In her sophomore year, Julia Schroeder ’19 took a course with Professor Seana Moran that asked her to imagine what a life of purpose means to her. For her final project, Schroeder wrote about her desire to help older adults meet life’s challenges.
Three years later, she is fulfilling that goal by completing her master’s degree in public administration through Clark’s Accelerated B.A./Master’s Program while serving as a consultant for the Worcester Senior Center.
As an undergraduate, Schroeder double majored in psychology and sociology. “Studying both subjects allowed me to explore both the micro and macro levels of human behavior,” she says.
She conducted her undergraduate LEEP project with the Worcester Senior Center, where she was introduced to the concept of communities that support people living with dementia and their caregivers.
“The Worcester Senior Center was interested in pursuing some kind of dementia-friendly community programming that reached beyond the senior center, but they weren’t sure where to start, and didn’t have the time to conduct the necessary research.”
Schroeder jumped in, conducting a baseline program evaluation that outlined Worcester’s level of dementia friendliness and then recommending ways to improve it. At the end of the summer, she presented findings Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.
“This was a powerful learning experience for me personally, and was a significant step for building support for what eventually became Dementia Friendly Worcester,” she says.
Dementia Friendly Worcester is a grassroots initiative co-founded by Schroeder to increase awareness, ramp up education efforts, and make the city more inclusive for people living with dementia.
“The idea is that everyone has a role in increasing the quality of life for people who are valuable community members regardless of their diagnosis,” Schroeder says. “As the second-largest city in New England, and as a city with higher-than-average rates of Alzheimer’s disease, Worcester has a responsibility to be a leader in this movement.”
Schroeder took a few moments to fill us in on her work, Clark experience, and career plans:
Describe what you do at the Worcester Senior Center.
My current title is Dementia Friendly Worcester consultant. I mostly work from home, but I co-lead monthly Action Team meetings at the Senior Center and meet with Patty Hainsworth, the operations director. I update our website, design flyers and monthly e-newsletters, and engage local businesses in person and via email. I also create action plans for engaging target populations such as businesses and schools, and I’m constantly researching what other communities are doing to become more dementia-friendly.
One effort the Action Team and I are focusing on is building empathy among Worcester residents through the Dementia Friends program. Dementia Friends helps people understand five key messages about living with dementia and asks participants to commit to a simple action that can make a big difference, such as checking in with an elderly neighbor. The Worcester Regional Transit Authority is bringing this education to their bus drivers thanks to a couple of WRTA employees who serve on the Action Team and who have been trained as Dementia Friends Champions.
How has Clark prepared you for this work?
Nancy Budwig’s Research in Program Evaluation course gave me the foundation I needed for my LEEP project, which in turn paved the way for Dementia Friendly Worcester. It was so illuminating to workshop the skills I learned in her class by applying them to a community issue I care about. Dr. Budwig also helped me prepare when I was invited to present my project to Clark’s Board of Trustees, which gave me the confidence I needed to be a voice for the dementia-friendly movement in Worcester.
The master’s in public administration program is constantly informing the work I do. I’m learning about the importance of understanding the political context of public administration, how to design and evaluate public health initiatives, and how to write grant applications to create lasting relationships with community partners. This past summer, I completed an internship with the Alzheimer’s Association for academic credit, which was an incredibly fun and meaningful learning experience. I worked in the development department to build the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which involved a lot of community outreach.
The real-world experience I’ve gained through classes, extracurricular activities, and related work in the community has been my biggest takeaway from Clark. I’ve collaborated with a local community health center to write a grant, analyzed national data collected by colleges and universities, and worked with interview data I elicited myself. In the process, I’ve practiced problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. Now I have a much clearer understanding of what I’m looking for in a career, my strengths, and my weaknesses. The professors (and peers) I’ve learned from have not only taught me important subject material, but also inspired me to never stop learning and reaching for opportunities.
What are your plans after Clark?
I hope to pursue a career in the field of aging. For me, this could involve working for a nonprofit such as the Alzheimer’s Association to raise funds, spread awareness through community outreach, or implement educational programs. I also could see myself working for a local Council on Aging to manage an age- and dementia-friendly program like Dementia Friendly Worcester. I would love to promote and coordinate these efforts at the state or national level.
Because of my work with Dementia Friendly Worcester, I feel like I’ve already had a taste of my dream job, which is really special. I’m excited to round off my education and see what opportunities present themselves.