Boston College Annual Report 2003

Louise McMahon Ahearn University Chair in Social Work

.America is aging rapidly—and not always gracefully. People over 65, now about 12 percent of the population, will comprise 20 percent of the population by 2030, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. And gerontology experts agree that the nation is ill prepared to handle the growing gray-haired census. “If you look at the demographics, it is just daunting,” says Alberto Godenzi, dean of Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). “It is one of the greatest challenges that exists in any society.”

But the GSSW has taken an important step toward helping America and other aging societies cope, thanks to a $2.5 million donation to the University from Eileen Ahearn Connors ’66, M.S.W.’95 and Jack Connors, Jr. ’63, chairman of the Boston College Board of Trustees. The Connors’ gift endowed the Louise McMahon Ahearn University Chair in Social Work, in honor of Eileen’s mother. The chair was designated for a scholar in the fields of children and family, women, substance abuse, or aging. In addition, the Connors have made another major gift to the University and have left its disposition to University President William P. Leahy, S.J., to use wherever the need is greatest.

.“There is nothing more consistent with the Jesuit tradition than the selfless decision to dedicate your life in service to others. We’ve always been proud of Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work and appreciative that generations of graduates have gone on to truly rewarding careers. In fact, after 30 years of raising a family, Eileen returned to Boston College to receive her M.A. in Social Work. So it just seemed appropriate to make this gift to Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work in honor of Eileen’s mother. Giving back to society was a tenet in her life; the joy that it brings is one of the greatest gifts she gave both of us.”

Dean Godenzi, seeking an influential scholar for the chair, offered it to James Lubben, an internationally recognized expert on aging societies and support networks among the elderly. Lubben—national director of the Hartford Doctoral Fellows Program in Geriatric Social Work, professor of social welfare and urban planning at the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research, former associate dean and director of the Social Welfare program at UCLA, and former member of the National Advisory Committee on Gerontology and Geriatrics for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs—will hardly start from scratch at Boston College. On the contrary, he joins several renowned faculty members already dedicated to research on the elderly.

Still, Lubben believes the University is poised to step into a significantly more prominent role in the aging arena. “There’s a keen opportunity for Boston College to take national leadership,” he says.

The need for leadership is acute. Of more than 600,000 social workers tackling a wide range of needs nationwide, perhaps ten percent have received special training in geriatrics. When properly trained, social workers can guide the elderly and their families through the maze of health and social service options available through public agencies and private organizations, and they can counsel, support, and ensure that resources reach those who need them. The Graduate School of Social Work is an important part of the solution. Since its founding in 1936, the GSSW’s charge remains steadfast: to engage in rigorous scholarship, to prepare students for competent and compassionate practice, and to promote attainment of social justice.

Boston College trains social workers who understand gerontology, forms doctoral candidates who can teach future generations of social workers, and creates scholars to become leaders in program and policy development that serves senior citizens and their families.

If Lubben’s vision is fulfilled, Boston College will be working with other research universities that have strong gerontology programs. “One of the things I bring is a spirit of collaboration,” he says. “This challenge is so significant that, instead of a traditional competitive model, we need to work together and bring Boston College to the forefront of national gerontology research.”

Photo at top of page: (left to right) James Lubben, Louise McMahon Ahearn University Chair in Social Work, with GSSW colleagues Regina O'Grady-LeShane, assistant dean; Kevin Mahoney, associate professor; and Elizabeth Boucher, project coordinator.

Inset photo: Eileen Ahearn Connors and
Jack Connors, Jr.

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