2019-2020 PAC Scholars

Alexandra Acabá Berrocal

Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Internship: Penn Memory Center

Since I was a child, I have always had a special bond with older adults. I was extremely close to my grandfather, who had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, as well as other medical complications. Throughout my life, I observed as he faced the complexities of the medical system in the United States, and I always thought that older adults should be provided with extra support and access to services. The summer before my senior year in college, I had the privilege to work as a research intern at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Along with my mentor, who was a social worker, we designed and completed a research project to understand and outline the reasons why Latino patients remain in longitudinal studies at the research center. Last year, I was able to have two field placements, one at an agency that provides coordination services to individuals with disabilities, and another at Pennsylvania Hospital working with the Palliative Care team, which allowed me to work closely with this population. After these amazing experiences, I was convinced that my calling in life is to help older adults and that the best way to do so is through a career in gerontological social work.

Clarise Ballesteros

Hometown: Los Angeles, California; Little Rock, Arkansas

Internship: Penn Memory Center

I am interested in gerontological social work because I recognize the immense need to care for our aging population. Additionally, with a background in Developmental Psychology, I am interested in the development of the human body and mind across the entire lifespan and how emotional health influences this development. I hope to learn more about how best to care for older persons and their families.

Rebecca (Becca) Gallahue

Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia

Internship: Penn Wissahickon Hospice’s Inpatient Unit

While previously working at a legal services nonprofit in D.C., I saw how older adults in the city were particularly negatively affected by the lack of affordable, accessible, and up-to-code housing. I chose to obtain a certificate in gerontological social work because I believe older adults seeking to remain in their own homes should receive the necessary supports to do so. Furthermore, they should be able to access resources needed to ensure their housing is safe and secure. I was also inspired to pursue this specialization because of my own familial experiences with aging and cognitive impairment. The specialized training and mentorship offered by PAC additionally convinced me to join this year’s group.

McEllen Lawrence

Hometown: Hopewell, NJ

Internship: Penn Memory Center

In the United States, the term “aging” is too often associated with an end – end of parenthood, a career, health, and autonomy. Specializing in geriatric social work provides insight into the unique challenges encountered by older adults. Although aging presents a number of life changes, my hope as a geriatric social worker is to assist clients as they navigate challenges while also reframing aging as a new chapter full of opportunity.

Katherine Maddente

Hometown: Delafield, WI

Internship: Penn Memory Center

I am passionate about the needs of older adults because aging is a physical, social, and emotional transition that is severely underserviced and misconstrued. Older adults are frequently infantilized, undervalued, and excluded from conversations regarding their own care. I am proud to be an advocate for older adults as aging is a universal process and one that warrants a higher standard of consideration.

Older adults deserve communities that treat them with both dignity and respect while providing opportunities for them to thrive, be empowered, and lead fulfilling lives. Most importantly, they deserve providers, loved ones, and community members who can see beyond the challenges and marks of aging, to the person inside.

Shelby Shankman

Hometown: Livingston, New Jersey

Internship: Department of Cardiac Surgery, Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania

I have chosen a specialization in gerontological social work because I have a passion for maximizing life and all that it has to offer for older adults who may be dealing with important issues while aging. After my family and I took care of our grandfather, I saw the way that the health care system affected him and knew that I needed to learn more about it so I could enhance his quality of life. A specialization in gerontology will teach me the skills that I will need in order to eventually attain my goal of opening a private practice to service the needs of each vast population, while paying close attention to the various concerns that older adults may present upon initial meeting.

Leyi Zhou

Hometown: Beijing, China

Internship: Department of Radiation Oncology Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine

The aggravating trend of aging population brings serious impact to my home country China. I am always quite interested in this issue and hope to do some contribution in this area. My research and practice interests are mainly about aging people’s mental health, aging service in community setting and old immigrants’ social welfare. As a result, I chose the specialization in gerontological social work and plan to improve my practice and research skills in the future.

Sarah Bujno

Hometown: Northwood, NH

Internship: Penn Memory Center

Older adults present with a complex set of needs that continue to change through the aging process. I believe that these needs require specialized and carefully coordinated care to improve outcomes. Our society is unprepared to meet the growing demands of the aging demographic and progress relies on training new professionals to meet these needs in a caring and effective manner. Through PAC, I hope to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to positively impact the lives of older adults at a macro level. After graduation, I would like to evaluate health and mental health programs for older adults in order to improve intervention efficiency and efficacy on a large scale. I would also like to address mental health disparities faced by older adults through utilizing a public health and social work perspective.

Nora Garland

Hometown: Flemington, NJ

Internship: Department of Neurology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

I have chosen the PAC program because I am passionate about helping older adults, especially older adults with cognitive impairments. My grandmother has been battling Alzheimer’s Disease for the last few years. I have been inspired by the team of healthcare professionals who help my grandmother at the Memory Care Facility she resides in and thus I developed an interest in geriatric social work. I am eager to learn more about the intersection of aging and mental health. Through the PAC program, I hope to acquire advanced clinical social work skills for older adults and skills for supporting adults with cognitive impairments as well as their caregivers.

