Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who you will be in 50 years?
UCCS understands that you are not alone in that question, and out of the variety of majors and minors the university offers, gerontology might assist in answering that question.
Morgen Thomas, senior instructor of sociology, broke down the study to its essentials. She explained that the etymology of the root “geron” is “old man;” gerontology means “the study of the old man.”
According to Thomas, the field ranges from the research and statistical side of aging, such as collecting data about the ages of a population, to exploring interpersonal connections between generations and finding ways to humanize and support our elders.
“[Gerontology covers] the whole wealth of knowledge and experience that our elders have to offer us, and then working on revaluing that because they tend to be devalued in our society,” Thomas said.
The Gerontology Center Website outlines the requirements of the minor, which include 12 credits specific to gerontology and six credits of specific electives that range in topic, from health sciences to communications with a couple of philosophy or VAPA options.
In Thomas’ view, this minor is particularly useful for fields such as nursing or social work but working with and understanding elders will make students better candidates in any field.
“Regardless of a student’s major, the gerontology minor is a wonderful addition, because it’s likely that they’re working with humans, and those humans are going to be aging,” she said. “I always tell my students, ‘We need you in this minor.’ Not only does it give students an opportunity to work with elders and support elders, [but also] they themselves are getting older. It’s a life course experience.”
Thomas emphasized the interdisciplinary importance of understanding gerontology and the aging process when studying topics such as economics, political science, geography, social class, criminal justice, the arts and more. The universality of aging makes it an important factor for all bodies of knowledge.
Thomas has recently taken charge of student field research placement. She works on campus, but also with students who are studying gerontology across the country, as far as the San Francisco Bay area.
She connects with gerontology resource centers for research and support in and out of state, such as Silver Keys Senior Services and Anthem, a supportive agency for gerontology field placement. Studying gerontology opens travel opportunities for broader-scale research and experience.
On a larger scale, one of the biggest social problems that gerontology can combat is ageism and discrimination in a culture that sees aging as a negative.
“We know we live in an ageist society. The more markers of age, the more likely it is that we will be discriminated against, that there’s going to be assumptions made about our memory and ability,” Thomas said.
“If we can foster connections across generations … that just has a humanizing effect all around, and that’s really important,” she said. Gaining a better understanding of the aging process will not only help us to better understand our elders, but to learn from their experience and the wisdom they have collected over time.