Dr. Lydia Manning continues to inject fresh perspective into Gerontology Graduate Programs at Concordia University Chicago

Lydia Manning, PhD, joined the faculty of the College of Graduate and Innovative Programs (now the college of Graduate Studies) at Concordia-Chicago in the summer of 2013 with the mission of revamping the master of arts in gerontology program and launching a doctoral program in leadership and gerontology

In the time since her arrival on campus, Dr. Manning has stepped up to the challenge. In January 2013, she launched the first cohort in the master’s program and in 2015 launched the first cohort of the doctoral program. Under Dr. Manning's guidance, Concordia-Chicago's new doctoral program in gerontology was launched in 2015. Additionally, Dr. Manning received a grant from the Kott Charitable Trust to create an applied center for gerontology.  The Center for Gerontology at CUC launched in 2014.

My life’s work is dedicated to improving the lives of older adults, dismantling ageism and breaking down stereotypes related to aging.
- Lydia Manning, PhD

Prior to joining Concordia-Chicago, Dr. Manning completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University's Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development in 2013 and received her PhD in social gerontology from the Department of Sociology and Gerontology at Miami University in 2011.

She is a senior representative for the behavioral and social sciences section of the Gerontological Society of America. She also serves as secretary on the executive committees for AAGE (Association for Anthropology and Gerontology) and the AGHE (Association for Gerontology in Higher Education), a consortium of anthropologists and gerontologiss.

She is also a board member for the Senior Services Committee for the Oak Park (River Forest) Township.

Dr. Manning has served as a senior representative for the behavioral and social sciences section of the Gerontological Society of America and as the secretary on the executive committees for AAGE (Association for Anthropology and Gerontology) and for the AGHE (Association for Gerontology in Higher Education), a consortium of anthropologists and gerontologists. She has also served as a board member for the Senior Services Committee for the Oak Park (River Forest) Township and contributes the work of the Celebrating Seniors Coalition.

Tell us about your research.

My research and teaching agenda reflects my commitment to the interdisciplinary exploration of aging in the United States. As a social gerontologist, I investigate complex and pressing problems related to aging, health, and well-being through independent research that integrates the perspectives and methodologies of gerontology, sociology, and women’s studies.  Specifically, my research focuses on resilience with related interests in health and gender.  In studying resilience, I focus on how older adults recover from distressing events, persist through extreme adversities, and negotiate everyday aspirations and challenges in life. I investigate not only the commonly studied aspects of the psychological factors underlying resilience and how these relate to functioning, but I also examine resilience as a sociocultural process of capacity-building over the life course.

I am a passionate instructor, appreciating the opportunities and challenges of communicating knowledge while mentoring students and working with other collaborators.
- Lydia Manning, PhD

 In my future research endeavors, I will continue to explore the factors and mechanisms that bolster older adults’ ability to remain resilient and healthy. Given our current population demographics, this program of research holds promise for external funding support. My future work will continue to build on the study of spirituality, resilience, and health for older adults, while moving in the direction of understanding the implication resilience has for aging individuals, families and communities.

What is your teaching philosophy?

As an educator, I integrate cutting-edge qualitative and quantitative gerontological and sociological research into courses I teach. My students critically engage with research to help them develop their sociological and gerontological imaginations.

What is your teaching background?

I have nearly a decade of experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students.  During this time I have become skilled in designing curricula and disseminating information concerning age-related topics and issues.

I am a passionate instructor, appreciating the opportunities and challenges of communicating knowledge while mentoring students and working with other collaborators. Having considerable undergraduate and graduate teaching experience in several types of courses, I am capable and enjoy teaching courses on gerontology, medical sociology, thanatology, research methods, and health policy.

Beyond your academic experience, what is your professional experience in gerontology?

I’ve been working in the field of gerontology since 1997. I’ve had professional experiences in direct care work and research institutes. I have taught gerontology at the undergrad and graduate level both in the social sciences and nursing fields. I’ve also been a consultant with my own gerontology consulting company. My life’s work is dedicated to improving the lives of older adults, dismantling ageism and breaking down stereotypes related to aging.

What are your goals for the gerontology program here at Concordia-Chicago?

My goal is for this master’s of gerontology at Concordia University Chicago—and eventually the doctoral program—to become benchmarks and models of excellence of how gerontological education, research and practice are conceptualized and implemented in the state of Illinois.

What is the field of gerontology like in Illinois?

Across the U.S., there are approximately 500 hundred master’s programs, only three of which are in Illinois. Of the nine doctoral programs in the country, none are currently in Illinois and none offer online capability.  Illinois is ranked seventh in people over the age of 65 in the United States. While research in aging in society is happening, it is not happening as much in the setting of a degree-granting program in Illinois. We’re “gero-lite” in many ways at the state level.

What have you done to revamp the master’s program in gerontology?

