Brock’s first Master of Applied Gerontology grads aim to improve lives of older adults

Despite coming from different backgrounds, Brock’s inaugural class of Master of Applied Gerontology (MAG) graduates all have one thing in common — the desire to become leaders in the field of aging.

The group of seven graduates marked a historic moment for the program during the University’s virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18.

While some students have dreams of city life, Allison Sage (BSc ’19) came to Brock for the sole purpose of finding a career path that would lead her back to the people she knows and loves.

“I’m a homebody,” says Sage, who proudly identifies with her small community of Courtland, Ont., a village in Norfolk County. “I grew up with my whole family within a five-minute drive or a country block away. I love my family and have very close relationships with my grandparents, their friends and many of the older people in my life.”

Joining her sister Emily (BEd ’17, BPhEd ’17), Sage originally came to Brock as an undergraduate student in Kinesiology because she liked the community feel of the campus, was drawn to the program’s reputation and knew she would be able to join her sibling on the varsity ringette team. However, it was her volunteer experience with the SeniorFit program at the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being that turned her interest in health and working with older adults into a career path.

“I started volunteering for SeniorFit before I had enough credits to take the third-year experiential education course,” Sage says. “The more involved I got with the Centre and saw the positive impacts on its members, the more it all clicked for me.”

While growing up, Sage went to high school and played sports in the neighbouring town of Tillsonburg, Ont., and is eager to give back to the age-friendly community.

“The idea of being able to bring back specialized knowledge to this community has been my drive,” she says. “My end goal is to be an occupational therapist.”

When the Master of Applied Gerontology program was announced in 2019, Sage was completing her undergraduate degree and had been wait-listed for an Occupational Therapy (OT) program at another university.

“While waiting to hear if I got into OT, I heard about Brock’s MAG and thought, ‘this is right up my ally,’” Sage says. “It has been a great stepping-stone opportunity to help strengthen my reapplication to OT.”

The Master of Gerontology program, which began in January 2020, only had three months of in-class lessons before having to pivot online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the beginning, we were all very close, as all seven of us in this cohort had the same schedule,” Sage says. “After we were sent home, we maintained our connection online and it was a supportive experience.”

As part of the MAG program, a 300-hour practicum placement is required. Students’ goals and interests are assessed, and they are matched with community and health-care organizations that help to round out existing experience and fill gaps in knowledge and skills.

“Practicums are an essential part of our MAG program, providing students with an opportunity to ‘test’ theory and academic knowledge learned in the classroom in real-world work environments,” says Master of Applied Gerontology Interim Graduate Program Director Pauli Gardner.

Sage’s placement with Niagara Health provided the opportunity to shadow professionals in occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech language pathology. She also worked on a project to help make Niagara Health more senior friendly and presented her ideas to geriatricians and members of the geriatric assessment team.

“MAG gave me all the experience and training I needed to be accepted into Western University’s School of Occupational Therapy for September,” Sage says.

For Sydney Pullia (BScN ’19), who also received her MAG degree at Friday’s virtual Convocation, her passion for the field derived from her close relationship with her grandparents growing up.

She was always amazed at the stamina both of her grandmothers showed in helping to take care of five grandchildren. From a young age, she was also witness to what Alzheimer’s can do to a person and a family.

“I think back to the times when my grandmother would babysit all five of us grandkids, while at the same time taking care of my ailing grandfather,” Pullia says. “She would sometimes pile all of us into a car and drop him off at a respite centre. I didn’t really know at the time what was going on, but she was always really great at protecting us.”

It was this childhood experience and the early passing of her grandfather when she was in Grade 5 that left an imprint on Pullia, guiding her career path first into Brock Nursing and then to the MAG program for a geriatric speciality.

Growing up in Niagara Falls, Pullia witnessed the ongoing expansion of Brock and always heard wonderful things about the school.

“The ability to live at home with family, save money and participate in first year clinical experiences were all very attractive to me,” she says.

Learning about the prospect of the new gerontology program while still in third-year Nursing, Pullia instantly wanted to be in the first cohort.

“The pandemic has shown us how important gerontology is,” she says. “The elderly have experienced the biggest hit from COVID-19 being out of control in facilities that are supposed to be caring for this vulnerable population. Seeing on the news, the lack of support, shortage of personal support workers, learning of all the outbreaks and lives lost — Ontario needs to do better.”

Pullia did her MAG practicum at Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre, where she worked closely with nurses but also contributed to a fall prevention policy. She is currently working as a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, Parkwood Institute.

“I work in specialized geriatric services in a registered nurse role. We are focused on rehabilitation,” she says. “Patients come to us from acute facilities, or maybe they’ve had a fall or surgery. It’s my job to help make sure everything is in place for them to go home safely.”

Pullia describes her MAG experiences as a “year well spent.”

“We were the first group and I hope the faculty learned from us as we learned from them to better support the older adult population and add to the program in future.”

The Master of Applied Gerontology (MAG) professional degree at Brock University is designed for health professionals who work in the field of gerontology and recent graduates from a range of undergraduate programs who intend to pursue a professional gerontological health career.

“I extend my congratulations to Brock’s very first pool of highly skilled graduates with gerontological competences,” says Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Dean Peter Tiidus. “As each of you enter the workforce or continue your education and training in health-related professional fields, know that you are leaders with a unique interdisciplinary degree.”

The first cohort of graduates from the MAG program also includes Alison Amos, Ian Alcock (BSc ’19), Daniella Bozzo, Carleigh Silver (BSc ’19) and Kaitlynn Lutomski.

For more information, visit Brock’s Master of Applied Gerontology web page

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