Aging Matters Scholarship
Apply NOW to Win Our $1,500 Scholarship

Application Deadline: May 15th, 2020 is dedicated to helping seniors and their families in their quest for a better life. Aging impacts everyone and as the aging population explodes over the next 30 years, wants to bring more awareness to the key issues we face. We will be awarding an annual college scholarship to an individual that best demonstrates to us why "Aging Matters" to them.

We are excited to announce the Aging Matters Scholarship. A $1500 scholarship will be given annually to a selected college student that currently cares for an aging loved one, works within the senior community, or intends to pursue a career that will have an impact on the elder population. Any existing student (or incoming freshman), in good academic standing, at a 2 or 4 year accredited college can apply for this scholarship. And the recipient will demonstrate a unique and admirable understanding and desire to show us that "Aging Matters" to them.

The Aging Matters Scholarship awards $1500 to be applied towards tuition, books, board and other expenses.

Scholarship Details:

  • Amount: $1,500
  • Duration: One-Time Payment
  • Number of Recipients: 1 per year
  • Applications accepted beginning June 15th for awards the following year
  • Deadline Date: May 15th, 2020
  • Selection Date: June 15th, 2020
  • Announcement Date: As soon as the recipient is contacted and eligibility confirmed

Application Requirements:

  • An existing college student or incoming freshman (to be enrolled in the Fall of 2020 in good academic standing)
  • Attending any 2 year or 4 year accredited college or university as a full-time student
  • Complete and submit the application form.
  • Judging will be based on the submission quality of the application, which will include a short, 1000 word or less essay on why Aging Matters to the applicant.
Apply Now

Congratulations to Our Past Winners

Melissa McSweeney
Corynne Emmerson (2019)
Salem High School in Salem, Virginia
Beginning Human Development studies concentrating on Gerontology at Virginia Tech in the Fall of 2019


Corynne's Submission:

* To protect privacy, names in this essay have been changed.

"I miss my son. He never comes and visits, but he's young and single and is a painter," Mary lamented.
"Did he happen to do this?" I looked at the painting on her wall, her personal touch to what was a seemingly sterile room.
"Yes, in fact he did! My son painted that. I miss my son. He really doesn't come to visit, but he's single..."

I knew her son painted it. She had told me five times in 15 minutes. She had told me the first time I met her. She'd be telling me again.

I've come to learn the simplest conversations are often the ones that mean the most, the ones that have the most impact on our lives and the lives of others. I'll never be able to unhear the words -- "Corynne I feel like a prisoner in my own home" -- the words of my Grandpa, the man who once was the epitome of a provider. By that point, he was no longer able to pour his own drinks without his coffee spilling all over the counter. My Grandpa passed away after suffering from Parkinson's disease and dementia. All I wanted to do was see him live out his final days happy and feeling fulfilled, but unfortunately that wasn't the case.

The Joseph C. Thomas Center has my heart. I volunteer at an Assisted Living building, which is designed so that half the building is for memory care patients. Those residents are my favorite, because even though their minds can't always keep up with their bodies, their hearts still do. Some are further along in their battles with different forms of dementia including Alzheimer's, or even mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, but my mission is to make them feel as human as I can. They aren't just a shell, they are the people who came before us. They are the people in the pictures in their rooms loving on their grandkids. They are the people that fought in WW II. They are sometimes the people with no family and need me to be their adopted grandchild. They are "my people."

The worst part about getting to know the residents is leaving them. The weight of their gazes follows and haunts me as I leave. The memory care patients will follow you to the pad-locked door, trying to escape. All you can do is look them in the eyes and say, "I'll be back soon," quickly shutting the door between their world and mine. I've learned "soon" isn't always soon enough.

Elizabeth was one of those people you wish you could've known in her prime, because let me tell you - this woman had sass. She'd always tell me "I want my nails painted something wild." So, I brought Elizabeth a Ziplock bag full of crazy colored nail polish, so her hands could match her personality. The next time I went back to Richfield, I was stopped in my tracks. The state of her room, down the hall on the left, mirrored what I immediately felt -- empty. Elizabeth was dying they told me. She wasn't coming back.

All week I kept googling her name, looking for an obituary. I found nothing. Fast forward to Sunday -- sitting in church at the end of the service, my pastor said something I'll never forget, "I'd like ya'll to pray for the family of Elizabeth. She passed away last night." I didn't even know her family went to my church. When Elizabeth's family later told me they kept her nails painted until the day she died, I knew I was doing what I was meant to do. That day was the first and only time I've ever cried happy tears.

