President Elect Rosemary Blieszner of the Gerontological Society of America will be speaking about friendship networks among the elderly at the 23rd Annual Russell B. Clark Gerontology Conference. It will be held March 13 at 7 p.m. in the Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center Assembly Hall.
Vaughn Call, conference director and BYU Gerontology Program director, says his aim for the conference is to provide students an opportunity to learn from some of the top gerontology scholars in the world.
“The Gerontological Society of America is the largest gerontological organization, so this has been a real coup for us to get her,” Call said.
Blieszner will be giving another address the second day of the conference, March 14, at 11 a.m. in room B190 of the Joseph F. Smith Building.
“Students will be able to interact with her in sort of a question-answer period,” Call said. “In the past you never had that—researchers would come in and give a presentation and that’d be the last you’d see them.”
The conference has recently increased its emphasis on student attendance.
“They are given to the opportunity to interact, pose questions and present what they’re doing to some of these top people in the field,” Call said.
Call hopes that any student interested in the subject of gerontology will come, regardless of major or career path.
“A lot of people wonder what gerontology is good for,” said Gerontology Program Secretary Brittany Fuez. “It’d be a good minor for a lot of people working with baby boomers. A lot of people will have jobs working with the older population even if they don’t expect to.”
Over the past few years, the format of the conference has also changed.
“We’ve set up two presentations instead of one,” Call said. “So they have the general overall lecture which is the keynote address on Wednesday night, which is targeted toward the student body, professors at large and community members if they want to come.”
At the Wednesday night lecture, BYU Professors John Kauwe and Brent Nielsen will give brief presentations on their research done with the grant money they were awarded at last year’s conference.
“The following day at the 11:00 hour Rosemary is giving an additional lecture on looking at aspects of family support and earlier forms of dementia,” Call said. “That’s really a scary situation that a lot of people just don’t want to deal with any more, but is becoming much more prevalent. Anyone is welcome who’s interested in gerontology or working with elderly people.”
The gerontology program at Brigham Young University is open enrollment and shares its responsibilities among several different colleges.
“We have three colleges that sponsor our program,” Call said. “So right now the program is housed in the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences. The others are nursing and life sciences.”
The program does not offer a major at BYU, but it offers multiple ways to supplement an education with a study of gerontology.
“It’s a program, so there’s a minor and a certificate,” said Fuez. “The most students come from the nursing program because clearly something that’s going to be hit upon huge, but also social work and family studies, life sciences, neuroscience, psychology and public health, because it kind of goes along with their majors.”
But attending the conference could be beneficial to anyone, regardless of discipline or career path—especially when it is put in a religious perspective.
“The elderly also provide opportunities for us to serve in the church,” said Jeremy Yorgason, a professor in the School of Family Life. “As mentioned in James 1:27, I believe, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows…'”
Yorgason also pointed out that the elderly often serve just as much as they are served, especially when they are visited.
“And certainly they give,” Yorgason said. “When you go and visit the widows in your ward, you greatly benefit from interacting with them and hearing their testimony, and just being strengthened by them.”
The field could also be a source for inspiration in choosing a profession, in addition to providing information that could supplement any career that involves interpersonal interaction.
“It’s interesting, there are jobs out there,” Call said. “It’s a growing industry because of the baby boom. There are going to be all types of jobs for service technicians and health professionals for working with older people.”
Additionally, the conference could provide students opportunities to learn about other activities the program engages in, such as working with the Huntsman World Senior Games as well as opportunities in research.
“This conference is an opportunity for the students to see the type of work that can be done in gerontology,” Call said. “It’s quite an experience.”