Master’s Student Puts Off Retirement for a Second Career in Gerontology

Jennifer Nykyforchyn isn’t ready to retire. She’s using her tech experience and USC training to fashion a second career in gerontology, where age is an asset.

At an age when many people are planning for retirement, Jennifer Nykyforchyn is planning a second career. Nykyforchyn has worked in the technology sector for over 30 years. She’s implemented cybersecurity, money laundering and identity theft solutions for banks, defense companies and large corporations.

At 57, though, Nykyforchyn sees few people over age 65 when she looks at the traditional technology field. Wanting to work into her 70’s, she’s decided to pursue a new career direction, where age and expertise can be her asset.

“The population of older adults is growing. I realized that I could use my skills in business and technology to help people as they age,” says Nykyforchyn, whose path to gerontology was inspired by her experience caring for her mother. For 15 years, she helped her mom navigate all her medical, financial and legal needs.

As she researched her education options, the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology emerged as the top school to give her the credentials she was looking for. “It’s the oldest, largest and most prominent gerontology program in the country,” she says.

A real world approach

USC Leonard Davis prepares students for the challenges they will face in the real world. Nykyforchyn observed this in her two classes with Edward Schneider, Professor of Gerontology, Medicine and Biology. She says Schneider has been “fabulous” in opening students’ eyes to the realities of aging and challenging society’s views about getting old.

He told them that the best way to learn about the challenges of older people is to talk to them. “We’ve had to do interviews with seniors and have learned about their experiences with aging, ageism, discrimination and stereotypes,” Nykyforchyn says.

In her leadership class, Schneider brought in CEOs and leaders from prominent organizations to speak to the students. “They shared their views about how the world is changing,” Nykyforchyn says. “To serve a community that is exploding, they said we must adapt our approaches in areas such as health care, housing and accessibility.”

Nykyforchyn praises the strong spirit of collaboration at USC Leonard Davis. “Our professors’ expertise and experience are second to none. They encourage us to think critically, challenge assumptions and stereotypes, ask questions and apply our own real-life experiences,” she says.

A pioneer in online gerontology degrees

USC Leonard Davis was the first school to offer an online gerontology degree. All graduate courses can be taken in person or remotely. Living in Connecticut, Nykyforchyn attends classes entirely online and feels as connected as someone who’s physically in the room.

Students collaborate with one another through discussion boards and group assignments. “For example, professors post ideas or policies and ask you to consider the pros and cons. This approach promotes a greater understanding of the problems older adults face. We also learn what we can do as gerontologists to solve these problems,” Nykyforchyn says.

“Professors foster a sense of inclusion and community,” she says. “They do this by using the discussion board to comment on the weekly lectures. And they have students get together online to think about solutions to social problems. When we’re all working together toward something we believe in, it makes for a virtuous circle.”

Nykyforchyn loves the diversity of the student body. She says it’s a mix of older adults who have lifelong experiences and students just beginning their career journey.

A broad array of programs and specialized degrees

Gerontology draws on a diverse range of disciplines, including biology, psychology, sociology, business, technology and many others, to understand aging. Students entering the graduate programs can explore these areas and carve out a niche to match their interests.

Nykyforchyn is in the middle of the Master of Science in Gerontology program and is still exploring all possibilities. As a trained French chef, she thinks about what she could do with an emphasis in nutrition. She’s also considering a dual degree.

USC Leonard Davis has partnered with six other schools on campus to offer programs where students earn dual degrees. Options include business, law, public administration, health administration, social work and pharmacy. With a dual degree, students have even more opportunities to tailor their education.

Tech-savvy Nykyforchyn also sees opportunities in her current industry. In fact, USC Leonard Davis will soon launch a new initiative focused on technology and aging. This program will encourage students to consider gerontological research as they work to make solutions such as telemedicine or smart homes successful for seniors.

“For students at USC Leonard Davis, the world is your oyster,” Nykyforchyn says. “By leveraging my long corporate career, the opportunity to reinvent myself and maintain a sense of purpose is limitless. I see this as my work from age 60 to 75 — the third, and best, phase in my life. I believe it will be even more meaningful and impactful than what I’m doing today.”

To learn more about Master’s degree programs at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, call us at (213) 740-5156.