LeadingAge Magazine · January-February 2018 • Volume 08 • Number 01

Meeting and Mentoring the Next Generation of Leaders

January 19, 2018 | by Gene Mitchell

A new initiative drew college students from all over the country to the 2017 LeadingAge Annual Meeting & Expo in New Orleans. The students met professionals in our field and learned more about the many career opportunities in aging services.

While aging services providers are rightly concerned about the ongoing workforce recruitment challenges they face, there is good news as well: There are lots of young people who want to work in our field.

In 2017, LeadingAge launched a program to bring college students to LeadingAge conferences. The goals were simple: Give young people a way to learn more about our work and the career opportunities it offers, and help them meet LeadingAge members who can serve as informal mentors—offering their own perspectives on the value of working in the field.

Another goal was to put to rest a stereotype that aging services careers are limited to clinical or social work jobs. The participating students would be exposed to the many lines of work in our field—in business management, communications, information technology, marketing, design and many other areas.

Forty-nine students from all over the country, recruited via faculty, social media, LeadingAge members and schools, attended the 2017 LeadingAge Annual Meeting & EXPO in New Orleans.

At the meeting, 2 student events were organized: The first was an orientation event where students were introduced to LeadingAge and had a chance to interact with a group of member volunteers, who talked to students about their career goals and why working in aging services could be a great career choice.

The second was a “Student Townhall Meeting” the next day, where students were able to share their interests and concerns with a panel of professionals. Moderated by Denise Boudreau-Scott of Drive and Marvell Adams of Collington, the lively discussion touched on a variety of topics including: why they are interested in aging services, challenges with recruiting and retaining aging services workforce, ideas about how to attract people into the field, and more. The students were passionate about wanting to work in aging services and make a real difference.

Students were also invited to both general sessions, encouraged to attend as many education sessions as possible, and to visit the Expo to meet vendors. Many of them attended a reception with the LeadingAge Young Professionals Network.

To help defray the cost of attendance, LeadingAge offered some scholarships to cover the cost of conference registration (and a few scholarships that covered travel costs). A later survey showed that more than 80% of respondents applied for a scholarship, and 75% of respondents said the scholarships influenced their decisions to attend.

Student Feedback

Attendees reported their experiences at the meeting, all positive.

“It was cool to run into so many pros in the field that had plenty of experience, and to get advice from them,” says Chandler Hulke, a health care administration student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “I walked away with a pile of business cards, and people offered to help and talk any time. It was great how many [members] were willing to help us, the soon-to-be young professionals.”

Hulke adds, “There’s an extremely high chance I’ll [work] in aging services. My passion is with aging people, and I think there’s a negative stigma in our society that goes along with that, and if I can be a small part of changing it, that’s what I want to do.”

Andy Siegel, a masters in health care administration (MHA) graduate student at George Washington University, came to the meeting as something of a veteran in our field. He began volunteering at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington when he was 14, and has also worked for a hospice provider. After his graduation in May, he’ll join an administrator-in-training program at Goodwin House in Alexandria, VA.

“I went to a number of sessions, especially focusing on home-based services,” says Siegel. “I love the CCRC model but also the aging-in-their-own-homes model. The Townhall was my personal favorite: It was interesting to hear everyone’s perspective, and the take-away for me was a call to action to change the terms we [use] in the field. We compare ourselves to acute care, and we speak down about our own prospects and the prospects of the field. We may be perpetuating that unfortunate stereotype.”

Siegel says he learned a lot in education sessions, particularly about changing Medicaid reimbursement models: “It was great to just listen. It got my mind spinning on things that could come my way any time. And everyone was pretty open about their difficulties.”

Taylor Reed, a senior at Cornell who plans to pursue a MHA, says, “The first thing that was encouraging to see was how many people are involved in aging, from CEOs to vendors and staff, and for students to see that many people traveling across the country to New Orleans.” She appreciated the networking and exposure to many different types of work.

Reed also came to the meeting with some aging services experience in her pocket, having worked as an intern at St. Ann’s Community in Rochester, NY. “It was helpful to see the other opportunities in the field—almost any job you want—and I didn’t know that when I originally decided to get into aging.”

Shannon Mehaffey, a senior in health administration and policy at George Mason University, hopes to go right into the aging services workforce when she graduates. She went through “an informal AIT program” a few years ago at an Indiana life plan community.

Mehaffey most enjoyed the opportunity to network and meet professionals in the field: “I was moved by how much thought people had put into the personal aspects of senior living. There was one comment someone made that I love: At the town hall, lots of people were talking about how they loved the people and the relationships, and one person spoke up and said, ‘Don’t forget, this is a business.’ It showed that there’s a good partnership of the 2; that people are incredibly passionate about the population they’re serving.

“One benefit of the meeting was just meeting people in the field who were excited about what they were doing,” she adds. “More exposure to that was crucial. And to see people of different ages: That’s encouraging to students, to meet people of all ages in the field.”

A number of students sent thank-you notes afterwards. A few examples:

  • “Attending sessions and connecting the content I have learned in the classroom with the current practices in the industry was a very exciting aspect of the event for me. The networking opportunities our group participated in were also very impactful and are another aspect of attending the event I enjoyed; our group from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire was presented with opportunities for future education and personal growth. (Nathaniel Berg, health care administration major)
  • “LeadingAge was such an amazing and educational experience. I am so grateful to have had the experience to learn more about aging services, which is something I have a passion for. Having the opportunity to meet so many influential individuals far exceeded my expectations.” (Emily Greenwood, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire)
  • “Thank you for making our student attendance to the annual LeadingAge conference possible through the very generous scholarships. It was an incredible opportunity to gain knowledge about the field through the educational sessions, and make lasting connections with respected professionals in aging services. It was an experience I will never forget.” (Marissa Laher, health care administration major, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire)

The Future

More student programming is planned for future LeadingAge meetings. Students are being recruited for this year’s PEAK Leadership Summit; see the student details here. And plans are underway to draw even more students to the 2018 LeadingAge Annual Meeting & Expo in Philadelphia. Finally, in 2018, LeadingAge plans to focus on attracting more people into aging services and reaching students early in their careers as one way to steer them in our direction. Click here for a description of our 2018 action plan for the Center for Workforce Solutions.

What Can We Do to Welcome More Student Interest?

LeadingAge would like to hear from members:

  • What else can be done to inspire more interest in working in our field from young people?
  • Is there potential in your region for creating local coalitions to help communities address the needs of their aging population, and expose them to the wide variety of aging service jobs?
  • What are the best ways LeadingAge could help to create more internship opportunities with member organizations?
  • Do you do outreach in your area, or do you have relationships with high schools or colleges that expose young people to aging services? If so, we would like to learn more.

Send your thoughts, suggestions or questions to gmitchell@leadingage.org or 202-508-9424.

Gene Mitchell is editor of LeadingAge magazine.