When Patricia McKeon, master’s student in gerontology at Cal State Fullerton, received a congratulatory notice saying she had won an award, she initially thought it was a “senior scam” email.
As it turned out, it was a message from CSUF’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, announcing that she is the recipient of the 2020 Betty Robertson Award. Named for one of OLLI’s founders, the award recognizes an older degree candidate who values and represents lifelong learning.
“When I answered the questions for the award application, I never thought I would win,” shared the 65-year-old native Southern Californian with a passion for helping older adults. “Winning has given me more motivation and confidence to keep studying and sharing what I’ve learned with others.”
Working towards a master’s degree in gerontology is the feather in McKeon’s academic cap, the culmination of years of hard work and a variety of experiences that have shaped her strong interest in caring for aging populations.
Along the way, she picked up an associate’s degree in childhood studies, gerontology certificate of achievement and bachelor’s degree in human services; became a certified nurses assistant, home health aide and long-term care ombudsman; and earned certificates in basic mediation and professional fiduciary management for conservators.
Pursuing her bachelor’s degree in human services at CSUF “was really a great experience,” said McKeon ’11 (B.S. human services). “I was attracted to the direct care focus of the subject, and I thought the culturally diverse student population was very smart and sensitive. I have gained confidence in the younger generation and its ability to deliver much-needed social services to vulnerable populations.”
McKeon has always liked being a “helper,” but it took until her 50s — and winding along a path that included battles with alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence and divorce, as well as employment as a house cleaner — for her to realize that she wanted to focus on helping the aging community.
“My last [housecleaning] client was an elderly couple, and I saw firsthand how difficult life for older people can be, even with an abundance of financial resources. I was bewildered by the lack of understanding of the aging process and the family conflict this couple had to endure. That was my big push toward studying gerontology.”
Internships opened the professional door to aging services for McKeon. “My internship at Lakeview Senior Center in Irvine increased my professional networking and understanding of community aging services. I’ve been employed by the Council on Aging of Southern California for 10 years, currently working as a field long-term care ombudsman.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, McKeon continues to learn — and this time, it’s how to work remotely to advocate for seniors. She says the pandemic is “shedding light on the limited resources and poor living conditions that a great many disabled and elderly endure. There is an urgency for increased planning and implementation of services to meet even the basic needs of this growing population.”
Adding to her collection of lifelong learning milestones, McKeon looks forward to an expanded role as an aging advocate. “I hope to improve the quality of life of aging individuals and be a positive influence in developing and changing much-needed policies and institutions dedicated to their care.”
For those who are just beginning their pursuit of education later in life, McKeon advised, “Be willing to accept your limitations and be flexible with your expectations. Remain true to yourself, and above all else, enjoy the journey.”
Contact: Karen Lindell, firstname.lastname@example.org