Allison Lipshutz

Hometown: Lafayette Hill, PA

Internship: Penn Geriatrics Ralston Center

I chose PAC because when I first entered the MSW program, I knew that I wanted to work with older adults in my future career. After learning the wonderful skills and opportunities that are provided for PAC students, I knew it was a certificate that would be beneficial. I was also eager to meet other students with similar interest areas to mine. Skills I plan to acquire are a greater understanding of various interventions available to older adults, strengthen my communication skills when working with an interdisciplinary team, facilitate meetings with groups such as caregiver support classes, and enhance my critical thinking when working with older adults, including their families. After graduation, I plan to apply the skills that I have acquired while working in a hospital setting.

Katherine Navarette

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Internship: Salvation Army - Booth Manor Residence Home

I’ve always been told that I have an old soul and I’ve never doubted that, especially because I really enjoy spending time with the older people in my life. I feel that older people are often being looked over and are not being as valued as they should be. They have so much wisdom and stories to share with (mostly) anybody who is willing to listen. The death culture in America is also taboo and I feel that it’s really important and valuable for older people and their loved ones to be able to live in the present moment and enjoy the time they still have (with minimized anxiety and fear), instead of dwelling on and/or waiting for death to happen. I chose PAC because I wanted to grow and learn, both professionally and personally. Also, so I could share the knowledge I gain in the PAC program, promote wellness, quality of life, and provide my service to the older adults throughout the rest of my career.

I plan to acquire knowledge in end-of-life care and planning, bereavement, and caregiver burnout. Another skill I would love to acquire is more (hopefully extensive) knowledge about insurance companies, coverage, and policies. This would be really beneficial to help any patients, but especially older adults with medical problems, illnesses, ailments etc. who need the extra support. I plan to be well-rounded after completion of my second year in the MSW program, especially with the knowledge and skills that I will learn in PAC.

Miriam Pomerantz

Hometown: Baltimore Maryland

Internship: Jefferson Hospital, Outpatient Oncology and the Cancer Support Center

I have chosen the PAC program because I wanted to learn more about working with older adults. The PAC program offers great experience and valuable training sessions that I could not wait to apply. I have previously worked with older adults in different settings and I felt like it was an area that I want to explore further. I plan to continue to explore my options. I have enjoyed working as a clinical social worker in hospital settings. I love meeting different patients and hearing their individual stories.

Laura Vargas

Hometown: Miami, FL

Internship: Penn Memory Center

I chose the PAC program because I believe that older adults are a vulnerable population whose needs are often brushed aside. Furthermore, I believe that older adults deserve great respect and assistance with living lives with dignity. I want to be able to help these individuals address any needs that may be keeping them from living meaningful lives, such as health and mental health care needs, poverty, and difficulty navigating services. My orientation towards social justice has motivated me to help make a positive difference for this growing population. I am looking forward to the skills and experiences that I will gain as a PAC scholar so that I can apply them to my work with older adults and their caretakers. I would like to acquire skills in inter-professional work and in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Problem-Solving Therapy through my gero-social work practice. I would also like to learn more about working on policies that affect older adults, so as to be able to enact lasting social change.

Matt Volpe

Hometown: Asbury Park, NJ

Internship: Penn Memory Center

I chose to join the PAC program because it aligns with my interest in providing counseling services that bolster the mental health of older adults and their families. I was drawn to PAC because of its direct mentorship opportunities, gerontology curriculum, specialized clinical trainings, professional resources, and tightly-knit cohort of PAC scholars. My previous personal and professional experiences have inspired me to pursue a career in which I can improve the quality of life for older adults. Our nation’s growing need for geriatric mental health professionals has further cemented my dedication to the field.

I hope to acquire advanced clinical skills in a variety of therapeutic modalities, including: cognitive-behavioral therapy, problem-solving therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and cognitive retraining. My professional development will be further enhanced by additional experience facilitating groups, conducting assessments and selecting appropriate interventions, acting as an advocate for the needs of older adults, and collaboratively working on a multi-disciplinary healthcare team.

Kailin Worden

Hometown: Guilford, CT

Internship: Penn Geriatrics at the Ralston Penn Center

Personally, I have experienced the joys of learning from older adults who have so much to offer. I have also had family members that have struggled with physical deterioration, abuse, and cognitive dysfunction. Emotionally, I’ve seen these experiences take a huge toll on older adults and their family members. I joined PAC because last year I developed an interest in palliative care and how grief and loss affects a family system. I also really enjoy being part of a team of supportive and brilliant people who are just as passionate about caring for older adults. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to learn how to best support people through the problems that so many older adults face in this society today. After graduation, I hope to work in a cancer center or hospice setting to follow my interest in palliative care.

