Maribeth Bersani earned her master of science in gerontology in 1978 from the USC Davis School. Today, she’s the Senior Vice President of Public Policy for the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) in Alexandria, Virginia.
USC DAVIS: Hi Maribeth. Could you describe the work of ALFA?
MARIBETH BERSANI: The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) was founded in 1990 to serve as the voice for providers of senior living communities and the seniors and families those communities serve. Advocacy is an essential component of ALFA’s public policy program.
How would you describe your work?
As the Senior Vice President for Public Policy, I help ALFA and our members champion consumer-driven public policy to promote choice, independence, dignity and quality of life for America’s seniors. We serve as a resource to elected officials and policy makers at the federal and state level, and help educate and inform them about senior living.
What made you choose the USC Davis School?
When I was a senior in high school my grandmother with diabetes had to have her leg amputated. She went to a nursing home for rehabilitation services. I had never been in a nursing home before but after that first exposure I decided I wanted to help the seniors living in nursing homes. I volunteered my senior year and then worked at the nursing home in the activities department during my summer vacations. My undergraduate degree was in psychology but my college had recently started offering courses on aging. Paul Kershner from USC Davis School of Gerontology came to speak to our class. I knew I wanted to study gerontology and quite frankly at the time (1976) there were only a few schools that offered the degree. USC had the master-level degree and that is what I wanted.
How did you learn about your current position?
I have been working in the field of aging for over 30 years. About 17 years ago I switched from being a public sector employee working for the New York State Office for the Aging to the private sector working for Sunrise Senior Living. That opportunity helped me learn the business of senior living. Sunrise Senior Living was the founder of ALFA and I had always worked closely with the organization. When I had to opportunity to join ALFA six years ago, it was an opportunity to broaden my scope and work on behalf of all providers, not just one company.
How did your USC Davis School experience help prepare you for your career?
The USC Davis curriculum was multi-disciplinary. It provided a well-rounded education on all issues related to aging. At the time we did an internship that enabled students to pursue particular interests in direct service, public policy or other areas related to aging and long-term care. I can still remember sitting in class seeing the demographic charts showing the growth of the elderly population that was expected in 2010 and thinking that was a lifetime away.
What advice would you offer current or prospective USC Davis students?
My advice to anyone thinking about studying at the USC Davis School is to do it! There are so many career opportunities in the field of aging. There are today and will continue to be many doors open for people with a degree in gerontology. Opportunities exist in public policy, direct care, legislative, regulatory and legal fields to name a few. In 2031, the first of the baby boomers will be 85 years old. Take it from someone who thought 2010 was a lifetime away: it will be here before you know it.