CHHS Gerontology Student Selected to Receive Graduate Assistant Award

Nancy Francis, who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Applied Gerontology through the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences, has been named the recipient of the UNCW Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for 2016-2017. Recipients of the award are individuals who demonstrate exceptional competence in teaching and mentoring of undergraduates, show clear mastery of their subject material and communicate it with enthusiasm and clarity to undergraduates.

Nancy entered the gerontology program in fall 2015. During her first two semesters, she served as a graduate assistant to Dr. Anne Glass, coordinator of the gerontology program. In fall 2016, under Dr. Glass’ supervision, she began working as a teaching assistant and instructed an online section of GRN 101 Introduction to Gerontology.

“For the most part, I was given full rein in organizing and running the online course,” Nancy says.

Though both teaching an online class and teaching undergraduates were new to her, she used the opportunity to create a method of online instruction that connected with students and engaged their interest in gerontology, using various delivery methods—such as videos, service learning, class discussions, articles and storytelling—to appeal to as many of her students as possible.

She also used the opportunity to develop and apply her own teaching philosophy, which she says is to “facilitate students making connections between themselves and new knowledge and information so they can expand their connection between themselves, others and the world.”

Getting students to understand their “aging trajectory”—the way in which lifestyle impacts aging—is significant in Nancy’s instruction, as it helps them understand the relationship between what they are doing now as young adults and what can sometimes seem like a distant future in which they are members of an aging population.

“Gerontology might seem like it’s about older adults,” Nancy says, “but it’s about all of life, and it’s about how you aim yourself toward your life.”

After cultivating curiosity and connection, developing critical thinking skills is something Nancy works hard to emphasize in her teaching. She puts a lot of effort into imparting the relevance of the field gerontology—and the competencies gained therein—to all other fields of study students might be interested in.

“There’s nothing that’s not affected by needing to interact with older adults,” she says. “Making a connection between the world of gerontology and [the students’ world] is what makes it click.”

After her success with teaching the online Introduction to Gerontology course in fall 2016, Nancy is currently teaching another online section of Introduction to Gerontology, as well as assisting Dr. Glass with the instruction of a face-to-face section of Introduction to Gerontology this spring. She travels from her home in Cary, NC to co-teach the in-person class once a week.

Nancy also participated in the prestigious 27th Annual Meeting of the SE Regional Student Mentoring Conference in Gerontology and Geriatrics in Atlanta this spring, where her presentation and poster on “Aging in Place,” a project focusing on cohousing and interdependence in the aging community, won an honorable mention prize.

“We have been extraordinarily fortunate to have this mature, caring and always dependable individual teaching our students,” Dr. Glass says of Nancy. “She has definitely gone above and beyond the typical expectations of a graduate teaching assistant.”

Nancy will graduate from the master’s program this June.