Cynthia Clyburn

Hometown: Charleston, SC

Internship: Penn Medicine, Cognitive Neurology

I have chosen the PAC program because not only does it cater to my passion for gerontology, but it also helps me gain important clinical and inter-professional skills that can be used in a variety of settings. PAC offers a unique opportunity for trainings and real-life simulations that prepare students for practice with older persons. This program is also an excellent way to network and learn about other careers and resources within the field. I hope to acquire skills in cognitive behavior therapy, and particularly problem-solving therapy.

Sumin Dai

Hometown: Xiamen, China

Internship: COMHAR Behavioral Health

Having worked and visited care services for older adults in several countries across a variety of settings, I always felt a personal connection with older individuals and found that their needs in mental health care are far from being met, especially the ones affected by cognitive impairment from dementia, neurodevelopmental disabilities, and/or other conditions. Working with older adults in the field of behavioral health will be a rewarding and impactful career choice. The PAC program offers intensive training, specialized coursework, and a supportive cohort, which provides invaluable learning opportunities for my professional development.

I plan to acquire advanced skills in developing and executing mental/behavioral health treatment plans for older adults considering their unique strengths and needs, providing support and counselling on issues such as grief, bereavement and end-of-life decision-making, and enhancing coping capacities for individuals and their caregivers affected by chronic health conditions and caregiving burden.

Michael Johnson

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Internship: Ralston Center for Older Adults

My social work goals are to work towards advocating for older adults; I am particularly interested in advocating for LGBT older adults. The ways in which I might become an advocate have yet to be fleshed out. I can envision myself working in a governmental setting where I can help make sure that the policies being crafted are inclusive of the entire older adult population. However, I can also see myself working for a small organization or even a large organization, such as Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

Tiara Jones

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Internship: Penn Medicine, Abramson Cancer Center

I chose the PAC program because of my interest in developing a career focusing on the older adult population. I have spent my entire undergrad working with this population through volunteer work and internship. I also chose the PAC program because I want to continue learning more about this population, the risks, their strengths, and how to assist them to the best of my ability. My plan after graduation is to acquire my license of social work and start along the path to pursuing my career within a geriatric setting, such as a nursing facility, senior center, or within the department of aging various branches.

Jonathan Riley

Hometown: Aberdeen, NJ

Internship: VAMC Philadelphia

I chose the PAC program because I remember the social workers and nurses who provided quality care for my Grandmother when she was battling cancer. Having a social worker help navigate systems and connect my Grandfather to social support was immensely helpful. I want to dedicate my career to being that calming, steady influence for older adults and their families when they encounter changes, planned or otherwise, in their lives. The PAC will provide many opportunities to learn how to be an effective gerontological social worker, allowing me to fulfill my career goals. I plan to pursue a career working in the VA with older adult Veterans who are suffering from long-term mental health illnesses.

Arielle Schreier

Hometown: North Palm Beach, FL

Internship: Penn Memory Center

I have chosen the PAC program because I am passionate about working with older adults. I want to engage in work that helps older people because they are a growing population that is often neglected in our society. The older population is one that deserves as much attention as any other, yet often they do not receive it. When deciding where to pursue my MSW, Penn stood out to me specifically because of all the opportunities the PAC program offers. I am excited to acquire skills to use in the field as well as develop an understanding of the needs of older adults. After graduation, I plan on pursuing a career working with older adults in a clinical capacity. My goal is to work with older adults and their families to provide the services and therapy needed in order to help the older adults age gracefully.

Catherine Westerduin

Hometown: Hawthorne, NJ

Internship: PTSD Clinic, VAMC Philadelphia

One of the primary motivators for me to join PAC is the desire to reduce the occurrence of elder abuse in my community and beyond. I firmly believe that performing any knowing, negligent, or intentional act that can put a person at harm is unethical. The fact that all 50 states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention legislation is a sign of progress, but reveals a disturbing prevalence of this behavior. As a social worker, I would like to serve this community in order to encourage supportive and mindful treatment of older persons among caregivers, to help reduce this tragic trend. Furthermore, witnessing my own grandparents’ interaction with hospitals and nursing homes has bolstered my conviction that these facilities are often understaffed, financially inaccessible to low-income adults, and/or poorly equipped to ensure the client’s emotional and mental wellbeing. The skills I learn in PAC will be invaluable when applied at my upcoming internship at the VA, in order that I may adequately address the specific and often complex needs of aging veteran populations.

Jing Xu

Hometown: Zheijang, China

Internship: Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, ACE Unit

From my first-year field placement at Dialysis Renal Centers, I have been exposed to chronic medical conditions among older adults. My internship has kindled a strong desire in improving the quality of mental health care for older adults. Through the PAC Program, I hope I can realize my goal of being a social change agent and a leader in gerontological social work. I am interested in mental health and I hope to acquire the necessary clinic intervention skills so as to work effectively with older populations and their families. I also hope to gain knowledge on aging policies about physical and mental health care so as to be prompt social changes in geriatric social work.

