Lyn Holley

Q&A with Lyn Meridew Holley, PhD, of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Department of Gerontology in Omaha, Nebraska.

holleyMeet Lyn.

“Work hard, don’t give up, be open to new thoughts and experience but always think for yourself. Be the kind of person you can respect. In order to do all those things, you will need to be good to yourself – love and care for yourself as well as for others. It is all necessary.”

Q: Why did you become a member and what type of involvement do you have?
A: I cannot imagine not being a member of GSA. I began teaching gerontology in 2004, and I joined GSA in 2004. In 2006, I attended my first AGHE conference and immediately joined AGHE, too. I have attended annual conferences of both organizations every year since I joined and contributed some type of presentation at all but one of them. To me, the annual meetings and the publications are the lifeblood of gerontology. Multidisciplinary and diverse as we are, our associations have managed to connect us and provide a framework for coherent “gerontology” progress. The more diverse and the more connected we are, the more we can advance our teaching, research, and advocacy. I recommend joining to anyone with a career interest in gerontology

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: At GSA and AGHE conferences all the conversations are about gerontology. I found “like minded” people who were much more advanced than I in types of teaching and research that appealed to me, and who were willing to answer my questions, and sometimes even explain the “back story” of a current theory or policy. I was excited and inspired by the ideas and experiments of colleagues. I was thrilled to actually see and hear “the great ones” who authored the books and theories that were central to my own teaching and development.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I was already nearing “retirement age” and had had a career in workforce policy development and evaluation before beginning doctoral study. When I received my Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1999 many influences converged in my life. I wanted to do research, however most jobs were almost exclusively teaching and were looking for younger people. With an introduction from an extraordinary friend and mentor, Dr. Karl Kosloski, I was hired as a Research Professor to work for Dr. Rhonda J.V. Montgomery, then Gerontology Center Director at the University of Kansas. For the next few years, I assisted Dr. Montgomery with a large, federally-funded multi-state study of state-funded interventions to support informal, in-home caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients. I travelled extensively and came in contact with many caregivers. The caregivers took me by surprise. They connected so strongly with my heart, I could not turn away; I was “hooked” on gerontology and have been ever since. I want to bear witness to the everyday nobility of “common” people who make uncommon sacrifices every day. I want my research and teaching to make life better for these heroes and for the people they love. The common thread of my research is a search for financially and circumstantially accessible interventions that can lessen age-related frailty and disease, and ease the burdens of caregivers, perhaps even increase everyone’s moments of joy.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA Interest Group? If so, which ones?
A: I am a Co-Convener of the GSA Interest Group on Rural Aging, and of the GSA/AGHE Intergenerational Learning, Research, and Community Engagement Interest Group.

My state has 93 counties and vast rural areas where caregivers face enormous obstacles to getting the services they need for their loved ones. The Rural Interest Group is a collection of brave people who care about veterans, farmers, and loneliness. The group sponsors a symposium at every GSA Conference. In 2016, Dr. Cassandra Ford (University of Alabama) and I convened a symposium that had five excellent papers about interventions to help caregivers and their charges from the swamps of Alabama to the grasslands of Saskatchewan. Based on these papers, Roger O’Sullivan (Island of Ireland, UK) and I developed a special issue of the journal, Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, which was published in December 2018. Symposia are a great way to see how our individual projects can fit together and create a “synergy” effect.

The GSA Intergenerational Learning, Research, and Community Interest Group has only just transitioned from being an AGHE committee. Our leadership and membership have remained stable, and our “best practices” are continuing. This is a very creative group. The intergenerational focus is directly connected with my personal goal of developing accessible, affordable interventions to improve aging – the “basic ingredients” for intergenerational interventions are almost universally available. Led by Co-convener Laura Donorfio (University of Connecticut), the ILRCE typically conducts a pre-conference International Teaching Institute that noticeably advances the field of teaching gerontology. The intense sharing of teaching innovations – both successful and not so successful – is almost visibly translated into individual practice.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I am a full professor responsible for teaching, research and service to our profession, university, community and students. I teach in a public university and feel an obligation to focus on the needs of people in my city and state. I teach gerontology to special populations (e.g., Honors Program students, “high risk” freshmen and sophomores, doctoral students). I teach in experimental formats, such as variants of community-engaged service learning, co-teaching with colleagues in other disciplines, e.g., three synergistically linked courses, World Geography – Gerontology-English Composition, or most recently, co-teaching with two professors at the University of Wroclaw in Poland in classrooms separated by thousands of miles and seven hours, but connected in real time with technology. All of my international connections have been made at GSA or AGHE conferences. The GSA and its Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education provide the perfect venue for service to profession and for development as teachers and researchers,

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: The privilege of working in Gerontology provides so many “moments of joy” that even the more memorable experiences are too many to recount.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: Work hard, don’t give up, be open to new thoughts and experience but always think for yourself. Be the kind of person you can respect. In order to do all those things, you will need to be good to yourself – love and care for yourself as well as for others. It is all necessary.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: In 2016 I was awarded the inaugural Dr. Chuck Powell Professorship in Gerontology. I did not seek that honor, and I am still a little in awe of it. Dr. Powell was one of my heroes; I met him when I was a doctoral student. I am trying to be worthy in my own eyes – to live life and make contributions as “large” as this six-foot plus war hero turned gerontology professor has made. It is fun to see how close I can come.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did s/he make a difference?
A: It does “take a village.” I have a very well populated “Hall of Gerontology Fame” in my head and heart. Everyone in the Hall of Fame is or was kind, good hearted, generous, brilliant, and fun to be with. It is probable that most of the honorees do not know how very important their advice, recommendation, help, or example was to me. I guess I could add to my “Tips to New Gerontologists” a suggestion to see yourself as an influence on others, 24/7, and be or become that person in their Hall of Fame.

Want to ask Lyn a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!

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