The summer before my senior year, I was thinking about what I wanted my final year to look like. I didn't want to have to come back to an empty room again and regret not being there more often. I wasn't sure how I was going to do it all. As I met with my principal, in August, I was nervous about doing something different than what I had envisioned for my senior year. I explained to him that I wanted to work with the Activities Director at Richfield for two periods of the school day. The schedules had already been made, but at 4% odds, the two classes I wanted to cut were consecutively first and second period. Now, along with my visits outside of school, I get to go every school day and learn about the profession I've fallen in love with. I'll never forget when Mary recognized me before I had to reintroduce myself.

Moments like that make me so full. It's hard to watch people progress through the stages before my eyes, but that doesn't scare me away -- it motivates me to love harder. We all hope to live a long life, but I've come to realize those who have reached their 80s or 90s often wish they'd just pass on. My mission is to not let brain atrophy, painful joints, or being confined to a wheelchair force the aging community to just wither away in their beds. With energy and passion, I want to help those, who are now being hit by the harsh realities of aging, stay connected to others as long as possible and live a life worth living. Becoming an Activities Director won't make me rich, but I want a job where I can make meaningful, relentless relationships. I've come to realize how many people are in need of a little love and that they sometimes can just be living in a building down the street -- a building that holds my heart now. I will always remember people like Elizabeth, as I paint my future residents' nails, and I hope I can make an impact on others, even if I only get to know them at the end of their lives. That's what serving is. That is what love is. That's what being rich is.

Jennifer Burkett
Jennifer Burkett (2018)
Prospect High School in Saratoga, California
Attending San Jose State University


Jennifer's Submission:

To be alive is to participate in the ongoing process of aging. It can be said that aging is the process of life itself, of being alive. We humans are very good at documenting the early stages of the life journey—first smile, first tooth, first step, first word, first day of school, graduations, marriage. We are not so comfortable with dealing with the final stages of our life. Suddenly it becomes about looking backwards, marking losses, and collecting ailments. Life markers become all about loss: our hair, our teeth, our mobility, our memory, our health. Generally, society’s focus is now on what we can no longer do, and who we no longer are, instead of who we are now and what we have yet to give.

I do not want to be old in the society that exists today. Shows on TV make fun of older people, motorists complain and make fun of older drivers, and shoppers get impatient at an elderly person taking too long in line at the grocery. Meanwhile, programs that provide services to the aging population are being cut while the older adult population is projected to double in the next 20 years. I see nurses and doctors speak to my aging clients as if they are children and too much focus is placed on what my older clients cannot do as opposed to what they can do.

Aging matters to me because I want to change the ageism prevalent throughout society and increase aging services, especially in my state and county before I need the services or become the target of ageism myself. I realize that rampant ageism exists in American society and I want this to change before I grow older and become a part of this marginalized population. I want to recognize the many benefits and positive aspects of aging and reject and oppose ageism when I encounter it in my day to day life.

Many years ago in an email from my grandfather, he noted that he did not think people cared what old people thought anymore. From that moment on, I knew that was something that I wanted to change about society. When did society stop caring? And more importantly, what could I do about it?

Another time a visit with my grandfather impacted me greatly was when he told me that when my grandmother was in the hospital, he would show the nurses a picture of her when she was younger, and after that, the attitudes of the nurses changed greatly towards my grandmother. He said it was like she was not even human to them until he made them realize that she used to be a "younger" person, just like them.

Working with older adults has taught me so much about life. I’ve learned much about how I want to live my life, age, and die and I've learned not to be so attached to “things” instead of people. I've also gained a greater appreciation for my family and friends. In addition, I have learned about the importance of being able to adapt to change and the importance of being open to learning new things and discovering new interests.

I feel that when I help an older adult, I am helping the part of myself that will age and grow old. Society used to honor the aging with respect and regard. I hope that one day society will again value and cherish the aging population for what it brings to society as a whole. No community can survive with only youth. Society needs the wisdom and caring that comes with aging. Aging is an important piece of fabric that holds society and community together.

What if we treated old people as if they still mattered? What if we discussed current events and asked older adults to bring their life experience to seeking a solution to today’s social problems? We should not be doing this for them, but for us, because even if we don’t always like the answers they give, they can teach us a lot about the human experience and about how we ourselves wish to age.