Lori Zaspel

Hometown: Wilmington, DE

Internship: Joan Carnell Outpatient Cancer Center, Pennsylvania Hospital

My interest in death, dying, and bereavement brought me to the PAC program. There’s also the issue of practicality: what populations are growing, are under-served, and will be growing in the future. PAC was both a passionate and practical choice. I would like to further develop my direct clinical skills in the area of grief and loss. I would love to work in medical or hospice social work following graduation.

Lauren Zelouf

Hometown: Merion, PA

Internship: Penn Memory Center

As an aspiring geriatrics specialty social worker with a passion for working with older adults and their families, I chose the PAC program to gain specialized skills and knowledge that will allow me to best serve this population. The PAC trainings particularly interested me as did the curriculum focusing in on the complex issues many older adults face as well as the evidence-based interventions to address their unmet needs. The emphasis on learning the social work role on an interdisciplinary team will aid me in my future in the medical field. I hope to acquire skills in problem solving therapy, CBT, and depression screening. Additionally, I look forward to learning how to best support caregivers throughout their loved one’s illness trajectory. These skills will be helpful to me at the Penn Memory Center, which is a medical and mental health setting serving older adults with memory disorders and their families. After graduation, I hope to pursue medical social work either with a home care agency, a LIFE program, or in a hospital.

Shannon Ericson

Hometown: Phillipsburg, NJ

Internship: Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

My interest in the PAC program was sparked right after I started my first year field placement, at Journey’s Way. Accepting the internship, I was skeptical, because I only had minimal experience working with older adults previously. I had interned at an eating disorder unit my senior year of college, and some of the patients were older adults, but I felt that I connected better with the patients that were teenagers. However, I immediately fell in love with the population. I saw how neglected by society their needs are, and how many hardships many of them have faced throughout their lives, but their energy and zest for life is contagious. It was amazing for me to see these older adults still loving life, despite everything they have gone through, and it really inspired me to help every older adult feel this way about their own life. After graduation, I hope to continue working with older adults in a hospital setting, while also working towards my clinical certification.

Kelsey Fleming

Hometown: State College, PA

Internship: The Penn Memory Center

After my first year field placement at a Skilled Nursing Facility, I realized that I want to work with older adults in my professional career. Prior to graduate school, I had always worked in the field with children and families and I felt that I was lacking some useful skills in working with the older adult population. The PAC program interested me as a way to acquire additional specialized skills that will make me a more capable, confident, and well-rounded social worker in my future practice. In the PAC program, Problem solving therapy, CBT, life review therapy, and other evidence-based interventions will allow me to effectively engage older clients and their families. I would like to continue working with older adults in a medical setting, such as a LIFE program, a nursing home, or a skilled nursing facility. I am also interested in medical social work in a home care setting.

Megan Fucci

Hometown: Hartford, VT

Internship: The Penn Memory Center

The PAC program will offer experiences I seek in order to work with a population that I have continuously had a passion for. Through PAC, I will be able to work in an interprofessional environment while gaining specialized skills that will set me apart from my peers. In choosing PAC, compared to other aging programs, I was impressed by the community it creates within its students, as well as the content of the specified classes and the exposure to different gero-social work organizations and trainings in the Greater Philadelphia area. I am looking forward to learning the skill set that accompanies group therapy with older adults and caregivers, as well as gaining knowledge working alongside Neurology professionals.

Monica Hanza

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Field Internship: Ralston Geriatrics Primary Care

I am interested in working in health care and want to have the skills and knowledge to work effectively with the aging population and their families. advanced gero-social work practice skills are you planning to acquire? Advanced gero-social work practice skills that I am planning to acquire include: (a) execute a comprehensive geriatric assessment and cognitive functioning; (b) enhance the coping capacities and mental health of older persons through a variety of therapy modalities; (c) utilize group interventions with older adults and their families; and (d) assist caregivers to reduce their stress levels and maintain their own physical health.

Deirdre MacFarlane

Hometown: Collingswood, NJ

Field Internship: The Penn Memory Center

I have chosen the PAC program because I am passionate about ensuring older adults receive the level of care that they need and treated with dignity and respect. I am also motivated to change the negativity and stigma surrounding aging and older adults. I am interested in learning how to utilize different therapeutic modalities with older adults in individual therapy and group therapy. I am also interested in learning how to collaborate with caregivers, so that they receive the level of support they need and can more fully meet the needs of their family members. For my future plans, I am interested in working as a medical social worker with older adults either in a hospital or home care setting.

Cynthia McCormick

Hometown: Saxton, PA

Internship: Penn Wissahickon Hospice

When I decided to enroll in the MSW program at Penn the presence of the PAC program was highly influential. The challenges older adults face are complex and they deserve practitioners and clinicians who are fully equipped to address the issues at hand.  I have chosen to be a part of the PAC program as I have a strong desire to serve older adults and recognize that passion alone is not enough to bring to the table.

