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Seniors citizen

Gerontology graduate’s scholarship let her spend time on community outreach while learning how to improve the ageing experience

Volunteering at an assisted living facility made Alexa van Aartrijk (M.S.’19/HP) fall in love with working with older adults. It also made her aware of critical deficits in their long-term care.

“It worried me,” van Aartrijk says. “So I wanted to get a master’s degree that would help me understand the problems older adults face and how we can improve their care and their lives.”

As a gerontology student in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Health Professions, van Aartrijk learned about disrupting ageism and became passionate about eliminating the stigmas and stereotypes associated with getting older.

“I didn’t realize how systemic these problems were in our society,” she explains. “Once I started learning about it, it changed my life.”

Receiving the Walters-Wilkerson Memorial Gerontology Scholarship and the Theresa Thomas Health Professional Scholarship in Gerontology allowed her to spend time outside of class volunteering with organizations that serve older adults in the Richmond, Virginia, area.

“A lot of students are working nights and weekends to make ends meet, but I was able to use that time to focus more on community outreach,” she says. “It felt like someone was looking out for me even though they had never even met me before.” 

Immediately after graduating last spring, van Aartrijk joined the VCU Department of Gerontology as community education coordinator. In her role, she plans and coordinates evidence-based continuing education training for professionals working in assisted living and adult day care centers.

“Whether it’s through education, research or training, I want to play a big part in making the experience of getting older exciting, fulfilling and healthy for our older population,” she says.