I am grateful that I was able to have such a close relationship with my grandfather. His wisdom and love have inspired me to do the work that I do. I treasured every moment that I had with him until he passed just a few months after his hundredth birthday. I can't think of a better way to honor his memory and love than to share his wisdom with others as we all age into an ever-changing and evolving future.

Aging matters because it will happen to me and to you. Take time to consider how you wish to be treated by society when you are 80 or 90 years old. Do you wish to be respected and relevant? Ask any older person. The answer will be loud and clear.

Melissa McSweeney
Melissa McSweeney (2017)
Barrington High School in Barrington, Illinois
Beginning the M.Sc. track at McGill University's Interdepartmental Program in Neuroscience in the Fall of 2017


Melissa's Submission:

According to a survey conducted by the National Council on Aging in 2015, 35% of older adults reported that memory loss was their top concern about aging. The fact that this was the second most prevalent worry among those surveyed is justified--older adulthood is the stage of the lifespan when indulging in fond memories can be especially fulfilling, yet it is also the stage at which these memories are most likely to be subject to erasure due to age-related cognitive decline and the heightened risk of having a neurodegenerative disease. Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia, and its emotional and financial tolls on patients and their families can be devastating.

I intend to dedicate the rest of my life to researching and working with older adults who have, or are at risk for developing, a Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. To prepare for this goal, I've thus far earned a B.A. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Northwestern University in 2015, and have conducted over four years of research on aging and memory from biological, neurological, cognitive, and neuropsychological standpoints. Currently, I am working as a full time, live-in caregiver for an older adult with Alzheimer's disease. This August, I will begin a Neuroscience M.Sc. program at McGill University where I will continue to conduct research on Alzheimer's disease. I plan to apply my scientific training and humanistic approach to aging research in order to investigate interdisciplinary predictive factors of the impending onset of dementia. My research at McGill will hopefully help prevent people from having to suffer from it in the first place, at least to the same extent, by optimizing the applications of brain-imaging and biomarkers to detect Alzheimer's disease before it wreaks havoc on one's cognitive faculties.

Though my past coursework and opportunities have led me to specialize in research related to Alzheimer's disease, my passion for the field of memory and aging is rooted in my personal experience with a different neurodegenerative disease. When I was a child, I watched my grandmother progress through the stages of Parkinson's disease for seven years, noticing her hands and her cognition become shakier as the disease progressed. She no longer found joy in cooking her illustrious traditional Danish meals or sharing stories about her past, and she often forgot why I was talking to her and who I was all together. Witnessing my clever and compassionate grandmother lose her memory, experience scary hallucinations, and undergo a complete personality transformation was one of the most painful, helpless, yet profoundly impactful experiences I've had so far in my life, as it led me to ponder the causes of dementia and how it can be prevented. I hope to honor her legacy by applying my education to helping people like my grandmother, as this creative spirit still had so much to offer before the dementia took hold.

After having undertaken neuroscience research in multiple laboratory settings, I have come to realize that controlled experiments are necessary but insufficient to treat dementia. Patients are more than just data points; they are people whose treatments should be personalized. To address this gap in my understanding of neurodegeneration, I decided to take a temporary hiatus from laboratory-based research to work as a live-in caregiver for an older adult with Alzheimer's disease. Since I was 15 years old when my grandmother passed away from Parkinson's disease, I wasn't educationally or emotionally capable of taking care of her at the time. Now equipped with my scientific background and newfound knowledge of neurodegeneration, I hoped that observing patients within their daily lives would give me valuable insight into potential treatments for dementia, and my experience so far has indeed generated a plethora of new research questions and ideas.

Working as a caregiver, I've experienced firsthand both the transience and the resilience of human memory. My client, a man of exceptional intellectual prowess and success in his former career, can vividly describe the spatial relations between streets and buildings in his childhood hometown, but he can't recall what he had just eaten for dinner. Yet there are moments that these oft-forgotten, short-term memories linger longer than usual. With the consent and encouragement of his family and the caregiving agency, I rigorously record these moments that he holds on to and track them over time. What type of information sticks with him, and more importantly, why? Through caregiving, I am exploring the "what" question, and through my graduate training and future career goals, I aim to use what I learn in order to determine "why."