The PAC program will complement the education I am receiving in other courses at Penn by providing me with more population-specific education. I will expand my knowledge and insight into the issues older adults face and acquire the skills necessary to positively impact lives. Pairing the field seminars and specialized training sessions that PAC provides with my internship at Penn Wissahickon Hospice I will acquire hands-on experience and opportunity for growth that will prove to be invaluable.

Molly Reilly

Hometown: Washington, DC

Internship: Meyer Treatment Center in Washington, DC

I am interested in gerontological social work because I was a family caregiver for seven years and learned a lot about the needs of frail older adults and their families. Frail older adults living with multiple chronic conditions are a rapidly growing population, have special medical and social needs and challenges, and are, for me, a very rewarding population to work with. In the PAC program , I will acquire skills as a clinical practitioner in assessment while gaining a deeper understanding of the needs of older adults and their family support systems.  I will learn more about end-of-life support, and the macro-level transition trend from institutional care to community living, which has great potential to increase quality of life.

Amanda Solch

Hometown: Mountain Lakes New Jersey

Field Internship: Center for Advocacy, Rights and Interests of the Elderly

I will be working at CARIE (The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly). This agency advocates for older adults, working to get them equal access to justice and ensure they have the proper supports and services. They use a “case to cause” model of advocacy to address the older adults’ problems on the individual and systemic levels through their public policy initiatives.

Advocacy is very important for older adults and I would like to not only advocate for them but help individuals become advocates for themselves to ensure they are listened to and receive the proper services and supports. The whole family is involved when working with older adults and I would like to learn more specific communication skills and listening skills to understand the desires and concerns that all family members may have and work to make sure everyone’s voice is heard- this would ensure the level of trust I would want to obtain with clients. I want to be able to learn more advocacy skills in order to become more confident when advocating on a local or state level. No matter what the issue is that the individual is experiencing, I would want to be able to motivate or gently persuade other parties to get my client the services he/she need. I would also like to gain a better understanding of what specific interventions or services are applicable to older adults and be able use critical thinking skills to act in order to ensure the client is treated fairly and receives the help they deserve.

Julia Stiffman

Hometown: Briarcliff Manor, NY

Field Internship: Hahnemann University Hospital

I have chosen the PAC program for the advanced training opportunities and professional feedback it will afford me as I further develop my social work skill set and prepare for a career working with elderly individuals and their families in healthcare settings. I’m planning to acquire the skills of utilizing conceptual frameworks and research evidence to think critically in my approach toward working with elderly individuals and their families.  I am hoping to pursue a career in healthcare social work after graduation.  I believe that the skills I develop through PAC will help me in effectively working with individuals and families from diverse backgrounds, by honoring their core values and beliefs while assisting them in making the best possible decisions for their loved ones.

Lauren Tempesta

Hometown: Bayside, New York

Field Internship: The Penn Memory Center

I chose the PAC program because it aligned with my interest in serving the older adult. population, and offered unique field placement opportunities to hone my skills and build connections with other professionals in the field – an excellent networking opportunity. PAC is the only program of its kind, that I was aware of, offering specialized training with real-time feedback to improve my skills. The opportunity to share the experience with other members of the PAC cohort makes the year even more enriching, as PAC students can broaden their knowledge of the resources available to older adults and the issues facing the population through fellow students. I will be interning at the Penn Memory Center, providing counseling, support, and other services to older adults who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, along with their families and caretakers. I hope to gain skills necessary to work as part of a comprehensive health care team, especially to build my confidence in assessing patients, selecting appropriate intervention strategies, and sharing my outlook with other professionals in my team. I am most looking forward to honing my skills as a counselor-therapist focused on treating older adults with depression.

Xingran Weng

Hometown: Beijing, China

Field Internship: Penn Presbyterian Medical Center-Acute Care for Elderly Unit

I share a very close relationship with my grandparents. They have kept inspiring me since I was a child. When I graduated from college, I made my decision to acquire gero-social work skills as my long-term career goal. Since the aging population has been exponentially increasing globally, I realized that this was an important area to focus my  efforts. I am glad I could find this competitive certificate program (PAC) to learn more and reinforce on my academic and professional interest. It is wise for me to choose the PAC program to grasp the interdisciplinary knowledge through the PAC courses, specialized trainings, and the advanced field placement. Not only can PAC provide the rigorous training specific to develop my professional skills in geriatric areas, but this opportunity also reaffirms me to insist on my own interest assiduously. Thus, I could learn the knowledge to advocate for and serve older adults.

