New Gerontology program to help aging Boomers in Wisconsin

September 16, 2013

A new degree program at Mid-State Technical College, or MSTC, is designed to address the need to provide services for an aging population in central Wisconsin.

The college has begun offering a two-year associate degree program in gerontology, the study of the physical, mental and social changes in seniors as they age. The program is available only at the Stevens Point campus.

Beth Smith, associate dean of MSTC’s Service and Health Division, said the program was in development for a few years before receiving final approval by the Wisconsin Technical College System board back in March; it is only one of two in the state. Smith said MSTC was a good choice for the program because of the demographics of the region.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates that around 17.7 percent of the population in Wood County was 65 years old and over in 2012; 15 percent were older than 65 in Marathon County and 13.7 percent in Portage County.

“We had to show that a program like this would have strong enough interest here, and that there would be jobs in the community for our graduates,” Smith said. “The population is aging, particularly at the local level, and that population will need people who can provide services to them.”

Smith said graduates from the program could serve as activity directors at senior living centers, as lobbyists or advocates for the elderly or could work at aging and disability resource centers. The Wisconsin Technical College System estimates the annual salary for a graduate of the gerontology program at $27,940.

Sarah Gray is one of three activities directors at Harmony of Stevens Point, an assisted living facility at 1800 Bluebell Lane. After being laid off from Sentry Insurance about five years ago, Gray opted to go back to school and get into the health care industry. After earning a degree in business administration from MSTC, she worked for Aurora Community Services for two years, managing an adult family home, before joining Harmony a year ago.

“I was one of those people who never thought I would be working at a place like this, that I was happy behind a desk,” said Gray, 26, of Stevens Point. “After I got laid off, when I looked at what was out there, this profession was a great option. There were a lot of jobs out there, and I found that I enjoyed working with people.”

Smith said the program now has 11 students, and around 27 students are taking general education courses and will be able to enroll at a later date.

“That’s definitely a stronger number than we were expecting, but I think it shows the interest there is in this field,” Smith said.

Sheila Bluhm is the primary instructor for the gerontology program, and helped Smith in getting it approved. Bluhm is teaching the first course in the program, introduction to social gerontology, which will cover several issues related to aging — family relationships, social support, retirement, poverty and politics.

“It’s meant to provide a foundation that we can build on throughout the program,” Bluhm said. “It was exciting to get this program put together, because we feel like this will have a real impact locally.”



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