Countries around the globe are experiencing an unprecedented growth in the population of older adults. By 2025, nearly 20 percent, or one in five people, in the U.S. will be age 65 or older.

West Virginia is firmly entrenched in this demographic shift – its population is the second-oldest in the U.S. Many of these older adults are currently at risk of poverty, obesity, disability and limited access to medical and social services.

To help address the needs of a changing society and the state, West Virginia University’s Division of Social Work is offering graduate and undergraduate certificates in gerontology that allow students to obtain a multidisciplinary perspective on aging.

“The study of gerontology is a valuable and effective way to enhance the professional careers of those in a variety of industries, like health care, human services, social work, business and marketing,” said Karen Harper-Dorton, Ph.D., chair of the Division of Social Work. “This program offers specialized training to ensure that various programs, products and services are delivered in a way that is sensitive to the needs and preferences of elders.”

WVU’s gerontology programs give students an opportunity to explore the basic biological, psychological and sociological processes of aging, the effects on needs and experiences of older people and the impact on social policies related to human aging. Emphasis is on understanding the unique challenges of older adults in Appalachia and other rural areas, as well as knowledge of the historical and cultural perspectives that influence status.

In fall 2009, the graduate and undergraduate certificates in gerontology were transferred from the WVU Center on Aging to the Beatrice Ruth Burgess Center for West Virginia Families and Communities. The Burgess Center, housed in the WVU Division of Social Work, was endowed in 1994 in recognition of the Rev. Beatrice Burgess, and her distinguished service as a social community organizer, church worker, minister and lobbyist committed to the state. She dedicated her life to service to families and communities throughout the mountains and coal fields, and was very active in issues related to aging, becoming president of the West Virginia Coalition on Legislation for the Aged.

“There is no better place for the delivery of these certificates than the Beatrice Ruth Burgess Center where preparation to serve older West Virginians can continue as the Rev. Burgess had worked for,” said Harper-Dorton. Nancy Lohmann is the director of the Beatrice Ruth Burgess Center.

The graduate certificate in gerontology requires 15 graduate credits of coursework in gerontology, rural elderly, public policy, and culture, diversity and aging. Candidates must meet WVU’s graduate admission requirements and acceptance is determined by the appropriateness of the individuals’ background and motivation. Applicants should demonstrate mastery of an elementary gerontology via an introductory course, an equivalent course, or an exemption examination. Students can take a designated amount of hours without enrollment in a graduate program and a 3.0 grade point average must be maintained.

The undergraduate certificate requires 18 undergraduate credits of coursework, including an internship serving older adults.

To learn more about the Division of Social Work’s certificates in gerontology, visit

To enroll in either program, contact Shelley Hopple in the Division of Social Work at (304) 293-3780 or 304-293-3501.



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