Yuanyuan Yu

Hometown: Shanghai, China

Internship: Brit Sholom Senior House

Working with older adults is my lifelong passion. With an increasingly diverse demand of elderly needs and interests, I am eager to make contributions to the aging population by maximizing their strengths and addressing their specific challenges. I chose to be part of the PAC cohort because I can get intensive and professional training in this program, together with people who are also interested in specializing in geriatric social work. Advanced social work practice skills that I will acquire include techniques in communicating with people in later adulthood; understanding, their physical and mental conditions and needs and being able to conduct effective evidence-based interventions such as Problem-Solving Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Natalie Jengo

Hometown: Franklin, NJ

Field Internship: Penn Memory Center

My decision to become a part of the PAC program was an easy one. I have always had an interest in working with older adults so when I found out UPenn SP2 offered a certificate program specifically working with this population, I knew I wanted to be a part of it to gain further knowledge and a more developed skill-base working in this field, which this program would offer to me. My PAC Field Placement is at the Penn Memory Center and Geriatric Psychiatry, which specializes in research studies of those with diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, offers Cognitive Fitness classes along with social support groups and/or counseling for those with these diagnoses as well as for the caregiver and/or family members. I plan to acquire more in-depth direct practice clinical skills working with my clients through the rotational field seminars required of the PAC program as well as learning how to effectively work in an inter-professional team setting. I look forward to the Standardized Inter-Professional Team Communication Training.

Kellie O'Donnell

Hometown: Oreland, PA

Field Internship: Muller Institute for Senior Health, Abington Memorial Hospital

I have always taken a strong interest in the welfare of others and have a passion and commitment to making a positive influence in people’s lives, especially in the lives of aging individuals. I believe that this unique program will allow me to receive special training in the field of gerontological social work that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. The multimodal approach to training ensures that I, as a student, will gain well-rounded exposure to the various issues facing older adults, and develop practice skills to become an effective advocate for this population.

David Scheid

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Field Internship: Penn Treatment Research Center

I have been fortunate to work with older adults throughout my clinical career—from transporting critically ill nursing home patients, providing end of life care as a hospice volunteer, and counseling World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans—these experiences taught me to appreciate the diversity in one person’s life history and treasure the genuine connections possible with older adults. As a Penn-Hartford Geriatrics Social Work Fellow in the Penn Aging Certificate Program, I will have the opportunity to continue working with older adults and be trained to address the special needs of this growing population. This experience and education will complement my graduate studies in the PEARLS Fellowship Program, a clinical training program for students working with military veterans. I am interested in combining the skills gained in both fellowship programs to work with older military veterans needing mental health care. As a future psychotherapist, my goal is to serve where there is the greatest need, and as our military veteran population ages, these men and women deserve quality and veteran-centered mental health services.

Jessica Hartfield

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Field Internship: Philadelphia Corporation for the Aging

My personal and professional experience in working with older adults has blossom my interest in working with older adults into a passion. I want to continue working with older adults because I appreciate their unique perspectives, invaluable experiences and diverse needs. Many have spent their lives healthy and independent and should have the support, resources and advocacy to maintain their quality of life as the aging process sets in. The expected future growth of the elderly population in the United States signaling the increasing opportunities for geriatric professionals certainly motivated me to pursue this area of social work. However, as the years have passed and I have grown professionally, I have experienced the precedent need for more qualified geriatrics workers to meet our growing elder population needs. I want to actively be a part of the movement to address issues society faces as our population ages.

I bring to the PAC program a great tenacity for serving the older population. I bring cultural competence, possess strong knowledge of the healthcare delivery systems, and recognize appropriate methods for accessing various social service programs. I understanding the aging process is a normal process that we all will encounter and are connected to in some fashion. I have an appreciation for this ever-changing process and how it affects older adults function in society.  I recognize that Issues of aging and older adults are linked with all the fields of social work practice. To serve older adults effectively I realize the various systems that affect their lives both individually and collectively. I have had experience in working directly with clients, communities, government agencies, health care systems, and social services organization; and using that direct contact as a circle of advocacy to address those concerns on a larger scale. I have experienced from my work with CARIE that the individual and policy level must go hand and hand to create sustainably change and I am prepared to work at both levels to address their needs. Most importantly I bring a vigorous dedication to meeting the complex needs of older adults now and in the future.  I have been able to advocate for seniors on both an individual and systematic level and it has began to prepare me  to meet the challenging aging problems our society faces and how I can actively address those issues.

My projected future social work career goals are to work with the older population on a systematic macro level addressing social issues faced by our aging population. I’m particularly interested working in a health related site addressing the delivery of social services within healthcare system. Primarily I would like to work addressing the impact of Alzheimer’s in society by providing both direct and indirect services.

Raquel Perlman

Hometown: Princeton, NJ

Field Internship: Penn Memory Center

I chose to apply to PAC so that I would graduate with a specialty and with an enhanced skill set due to the extra learning opportunities that PAC provides such as the Standardized Clinical Patient Training at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Additionally, working with older adults allows me to work with a rapidly growing and underserved population, a population we will all one day join ourselves. I am interning at the Penn Memory Center, working with individuals who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Mild Cognitive Impairment and their family caregivers.