It's understandable to believe that aging matters because older adults are sentient encyclopedias of the past, with memories of their stories analogous to fragile, handwritten archives that can only be decoded by the archivists themselves. It's also tempting to assert that aging matters because their neurobiological and cognitive transformations offer fantastic insight into the mechanisms of the human brain. Through my experience as a caregiver, however, I've learned that it's imperative to recognize that aging people don't only matter because of their connections to the past or their usefulness as research subjects. Older adults still have goals and, ideally, more memories to be made. I would use this scholarship to help fund my graduate research so I can try my best to prevent dementia from impeding the pursuit of their goals and dreams.

Gregory Troutman
Gregory Troutman (2016)
Hempfield High School in Landisville, Pennsylvania
Attending University of Pennsylvania


Gregory's Submission:

I am currently completing a Master in Bioethics degree and will be starting medical school next year. Since graduating from Lafayette College in May 2013, I have worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator in cardiology to gauge whether or not my passions truly lie in healthcare. Working in a clinical setting has solidified my interest both in cardiology, and working with an aging population. I have been amazed to witness firsthand the incredible technological advancements that allow us to redefine the way we can heal senior citizens. I have been amazed to see how resilient elderly patients can be when faced with something that initially seems like a horrifying illness. I have enjoyed shadowing physicians here who are experts not only in taking patients' histories and developing treatment plans, but making this a two-way conversation where elderly patients can express their own values and interests and have an active role in their own decision making.

My grandfather, Thomas Casey, was born in Charlestown, Mayo, Ireland and immigrated to the US with his parents at a young age. The son of a railroad worker, his parents were appalled when he expressed interest in attending college. "Do you think you're better than where you came from, that you would work with your brain instead of your back?" was my great-grandfather's response. It is difficult for me to come to terms with what this sort of family pressure must have been like, let along the financial burden of pursuing an education.

My grandfather has never once complained about this interaction- rather, he used this to encourage my mother to pursue higher education, along with myself. Hearing of his hardships growing up has helped me to feel thankful for the opportunities I have been blessed with. In many ways, I feel that I would not currently be pursuing higher education if my family had not been so adamant that the best way to improve my life was to increase my knowledge. When school gets tough, and the hours in the library seem endless, I always think of Tom Casey and how much tougher it must have been for him. I am blessed with a supportive family who is always eager to hear about what I am learning. I can't imagine putting myself through college without the emotional support, let alone disapproval, from family.

This above all has taught me not to view senior citizens merely in the present, but to attempt to dig deeper into their past to learn about and learn from the many challenges they have faced and overcame. I feel that by hearing my grandfather's, and other senior citizens', stories I not only gain a deeper understanding of their values, but a better appreciation for the things I have been afforded in life.

I am currently pursuing a Master in Bioethics degree and beginning medical school next year, with a particular interest in gerontology. As America's aging population is ever increasing, it is important to not only focus on the necessary medical specializations needed to cater healthcare towards the elderly, but also the ethical and health policy implications of this. The elderly are full of diverse life experiences and knowledge. We have much to learn from them, especially as clinicians. Andy Rooney words it perfectly when he says, "the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person." I felt that Tom Casey, my grandfather, was a teacher not only of the history he lived through, but of the culture and values of his generation. Hearing his unique experiences has made me more curious about other's upbringing, and how family dynamics and time periods have shifted the way we think of work, children, and life in general.

As a budding physician, I hope to take these lessons to heart not only to be thankful for the education I am pursuing, but also to remind myself to always dig deeper into an elderly patient's story. By elucidating their past, values, and priorities, I will do the best job I can to ensure that we can create a health plan together for them to best live their life the way the please. Additionally, I aim to apply my studies to generate meaningful health policy changes to help heal the aging population in general in a more meaningful manner.

Although my grandfather is no longer with us physically today, I can feel his presence watching over me and supporting me throughout my studies. I know I will think of him as I am treating elderly patients one day, and will be thankful for the mentoring and encouragement he provided that has caused me to prioritize education the way I do.

I feel that I would be a good candidate for this scholarship, as I hope to combine my current training in bioethics and eventual medical training to gain both strong clinical ethics and mediation skills to assist in difficult end of life decisions, but also to work towards generating health policies that work the improve treatment for the elderly on a population level. Unfortunately this educational path comes with a hard financial burden, and I am eager and appreciative to be considered for awards to offset the financial barriers to pursuing what I love. Thank you for considering my application!

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Essay: Why Aging Matters to You

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