A 20 Year Retro-History of AGE-SW

By Robert L. Schneider, Founding President of AGESW
(From the Spring 2001 issue of the AGESW AGEnda)

This year is the 20th anniversary of AGESW!!! This anniversary year is a good time to reflect on the changes, achievements, and challenges that we have undertaken over the past two decades. In this feature, we are fortunate to have two leaders in social work education provide a perspective on our organization.

The Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work celebrates its Twentieth birthday in 2001. Any group that survives 20 years intact must have a story to tell! As the organization most persistently committed to the education of social workers in the field of gerontology, learning more about its beginnings, middle, and current status may be instructive and motivational. Let’s go back to 1981 and the cities of Cincinnati and Louisville. President Reagan had just been elected and there was a battle going on over the 1981 White House Conference on Aging, initiated by President Carter, but now subject to the new administration. Gary Nelson from the University of North Carolina had just completed a survey of social work programs, noting the extent to which gerontology was offered to students. An informal group of gerontological social workers/educators (Beattie, Biddle, Hartford, Hashimi, Hooyman, Kosberg, Lohmann, Louis Lowy, McCaslin, Monk, Rathbone-McCuan, Victor Schneider, Robert Schneider, Sherman, Zelinsky) had gathered in Cincinnati for the Association of Gerontology in Higher Education annual conference much as they had done since the mid-seventies to discuss the status of gerontology in social work. The meeting followed its usual format: “greetings, how are you? how’s the research? any students interested in aging? nice book/article, ain’t it awful that CSWE continues to ignore gerontology? see you next meeting/year.”

As the meeting closed, Robert Schneider of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work posed three questions: Why do we have to wait until CSWE pays attention to gerontology? Why can’t we organize ourselves into an independent association? Who wants to continue this conversation in two weeks in Louisville at the 1981 APM of CSWE? Enthusiasm and skepticism both emerged from these questions, but several agreed to meet in Louisville. Bob brought a plan to initiate a group called the National Committee for Gerontology in Social Work Education (NCGSWE), and persuaded a small group to “do what it takes” in order to promote gerontology at our programs. Lee Rathbone-McCuan and Bob agreed to co-chair the new group as new vitality flowed among those present. Soon, a mission statement (still in use) was developed and approved. A set of by-laws was drawn up and an application for 501 c(3) status was submitted. Elections were held and Bob Schneider was elected the first President of NSGSWE, a position he held until 1985. Its first resource was Gerontology in Social Work: Selected Course Outlines-1982, Series 001, printed and distributed to the group whose dues were $7.50 per year. Annual meetings were held in conjunction with APM of CSWE, AGHE, NASW, and The Gerontological Society of America’s meetings and other conferences. Links were made with NASW national. Recruitment of other members followed and by 1985, there were over 250 members linked through a newsletter, AGEnda, published three times a year, and affiliation at meetings.

Then, the day came in 1983 that NCGSWE had been waiting for. Bob received a phone call from CSWE asking for NCGSWE assistance on a grant application to the USDHHS Administration on Aging to “strengthen social work curricula in aging content.” Now, CSWE needed NCGSWE, and it was ready to respond with knowledge and resources. A $150,000 grant was soon awarded to CSWE and administered at VCU by Bob with an advisory board of members of NSCSWE. It produced four volumes of curricular materials focused on: specializations in aging, continuing education, integrating aging content into all courses, and equally important was the establishment of a national network whereby every MSW program in the country was asked to appoint a Liaison to NCGSWE who would serve as a distributor of gerontological content and teaching materials. The heart of this network was NSCSWE.

By 1985, leadership changes occurred with the next President, Gary Nelson of University of North Carolina, from 1985-86. In 1987, Lee Rathbone McCuan of the University of Vermont became President, and Rosemary McCaslin of California State at San Bernardino, Treasurer, and they served until 1992. In 1992, Amanda Barusch of the University of Utah was elected President and Nancy Morrow-Howell of Washington University, Treasurer, and they served until 1994. Connie Saltz Corley of the University of Maryland served as President and JoAnn Damron Rodriquez of the GRECC at VA Medical Center West in Los Angeles as Vice President from 1994 until 1997. Virginia Richardson of Ohio State University served as President and Robin Goldberg-Glen of Widener University, Vice President and Matthias Naleppa of VCU as Treasurer from 1997-2000. Nancy P. Kropf of the University of Georgia was elected President, Robert Schneider of VCU as Vice President, and Matthias Naleppa of VCU as Treasurer to three year terms in 2000-2003.

Major events and activities occurring since 1981 include:

  • Recent Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Service, Administration on Aging, Dr. Jeanette Takamura was a member of NSCSWE in the mid-1980s.
  • 36% of all MSW programs in Social Work reported a gerontological specialization in 1981. Nearly half (44%) of all MSW programs offered one or no courses in aging. By 1983-84, fifty percent of the programs reported a gerontological concentration.
  • In the initial issue of AGEnda, in January, 1982, the editor wrote that there were many gaps to close: curricula designs excluding aging content; faculty resistance to change; course content deficiencies, identification of unique social work contributions to gerontology, student awareness of aging processes, inadequate field practice.
  • In 1983-4, AoA grant with CSWE…..see story above.
  • In 1983, NASW reorganized its divisions and downgraded the National Committee on Aging to a task force. NCGSWE vigorously opposed this move through collective and individual advocacy and the President-elect of NASW, Robert Stewart, soon replied that “it had been determined that an error had been made.” The National Committee was reinstated.
  • In the 1980s, AGEnda interviewed many notables in the field of gerontology, education, and policy: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Claude Pepper, Maggie Kuhn, Tish Sommers, Nancy Hooyman, Rosemary McCaslin, Abe Monk, Louis Lowy, Nancy Lohmann, Rosalie Kane, Connie Saltz Corley, Scott Briar, Mary Ann Quaranta, Harold Johnson, Charles Fahey, Janet Sainer, Lennie-Marie Tolliver, Cleo Tavani, David Maldonado, Lee Rathbone-McCuan and several others.
  • As of July, 1984, 280 persons had paid dues to NCGSWE, up from 197 in 1983.
  • In the 1980s, NCGSWE sponsored several Pre-Conference Symposium at CSWE conferences on curriculum topics such as “Education for Practice in the Field of Gerontology.”
  • An interesting note by Terry Tirrito in the February, 1994 issue of AGEnda, decrying CSWE’s decision not to sponsor an aging symposium at the 1994 APM, “where do we go from here? how can we promote the cause of gerontology in social work education?”
  • Return of the Gerontology Symposium in 1995 at CSWE and NCGSWE’s energetic monitoring of it.
  • The change of name from NCGSWE to AGE-SW, the Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work in 1995 to reflect international members and a more manageable acronym.
  • In 1996,the first AGE-SW leadership award went to Abraham Monk of Columbia University, and the first faculty award went to Terry Tirrito of the University of South Carolina.
  • In 1998, AGE-SW collaborated with CSWE in developing a collection of exemplary course syllabi in gerontology.
  • Rashmi Gupta was the first official recipient of an AGE-SW mentorship program.

From our roots, we have accomplished a great deal!!!