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"Students who go into the Gerontology Program often come in with a couple of different career focuses. Our program accommodates those students whose interest is more one-on-one, more family oriented, more into counseling, as well as those students who are more interested in administrative work."

Dr. Kenneth J. Doka
Professor of Gerontology
and Multicultural Education
Graduate School
The College of New Rochelle



Dr. Doka, what is Gerontology?

Gerontology is the study of older persons. It is an interdisciplinary field that includes biological, psychological and social changes in later life as well as a study of the programs and policies designed to assist older persons.


What degrees in Gerontology do we offer at CNR?

We have a masters degree program of 36 credits. For those students who have a masters, there is a certificate program that allows them to be prepared to work with older persons or in counseling, or to provide care management to older persons living with their families. It is a program that essentially trains people to work with an ever-increasing and increasingly diverse older population.


Is Gerontology a new academic discipline?

I think it’s a new discipline. You can debate whether it really is more of a professional degree or a discipline in and of itself. I’ve actually written on some of the educational debates about the issue. I think the answer is often that it is both a discipline and professional training because it draws from sociology, psychology, biology, and medicine. It is an intriguing field.


Dr. Doka, what do you teach at The College of New Rochelle?

I teach courses that relate to counseling, such as Dying and Death; Grief, Mourning, and Bereavement; Counseling the Culturally Diverse; Family Process and Therapy, as well as Ethics in Counseling, and other such required courses.


12 percent of the population right now is over 65, and that figure will increase as the baby boomers age. So it’s a population– especially as one gets to the end of the life cycle—that is vulnerable and needs services. There is a growing network of services and programs that have been developed to support and nurture this part of the population.




Can you explain in a little more detail how you approach these courses as a professor?

We can look at these courses in two ways. One set of courses that I teach, and primarily the major set of courses that I teach, relate to death and dying. Every semester I teach a course on dying and death, which is a kind of psychology of life-threatening illness, grief, mourning and bereavement, which is really a grief counseling course, and children and adolescent death and loss, a course that focuses on the particular needs that children and adolescents have as they face a variety of loss situations. The overall approach in these courses is to give people specific strategies, both for understanding and for counseling.

I also teach a series of courses directly related to the counseling process. One course is Family Process where the goal is to understand the role of the family system and to work effectively with families. The Counseling the Culturally Diverse course prepares students to counsel people from different cultural groups. Ethics in Counseling is a very important course at the College because we want our counselors not just to be competent and culturally sensitive, which we do, but we want them to operate with the highest form of professional ethics.


How are we an increasing aging population?

Well, about 12 percent of the population right now is over 65, and that figure will increase as the baby boomers age. So it’s a population– especially as one gets to the end of the life cycle—that is vulnerable and needs services. There is a growing network of services and programs that have been developed to support and nurture this part of the population.


With regard to your own experiences, what is your academic background?

I majored in sociology at Concordia College in Fort Wayne. I then went to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri for my masters in Divinity and to be ordained into Lutheran Ministry. While at Concordia Seminary, I also attended St. Louis University and received my Doctorate in Sociology from this very fine Jesuit University.

Returning to New York, I spent eight years at Concordia College in Bronxville and also was adjunct professor here at CNR. I became a full-time faculty member at The College of New Rochelle in 1981.


Beyond the classroom and the campus, what are some of your other activities.

I am the editor of Omega Journal of Death and Dying, the official journal of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and naturally I write a great deal in the field. I am completing a book now on pain management. It is my eighteenth book. I am also compiling a four-volume reference set on Major Works in Thanatology.
   
As consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America, I edit Journeys, a newsletter for bereaved persons and I plan and participate in their annual teleconference – the largest death education event in the US.  At 2000 sites, including The College of New Rochelle, over 125,000 individuals participate.

I lecture on the topic of grief, death and dying throughout the United States as well as internationally. Last December I was at a week-long meeting of The International Work Group (IWG) on Death, Dying and Bereavement in Hong Kong. This is a group of leading scholars, clinicians and researchers in the field who meet to study together. The documents that they produce set the standards for the care of the dying and bereaved.

In November of 2005 I was asked by the United States Department of Defense to speak at a conference in Hawaii on the issue of the remains of missing persons from the Vietnam War. The conference included foreign ministry and military personnel from nine nations. I stressed in my lecture the importance of physical remains in Western culture and the way that the absence of remains leaves families wondering about the certainty of death or the fate of the person missing, thus complicating the grief. 


I like to think all my students are successful. I don’t like to compare one group of students with another. I love them all equally – but differently.




What sort of student is attracted to the field of Gerontology?

I think students who go into the Gerontology Program often come in with a couple of different career focuses. Some clearly are interested in counseling and working with older clients and older persons. Some are interested in administration, and see their life’s ambition as running a nursing home or a senior center. Our program accommodates those students whose interest is more one-on-one, more family oriented, more into counseling, as well as those students who are more interested in administrative work.


Do you notice if they’re older students or not?

Students in the Gerontology Program historically have been a little older than other graduate students. They are people in their 30s and 40s, compared to the usual graduate students who are in their 20s and 30s. But all of our students, in all of our programs in the Graduate School, come from a range of people in their mid-20s to their 70s.


So students don’t come just to fulfill a certificate so much as they come because they’re interested in the field?

That’s right. Most of the students in the Gerontology Program are here because they really want to be here and have a burning interest in that subject area.


In summation, are there differences in the types of students?

I like to think all my students are successful. I don’t like to compare one group of students with another. I love them all equally – but differently. How’s that for a sound bite?
 
Perfect!


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