Gerontology Graduate Educates Community Through Training, Advocacy
KSU alumna Jessi Barton was already involved in the aging field when she discovered our Gerontology certificate program. However, her experience in the course marked a transformative experience – both professionally and personally.
After she earned her business degree in 2003, Jessi spend a decade working in finance. In 2012, she transitioned to sales and marketing with a focus on assisted living, independent living and memory care. Her day-to-day responsibilities include raising awareness about the assisted living community, working with families and seniors transitioning to these centers and connecting with prospective residents.
With the purpose of remaining in the senior-living industry, Jessi wanted to learn all she could. That is where our certificate course came into the picture. She felt it would enhance her marketing efforts and ability to understand her clients.
“I didn’t look any further once I saw CCPE had a program,” she said. “I was excited to find a course that aligned with my profession. [It] taught me what resources were available for seniors beyond my limited knowledge, some of the behaviors associated with an aging adult and what the future might possibly hold for seniors.”
The Gerontology certificate is a nine-month program and ends with a capstone project with the potential of practical application in a professional setting. Jessi’s project was a reflection of her personal connections and concepts she learned in the program. She said, “Little did I know that [it] would set me on the track I’m currently embarking [upon].”
The inspiration for her project stemmed from her friends and family, many who worked as public safety officials. One of Jessi’s friends shared an experience with finding a missing person with dementia.
“More specifically, he was curious if he had handled it appropriately,” she said. “It made the wheels in my brain start turning.”
This spurred Jessi to research the level of training that officers and other public safety members had in this area. The data was useful for her capstone project and led to an opportunity to volunteer and train with the Alzheimer’s Association. She now represents the organization during Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for law enforcement at Georgia’s Public Safely Training Center.
She said her project revealed the need for increased training on dementia-specific behaviors for officers. This includes role-playing in which the officers experience distracting sounds, altered vision, dexterity limitations and shoe inserts which stimulate neuropathy (numbness).
Due to the training, the officers said they feel better equipped to handle a call and approach someone who possibly has dementia. One officer said he encountered an elderly woman during a traffic stop and was able to better communicate with her.
“I will help bring the training to as many departments as I can,” Jessi said. “I would love to see the training expanded and be required for all officers, not just those seeking CIT training.” In addition to her work with AA, she is able to leverage her assisted living connections and work with individual departments to train officers.
Since graduating from the program, Jessi has served as an expanded resource for seniors in the workplace and through her volunteer work. She loves the extension of her education of how best to serve the senior population.
“[CCPE has] helped and changed the path I’ve taken in my career. It’s so fulfilling to give training that could improve a call for both the officer and patient,” she said. “Without KSU’s program, I might have never discovered this niche outside of my role in assisted living sales and marketing.”
Jessi encourages anyone with interest in the program to pursue the certificate. In addition to enhancing skills to kick start a career working with seniors, the course also prepares individuals for some of the unexpected factors – such as legal documents and availability of services – that accompany working with the elderly. She also encourages prospective students to seek opportunities to volunteer at nursing facilities, senior centers, and assisted living centers; and to spend time with older adults, whether they be family members or church members.
“Our older adults can give some of the best life information,” she said. “Just spending time somewhere they congregate will help you know if Gerontology is the right field for you.”
Jessi’s compassion for this demographic extends beyond the classroom and her career. She wants to spread advocacy for this group. Healthcare inequities and skewed perceptions of senior citizens are just two examples of the issues Jessi is passionate about.
“Society loses patience easily over elders. And I think it all represents that we push our seniors to the side,” she said. “However, the Baby Boomer generation is active and enjoys cultural activities that we as a senior industry need to be prepared to accommodate.”