is generously funded by the St. David’s Foundation.

“As social workers, our focus is on the needs: how can we best serve the needs of this growing population?” says GRACE program coordinator Sarah Swords. “That’s where the GRACE program comes in. It results from both the school’s longstanding interest in gerontology, and population trends that are telling us to start creating solutions now.”

Students in this program complete internships in agencies that primarily serve the needs of older adults and their families, under the mentorship of field instructors with expertise in geriatric social work.

Throughout the academic year, GRACE students attend lectures and workshops on important gerontology topics such as the neurology of Alzheimer’s disease, aging in the LGBTQ community, and hospice and bereavement issues.

In addition, they may be selected to attend the Ageing in America conference, which every year gathers professionals from across the nation to network and learn about innovations in aging and quality of life for older adults.

Social work students are also exposed to faculty members who are internationally known experts in the field of aging. One of them is professor Namkee Choi, who was selected in 2016 as one of the top-ten gerontology professors in the nation. Choi’s innovative research uses online technology to help older adults suffering from depression.