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2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Winners

Tina Gunn
By Tina GunnMay 30, 2014

After careful review of all submissions for our annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology, we have narrowed down the list of compelling essays. A Place for Mom proudly presents the 5 winning essays from over 300 entries, and we invite you to read and comment on each one.

Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalists 2014

Congratulations to each of our scholarship winners! Between our scholarship review committee and our judges, we were treated to an array of thoughtful and innovative essay entries this year.

Stephen Johnston, Aging 2.0 Co-founder and 2014 scholarship judge shares,

“I was impressed and inspired by the quality of the essays – it was a really hard job to choose between such universally insightful and passionate advocates of innovation. I hope they all go on to pursue their visions.”

We invite you to read the winning essays, and the finalist essays below that made the top 10 cut. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship, you can read all about eligibility, rules, topic and how to apply over on our scholarship page.

Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Winners:

Scholarship Details

By 2025, the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 7.1 million — a 40% increase in the number of those currently affected. How we prepare for America’s “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers is of critical importance. We asked scholarship applicants to submit an essay that answered two questions: What innovations in the senior care industry need to happen in order to care for our aging population? What contributions will you make to solving this problem?

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The scholarship was open to anyone currently pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or graduate-level studies in the fields of gerontology, medicine, nursing, social work, sociology or related field. Applicants where asked to submit a letter of introduction with work history, their reasons for seeking a degree and why they thought they were a good candidate for the scholarship.

This year’s judges included:

Top 10 Finalists’ Essay Focus and Background

Alicia Roth: Technology to improve quality of life for both caregivers and patients

Alicia is a graduate student in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida, pursuing her Ph.D. and studying clinical health psychology with a specific focus on gerontology and behavioral sleep medicine. Her work as a study therapist and as a trained clinical psychologist, has allowed her to work on numerous therapy cases with caregivers and seniors.

She is focused on making a difference in seniors’ lives by developing treatments for insomnia in medical populations, including caregivers and patients with dementia. She plans on improving the sleep of caregivers through in-home monitoring, like Skype and CBT therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. “Caregivers of persons with dementia are an exponentially growing population in the U.S. that is heavily burdened psychologically, physically and financially and the research I am involved with has the potential to substantially improve their quality of life,” she says.

Read Alicia’s winning essay

Deepa Shah: Creating operations, technological and cultural innovations in healthcare management

Deepa is pursuing a Healthcare Management MBA at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Here, he has the opportunity to study operations and culture at Geisinger, the VA, Cleveland Clinic, the UK’s National Health Service, and other health systems dedicated to senior care. Deepa has aspirations to become a senior care quality director at a large U.S. medical group.

Deepa’s commitment to senior care shines through his work history. His experience with Archstone, Ross, Kaiser and Wharton will help him in “directing investment in continuous improvement, soliciting new technology in analytics and senior care delivery, and influencing policy to incent all health organizations to adapt towards a higher quality and higher efficiency that can adequately serve America’s aging population.”

Read Deepah’s winning essay

Jennifer Tu: Inter-generational interaction to increase quality of life, health, and a sense of belonging in seniors

Jennifer is studying neurobiology at Harvard College and plans on pursuing a career in geriatric medicine. In recent years, she has served as a director of three Harvard organizations to improve the quality of life of those with Alzheimer’s, which range from matching college students with Alzheimer’s patients, to providing college music groups with senior audiences.

Her experience working in nursing homes across the U.S., has inspired Jennifer to advance gerontology by using inter-generational social interaction to increase the quality of life and health in seniors, and create a sense of community and belonging for all. “I believe that experiences in medical care and social integration will be mutually reinforcing and make a significant impact in the lives of the elderly,” she says.

Read Jennifer’s essay

Jennifer Wilson: Improving care options for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients

Jennifer is a graduate student in the Masters of Social Work program at Stony Brook University, who is working towards finding innovative ways to improve care options for seniors, specifically, those afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Her experience working for an elder law firm in addition to her career in social work, has allowed her to work directly with seniors and their care —through therapy sessions, coping and life care planning.

Through her work experience, Jennifer found a strong desire to educate, advocate and improve senior care. She says, “As a social worker, it is important to find innovative ways to address this “Silver Tsunami” of aging baby boomers. I believe that the way to do this is through increased education and advocacy, as well as having innovative point of entry systems in place that are capable of guiding and assisting with the needs of seniors and their caregivers.”

Read Jennifer’s essay

Kathryn Skira: Lobbying for Medicare expansion for seniors and mental health treatment

Kathryn is a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Mental Health Counseling at the University of Pennsylvania, who is working to become a clinician focused on senior mental health. Her experience working in an in-patient geriatric behavioral health unit as well as in a local hospice agency, has allowed her to witness seniors, their grief and their mental health treatment first-hand.