Elizabeth Sullo

Hometown: Port Chester, NY

Field Internship: Journey's Way Geriatric Counseling

As a research coordinator at the Penn Memory Center and a social work internship at Ann’s Choice Retirement Community, I have learned a great deal about the challenges facing older adults and their caregivers. I was eager to participate in the PAC program so that I could focus on learning more about the physical, cognitive, and psychological challenges faced by older adults and how best to work with their families. I also look forward to the learning experiences of my peers in the program.

Sloane Fowkes

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Field Internship: Abramson Cancer Center, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

The fact that Penn SP2 offered a special program concentrating on social work and aging was a key factor not only in my decision to apply to Penn initially but also in my decision to obtain my masters in social work at Penn. I started working with the elderly in high school as part of a teen community service group and quickly developed a passion for working with the aging segment of our population. Volunteering at a Senior Center I came to realize that the needs of aging citizens were often overlooked. It seemed that our seniors were getting the “short end of the stick” when it came to the resources to meet their needs. This Center was committed to helping seniors remain in their homes for as long as practicable. This led me to start a weekly grocery delivery programs pairing teens with seniors. My experiences made me realize how important it is to have a variety of services available for older adults – including in-home services so older adults can remain in their familiar home environment for as long as possible. As an undergraduate I was interested in continuing to work with older adults but despite a wealth of community service opportunities sponsored by my college none addressed the needs of the older adult community – so I started one – Senior Companions- a program that is still thriving on campus.

These experiences, along with an internship with a case worker at the Center during college, made me realize how difficult daily living can be for the elderly, the need for advocates for this community, the need for a wide range of services both in –home and in communal settings, and the importance of person to person contact for an isolated senior.  These experiences also made me realize how much I enjoyed working with the elderly and that I wanted to be a part of the solution in meeting the needs of this rapidly growing segment of the population. I chose the PAC program because I realize that being passionate about working with the elderly is not enough; I need to develop and fine tune my skills so that I can be effective in meeting the needs of this population. I believe the PAC program will enable me to do this and lead to a fulfilling career working with older adults – a group that I am passionate about working with in any number of different settings.

Kelly Kowalchuk

Hometown: Berwyn, PA

Field Internship: Ralston House Geriatric Primary Care

I chose the PAC program because I have always found myself enthusiastic about and enjoy working with the older adult population.  I believe the PAC program will help me to develop the skills I need in order to build a career in geriatric social work. I will acquire advanced gero-social work skills including: assessment and treatment of older adults, promote independence and dignity, assess physical and mental health needs of older adults, address quality of life issues; address issues regarding advanced care planning, and develop knowledge of unique legislation and policies.

Josephine Morjorana

Hometown: Point Arena, CA

Field Internship: Abramson Cancer Center, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

I believe that the skills and training I will acquire in the PAC program are essential to my work with veterans, a population that continues to age and faces new and compounding challenges as a result. I am excited to work in geriatrics, one of the fastest growing fields today, and to see how new knowledge and information impacts the older adult population in years to come. I would like to learn CBT with older adults, as well as how to treat depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse issues in the older adult population. I would also like to develop an understanding of how issues related to aging intersect with the various challenges that our nation’s veterans must face upon returning home.

Menekse Silpagar

Hometown: Clifton, NJ

Student Internship: DaVita Dialysis at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center

I chose the PAC program because I truly believe that there is a dire need to create innovate programs to help our older population improve the quality of their lives. As medical and technical advances continue to ease the physical symptoms of aging, the need for psychosocial support is real and must be addressed in order to alleviate the common psychological stresses associated with the later years of life.  I would like to broaden my knowledge on the interactions and effects that mental and physical illnesses have on the older population and their families. This knowledge will aid me in the assessment process and development of appropriate treatment plans of care.  I hope to be employed in a medical setting helping older individuals and their families to cope with stressors that are associated with a new diagnosis, chronic illnesses, and/or end-of-life issues. Ideally, I would like to stay in Philadelphia to give back to the community that has made my first year as an MSW student a truly humbling experience.

Jose Medina

Hometown: Miami, FL

Field Internship: Abramson Cancer Center

The shortage of gerontological social workers that our nation faces as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age is a daunting one. In addition, as age-expectancy increases clients/patients 65+ will be requiring services and supports for longer, further increasing the demand for highly trained gerontological professionals. The unique opportunity to receive specialized training via the Penn PAC program is one that I could simply not let go by. The multimodal approach the PAC program guides itself on will prepare us for our social work careers in many ways. To begin, the field internship at an agency that serves the elderly ensures unique interactions with a caseload of clients who are each undergoing the aspects of the aging process in their own way. The standardized patient simulations will serve as an opportunity to internalize methods of best practice in counseling elderly clients/patients, as well provide feedback from world class gerontological practitioners. Rotating field seminars will open our eyes to the many settings in which gerontological social work can take place, as well as make us aware of specialized services available throughout the Greater Philadelphia area that we could include in our toolbox of services and resources we offer to our clients/patients.