I have created several new courses — GERO 6000, GERO 6045, GERO 6750, GERO 6495 and GERO 6500. Before now, our program was a blend of human services and gerontology. The addition of these courses has realigned the program to be, at its core, gerontological, from the design of the curriculum, to its implementation and dissemination. The program is in accordance with AGHE, the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Tell us about the doctoral program in gerontology that you are developing.

I am in the process of developing a face-to-face and online PhD/EdD in gerontology for Concordia University Chicago. This doctorate in gerontology is the only be the tenth in the country, and will be the only university in the U.S. to offer a wholly online option. I have created several new courses – GERO 7000, 7505, 7510 - to name a few.

People who seek education at this level tend to be mid-career, they tend to have caregiving responsibilities, and they tend to not be able to uproot their lives to move to the area of an institution to be able to attend classes on campus for a doctoral program. Our online doctorate in gerontology will create opportunities for people who would tend not to be able to get these degrees because of geographic distance from the institution.

What excites you about the degree?

Here at Concordia University Chicago, we are using gerontological theory and the best practices of gerontological research to educate and inform our students. I’m teaching and training students to be gerontologists, and that is important for business, policy, and social services. There is a growing recognition of the value of gerontology, and our graduates will have the skills to translate that value into any area of interest.

How will the gerontology program at Concordia-Chicago help create a professional identity for future gerontologists?

In my training, few individuals helped me articulate what my professional identity as a gerontologist should or could be. This was due mainly to my mentors being disciplinarians. People trained me who had PhDs in psychology, social work, demography, sociology, anthropology, and human development. So it’s only now that we’re beginning to see PhDs in gerontology training future PhDs in gerontology. We’re starting to see it in in greater numbers with more representation, with higher frequency, and I think that that is shifting the field.

I push students to articulate what their identity is and will become as gerontologists. I believe this is one aspect that is really lacking in many master’s and doctoral programs. There is a void in helping students explore the various ways in which people could market themselves and their careers, and I think that this is a gross oversight on the part of the directors and educators in these programs. In our graduate programs at Concordia-Chicago, we focus on professional identity and marketability of our graduates.

Who’s the prospective student for the master’s program?

Our prospective students have a nontraditional profile. Usually people have been in the field for a while, and usually people have identified particular social injustices with regards to people growing older. So people return to get their education at the graduate level to address these injustices. We also get people who have provided care to people in their families.

One plus of our program here is our diversity across several strata — class, race, and ethnicity. We attract people who work in healthcare, business and education; people who are interested in adult degrees and adult education; and people who work in human service. Truly, the underlying component is that people are interested in working with and for older adults in some capacity.

You may be interested in our program if:

  • You are a visionary and entrepreneur who understands the increasing aging demographics as a marketing possibility or business opportunity.
  • You are in healthcare administration, program administration, and occupational therapy. You may be interested in complimenting you degrees, or you may wish to become a certified gerontologist or aging expert. You may want additional legitimacy and evidence you are an expert in aging and the aging population.
  • You are in the field of education. We know that people are seeking lifelong learning, so opportunities will emerge for instructors who understand how to teach older adults.
  • You are interested in becoming an academic gerontologist or doing research in the field of aging.

How would these degrees help people in their careers?

Through our gerontology programs, students will gain a true gerontological education, rooted in the best practices derived from gerontological research. They will tap into an existing network of gerontologists. They’ll develop solid relationships with their cohort peer members as they move out into the workforce.

What are the benefits of doing a degree at Concordia University Chicago?

The tuition here is affordable. Degrees elsewhere can cost $40,000 or more. At Concordia-Chicago, your master’s degree is less than half of that. We also offer a tuition guarantee program, so you’ll know the total cost of your graduate education from the moment you apply.

We have a proven study format designed for working adults. You can get this degree and still hold down a full-time job, be a parent and spouse, and have a life.

We have an online option for study that makes us unique in Illinois. Most other programs in Illinois are face-to-face, meaning you have to be on campus to attend classes. We are one of the very few universities in Illinois that offers an MA in gerontology and a PhD or EdD in Leadership and Gerontology as a fully online degree.

How long does it take to get this degree?

Two years for the master’s degree and at least four for the PhD/ED.

How can you do this degree? What are the study options for this degree?

You could do this degree wholly online, which means you can keep your current job in your current city and not uproot your life. Or you could do the face-to-face hybrid format, meaning that some classes are online and some are face-to-face. So obviously, this hybrid format serves people in the Chicago area who are within a reasonable driving distance from our campus in River Forest.

However, anyone, whether in Chicago, or throughout Illinois, or across the country, can enroll to earn the degree wholly online. We’ve had some students do their doctoral degrees completely online and never set foot on campus until graduation!

What does it mean to study in a “cohort” at CUC?

You enter in the program with anywhere from 10-12 students, and you move through each course in the program together and you move through your practicum together. It fosters a sense of camaraderie and inclusion and builds an educational support system. It helps keep you invested in the program, and it becomes more likely that you will succeed and finish the program. When you finish the degree you’ll have a network of people with whom you can network when you are in the workforce.

For more information on the online master’s program in gerontology at Concordia University Chicago, please click here.

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