Thai Nguyen wears many hats as the assistant hospital administrator at the Veterans Home of California in Fresno. He runs its 180-bed assisted living program as the home’s state-certified Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE) administrator; he also oversees additional services that include memory care and skilled nursing for older and disabled veterans.
Learning new ways to support veterans and understanding age-related challenges are critical parts of his job. The online Master of Arts program at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology has offered Nguyen a new perspective on the latest techniques and methods so that he can provide broad-based care and enhance his organization’s services.
“I wanted to expand my knowledge and learn theories and ideas that I could implement in my line of work to improve the quality of care for our veterans,” he says.
Nguyen chose USC’s gerontology degree program for its outstanding instruction and comprehensive curriculum, which explores all aspects of human development and aging. Coursework and research cover biology, psychology, sociology, policy and aging services, among other topics.
“It’s the oldest and biggest gerontology program in the world, and it has phenomenal faculty,” he says.
In his first year, Nguyen took courses with distinguished professors and researchers such as Caroline Cicero, Ph.D. He says he learned about the intersection of individuals and population aging, urban planning for lifelong communities, and social and health services delivery.
“I’ve also taken a course with Dr. Kathleen Wilber, and she’s like a walking encyclopedia,” Nguyen says. “It’s interesting to get insights and research in the field of aging from these professors who are at the cutting edge of their field.”
USC’s online gerontology program provides many convenient ways for students to learn and participate in the program, Nguyen says.
For instance, he watches video lectures and takes advantage of a user-friendly Blackboard system to maximize his study time. He also accesses online readings, lectures, and discussions. Group projects help Nguyen feel connected to online and residential students who are paired to work together as “buddies.”
In one project, for example, Nguyen and his group explored the affordable housing crisis and together designed solutions that could help older U.S. veterans.
“As online students, we are required to discuss pertinent topics with online as well as the residential students,” he says. “Residential students update their classmates on what they talked about with their online buddies, and we do the same.”
The power of interdisciplinary research
As a small school rooted in a world-class research university, USC’s gerontology program is perfectly positioned to work with other university departments. Its multidisciplinary approach to studying aging encompasses economics, public health and policy, and social work and neuroscience, among other fields.
Nguyen says the gerontology program allows him to stay current with recent trends and findings about aging that will directly affect his work. He has learned about the latest research, equipment and devices as well as techniques to better care for older adults.
“When I read about the current research from USC, I get insights to improve the quality of care for the veterans I work with on a daily basis,” he says.
A promising field
USC’s challenging and supportive academic environment is preparing Nguyen for a career at the forefront of his field at a pivotal time. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts the number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to outnumber children by 2030 for the first time in the nation’s history.
With the field of gerontology booming, Nguyen is thankful for his exceptional USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology education. “For me, it’s been a very rewarding experience,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity that USC has given me.”