Her experiences have shown her the importance of addressing mental health issues appropriately as a mental health clinician, and she hopes to have the opportunity to continue to counsel seniors when she is completed with her studies. “My long-term goal is to develop an organization that helps seniors continue to socialize and remain active in their communities through volunteer opportunities and partnerships with public service providers,” she says.

Read Kathryn’s essay

Krystal Culler: Utilizing therapy animals to assist seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia

Krystal is a doctoral student in the Behavioral Health Management program at Arizona State University, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. and working towards her goal of serving geriatric populations in her career. Her work — from her master’s degree in the psychology of adulthood and aging to a graduate certificate in gerontology — has allowed her to work with seniors and their care for an extended period of time.

These experiences, in addition to her personal experience with dementia, has inspired Krystal to focus on making a difference in seniors’ lives by intersecting aging and dementia, with service animals and behavioral health care services. She plans to create a program that will utilize therapy dogs to assist seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. She says, “Service dogs (companion dogs) provide support to individuals in numerous ways and although I was only visiting my grandmother with an assistance dog in training, numerous individuals received positive interactions from the presence of the dog in the facility… There is clearly something unique about the human-dog interaction, especially among Alzheimer’s disease patients.”

Read Krystal’s essay

Megan Zepp: Developing healthcare practice improvements, Alzheimer’s prevention research, and housing and insurance changes

Megan earned a Master of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology at John Hopkins. The work she accomplished as an undergraduate in studying genetics connected to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and other mental disorders allowed Megan to develop her own research project and scientific findings. She now is pursuing a doctorate of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

Megan’s love for medicine started at the young age of four, and was influenced by her grandfather, an anesthesiologist. Throughout her youth, she volunteered at assisted living communities and nursing homes. Megan’s family eventually moved her grandmother into an assisted living community, and she understands on a personal level the emotions and decisions a family faces with this kind of choice. She will use her skills and compassion to create meaningful solutions for seniors.

Read Megan’s winning essay

Nicholas Bott: Researching anatomical and lifestyle factors associated with superior cognitive aging

Nicholas is pursuing doctoral work in neuropsychology at the PGSP-Stanford Consortium and renowned UCSF Memory and Aging Center, specifically focusing on the diagnosis and management of neurodegenerative disease. He is actively working on “identifying the neuroanatomical, cardiovascular, and lifestyle factors associated with superior cognitive aging, and translating these findings into actionable behavioral and health interventions that can be adopted by older adults to promote their cognitive health.”

Prior to his doctoral pursuits, Nicholas served as a pastor for seven years where he provided pastoral care and counseling. It was during this time that he witnessed the difficulties families face in caring for a loved one with neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia and Parkinson’s. Nicholas believes his experiences gives him a unique perspective into cognitive aging and hopes his research will help the quality of life of seniors and their families.

Read Nicholas’ winning essay

Piper Smith: Changing cultural norms in how society views the elderly and how we care for them

Piper is a sophomore at Missouri State University working towards her Bachelors of Science in Nursing. She aspires to become a Family Nurse Practitioner and work with a private practice doctor or in an inner-city hospital. Piper is actively involved with her school, serving on the Student Activities Council and R.E.A.L. Bears, an organization aimed at strengthening student and alumni relationships. Piper works with a campus-run tutoring program, helping students with Chemistry, Anatomy, Nutrition and Physiology. In addition, she volunteers at nursing homes, Children’s Mercy Hospital, homeless shelters and with the Adopt-A-Street group.

Piper’s passion for healthcare resulted from an experience at the age of four. She was unable to take normal steps due to tightly wound Achilles’ tendons. Her family had little money to spare and the Shriner’s Hospital in St. Louis provided such incredible care for the young Piper that is stuck with her. Although the healing was a painful process, she watches home videos of herself smiling and laughing with pink leg casts on and wants to provide low-income families with the same hope and hospitality that her family received.

Read Piper’s winning essay

Vania Leung: Changing perceptions in the U.S. to help seniors have a sense of belonging

Vania is in her third year of medical school at the University of Illinois, College of Medicine. She has volunteered at nursing homes and community clinics, leading seniors in activities, translating at screening events and educating seniors on a variety of health-related topics. Vania has also spent time on the research side, investigating peripheral arterial disease and cognitive deficits in Parkinson’s disease. She has also participated in MSTAR, a program that examines the use of modern technology in the lives of seniors.

“The centenarians in Okinawa share the secret to their success at longevity, that ‘ikegai’ is something to wake up to everyday; something that roots everyone to stay on this earth.” With the increasing number of Baby Boomers aging, Vania hopes her medical pursuits will help the American senior care industry to define a new ikegai for seniors, to have a sense of purpose and contribution in our society. She strives to combine her volunteer, research and clinical experiences into “creating effective senior care as a geriatrician in the future.”

Read Vania’s essay

Want to read more? Check out the 2013 finalists and winners from last year’s scholarship applicants.

What innovations do you think needs to happen in the senior care industry to care for our aging population? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tina Gunn
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Tina Gunn
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