Today’s Boomers are creative, active, entrepreneurial, gaining national attention
Photos and Story by Kate Chester
The end of May marks the beginning of “completion ceremony season” at Portland Community College, and this year is no different. The gerontology program helped kick off this year’s celebrations by hosting its certificate and degrees completion ceremony at the Sylvania Campus on May 30.
Enrollment in gerontology continues to climb, with 40 students earning a total of 90 degrees and certificates this year. Graduates exit the program prepared for work in retirement and senior centers, among other facilities.
“I’m just so proud of these students and their accomplishments,” said Jan Abushakrah, director of the gerontology program.
“Many are representative of the wave of ‘baby boomers’ who were left unemployed when the economic recession took hold in 2007. They’ve turned to community college for re-training for new lines of work and are applying their own life experiences to the process – which is incredibly enriching for all of us,” said Abushakrah.
They also represent a growing number of students in the program who are developing innovative enterprises to serve older adults.
A current student – Larry Cross – renovated his home to accommodate his mobility needs and in the process launched Serendipity DeZign, a consulting firm specializing on accessible, functional household design targeted toward seniors.
Since graduating from the gerontology program, Leia Faulconer has developed an at-home visitation service for seniors with dementia. She spends quality time with her clients in their homes conversing, reading to them, taking them on walks through the neighborhood, as well as driving her clients to destinations that keep them active physically and mentally – to choir practice, the bowling alley, and nearby nature hike parks.
“Thanks to the gerontology program – and Jan’s constant encouragement – my self-confidence has just blossomed,” said Faulconer, who credits this as the reason for her business’s successful launch.
In addressing this year’s graduates, Faulconer noted the strategic importance of networking – be it to find work at a facility or to start a business.
“If I can offer one piece of advice to current students, that would be to take advantage of every volunteer or internship opportunity you can,” Faulconer said. “The more you get yourself out there, the more people you meet and get to know – which helps to create those moments of being at the right place at the right time and can lead you to your dream job.”
The completion ceremony also served as an opportunity to announce national news associated with PCC’s gerontology program.
Portland Community College has been chosen as one of 11 “champion” community colleges in the country that will assist the American Association of Community Colleges to expand its Plus 50 Encore Completion Program to 100 additional colleges throughout the nation.
The Plus 50 Encore Completion Program aims to create academic programs that help “baby boomers” – those 50 years old and older – receive job training and earn a certificate or degree related to health care, education, or social services. This supports AACC’s mission to increase the number of students who finish degrees, certificates and other credentials with value in the workplace.
The AACC anticipates that broadening its outreach to 100 new colleges will translate to educating 10,000 additional students, aged 50 and older.
“Through our work with older adults seeking education and training to pursue an encore career, we’ve learned how to provide support, overcome obstacles and help students achieve their dreams,” said Abushakrah.
“As a Plus 50 champion college, PCC and the gerontology program look forward to assisting new Plus 50 colleges by sharing our experience with them – and in the process, making our own program even more responsive and effective,” she said.
The Plus 50 Encore Completion Program was developed thanks to a $3.2 million grant the AACC received from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust. The 11 champion colleges will receive grant funding to help with outreach to the new 100 colleges.
“PCC will use its funding to expand its peer mentor program, extend networking efforts with community partners and employers, and further develop job skills workshops and other services for students to launch their careers through internships and jobs,” said Abushakrah.
In addition to PCC, 10 other community colleges – including two from Washington State – were selected as champions to work with AACC:
- Anne Arundel Community College (Arnold, Md.)
- Cape Code Community College (West Barnstable, Mass.)
- Clark College (Vancouver, Wash.)
- Clover Park Technical College (Lakewood, Wash.)
- College of Central Florida (Ocala, Fla.)
- LaGuardia Community College (Long Island City, N.Y.)
- Prince George’s Community College (Largo, Md.)
- Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.)
- St. Louis Community College (St. Louis, Mo.)
- Westchester Community College (Valhalla, N.Y.)
Linda Gerber, Sylvania Campus president, applauded Abushakrah’s ongoing efforts to expand and bolster PCC’s gerontology program.
“Jan is one of the most energetic and creative individuals I have the pleasure of knowing,” said Gerber. “Her leadership is bringing great momentum to PCC – and that translates to opportunities for our students.”