Profiles in Social Work
A Passion for Aging Policy and Research
Nancy Giunta, Ph.D
Assistant Professor - Hunter College, School of Social Work
What attracted you to the field of social work?
Nearly twenty years ago, with a hot-off-the-press Bachelor’s degree in psychology, I became a hospice volunteer. I am not sure exactly what motivated me to do this, but I think it was a death and dying course at the University of Maryland College Park which sparked my curiosity. My parents were not thrilled. The reason they sent me to college was so that I could find paid employment upon graduation. I eventually found that too, but continued with my hospice volunteer work for about two years. I was always impressed with the ability of the hospice staff to work with such diverse families during trying times. I was also attracted to the complexities of the end of life process and the collected wisdom of the older adults I came in contact with. This wisdom seemed untapped and disregarded by societal norms, which seemed unjust. These experiences and observations, along with the close relationship I had with my grandparents when I was a child, motivated me to pursue a career in aging.
After my hospice work, I pursued a Master’s degree in gerontology from San Francisco State University. While I was a student at SFSU, various employment and volunteer opportunities arose in the areas of long-term care administration, caregiver support and advocacy, research, and grassroots organizing for health care reform. These experiences helped me realize I was most passionate about the field of social work, particularly in the areas of aging policy and research. I felt like I could make more of a macro impact in the lives of elders or people serving them. I loved working directly with older adults, but this work would not satisfy my need to help change the paradigm of how older adults are treated at a societal level. I also learned that I enjoyed conducting research and teaching.
I then had the good fortune to study with Dr. Andrew Scharlach at UC Berkeley as I pursued an MSW and PhD. As the Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services, Dr. Scharlach gave his graduate students a variety of opportunities to participate in designing, implementing, and disseminating valuable research in the field of aging. He was an outstanding mentor and role model. As an MSW student, I became very interested in designing and implementing programs and services which are accessible to diverse populations. These interests guided me in my doctoral work where I examined implementation of federal caregiver support policy at the state level.
How has the GSWI benefited your career?
A Hartford Doctoral Fellowship supported my dissertation work and helped me navigate my academic job search. The Fellowship was immeasurably helpful with connecting me to a network of scholars in the field of aging, providing technical assistance, and offering valuable mentoring around completing my dissertation and embarking on the academic job market. Networking, professional development, and “learning the ropes” from both current and future leaders in the field of aging was so valuable. I feel very lucky to now be on the faculty at the School of Social Work and Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging & Longevity at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Without the support of the Hartford Doctoral Fellowship I do not know if this opportunity would have been within my reach.
Also, I am thrilled be in the newest cohort of Hartford Faculty Scholars. This award gives me the opportunity to conduct research with my new community members and colleagues in New York City, and to further develop my teaching and research skills over the next two years. I particularly look forward to contributing evidence-based knowledge to the home and community-based service network and hope that this knowledge can be used to improve the lives of older adults. Specifically, I hope my work will help inform collaboration efforts between service providers as a way to decrease fragmentation and duplication.
How has it allowed you to do what otherwise would not have been possible?
The Hartford GSWI network is strong. It has helped me access one-on-one guidance from gerontological social work leaders who in most cases I would not have the opportunity to spend time with and learn from. I have also been introduced to a cadre of future leaders in the field whose work I may not have known about without the strength of this network.
What are your career goals?
Right now I am focused on disseminating the results of previous research and kicking off my Hartford Faculty Scholar research, a two-year study examining case management collaboration with the East Side Case Management Consortium in New York City. I hope that my next steps will be to further develop my craft as a scholar by advancing my teaching and research skills and to better understand the value of collaborative initiatives in serving older adults. I believe this will help me contribute to what many consider an imminent movement to re-design the way communities are meeting the needs of older adults.
- contributed by Jeannine Kremer, MSW, LICSW
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Updated on November 18, 2010