Bethany Heleniak

Hometown: Newtown, PA

Field Internship: LIFE program, St. Mary’s Medical Center

In my first-year field placement at a hospital, I encountered a significant amount of older adults and was particularly drawn to them. I want to work in hospital social work in the future and I expect that a large proportion of my clients will be older patients. Aging impacts everyone, so regardless of what life stage my client may be in, they will most likely be dealing with some aspect of the aging process or have family members who are older adults. I believe that the PAC program will provide me with a strong foundation of knowledge and experience on how to help older adults and their families have rewarding and healthy lives as they age.

Hilary Gould

Hometown: Simi Valley, CA

Field Internship: Abington Memorial Hospital

I have the passion and strong desire to serve the older population because I believe that they are an underserved population that deserves more. They have done so much for the generations after them to be afforded privileges and then are not treated with dignity. I want to be a change agent in serving older adults. The PAC program will prepare me for my social work career by focusing my classes, training and experience on serving older adults in a multitude of different facets. I will also be working with a cohort of peers that have the same driving force to be a change in the world for this population and I believe that I can learn more from them as well as the program itself, the professors involved, field work, seminars, and specialized trainings.

Junwei Sun

Hometown: Shanghai, China

Field Internship: St. Charles Senior Center

Coming from Chin, the PAC program will offer me specialized courses and field training with aging. We are part of a team with a goal for every member to devote to gerontological social work as a career objective. It is a great cohort for students to learn from and support each other in study and work since we have different backgrounds but similar goals.

Dianna Dorman

Hometown: San Diego, CA

Field Internship: Philadelphia Corporation for Aging

Seeing the social, economic and personal struggle aging individuals in my community have experienced in maintaining their independence has contributed to my passion for becoming a gerontological social worker. I believe aging shouldn’t be feared but embraced as a beautiful evolution with the potential for new avenues, experiences and relationships. Ensuring access to long-term care/home care services as well as protecting social security, are current policy initiatives that I am passionate about safeguarding. In order to become an effective advocate alongside aging Americans, acquiring both clinical and macro practice skills is essential in furthering my professional development. The PAC program will provide me with a well-rounded exposure to the personal, economic and political issues facing older adults.

Michelle Hicks

Hometown: Riverton NJ

Field Internship: Pennsylvania Hospital, Karnell Outpatient Cancer Center

The PAC program will prepare me for my social work career by providing me with skills specific to the geriatric population that I would not receive anywhere else. The PAC program focuses on clinical and macro practices that affect the aging population. The PAC program provides specific seminars and classes on the aging and also provides a simulated training experience. This experience will give me a chance to show my social work skills and also identify what I need to work on. As I continue with my social work career I will have experience in the field and in the classroom that will be invaluable. I will be better equipped to work within the geriatric population than any other MSW student.

Mimi Lewis

Field Internship: Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE)

When I first entered the MSW program at Penn, I knew that I wanted to apply for PAC and work towards a career in aging. As I explore the myriad possibilities in geriatric social work, I find myself drawn toward working with groups of the elderly and the community organizations that serve them—especially around issues of housing, health care, and transportation. I would love to be involved in providing socialization and community programming to the elderly, in an attempt to bolster and support the mental and physical health of an aging community. A part of my interest in group work with the elderly is also a desire to empower the elderly to advocate for community infrastructure and programs that meet their needs.

Sarah Stroe

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Field Internship: Penn Rittenhouse Hospice

I am eager to pursue a specialty in gerontological social work because of the universality of the field. I understand that everyone ages, and having social workers who are specifically trained to work with aging adults and their families better prepares us as a society to care for individuals as their needs change. PAC will prepare me for my social work career by giving me specific skills training that is universal across the lifespan. I am excited for both the hands on experience of working with an aging population and the opportunity to learn in a group setting, to discuss and debrief with a cohort that is having comparable but different experience as a collective.

Lisa Burkholder

Hometown: Marlton, NJ

Field Internship: Penn Memory Center

I have always had a propensity towards working in the field of aging. The PAC program will offer me specific training, courses, seminars, and simulated patient training, knowledge and networking opportunities in serving older adults. I will be interning at the Pen Memory Center, A National Institute on Aging designated Alzheimer’s Research Center performing assessments and delivering caregiver support group.

Lauren Magness

Hometown: Summit, NJ

Field Internship: Einstein Medical Center, Geriatric Psychiatry

There is an increasing need for gerontological social workers and the field calls for a multidisciplinary approach to service delivery. The Penn Aging Certificate will provide me with a special set of skills that will help to further my career in social work. My plan after graduation is to work in the mental health field with older adults.

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