Elizabeth (Elise) Ruckert DPT '06
Interview by Shelby Smith ’13, Aging Studies major
Elizabeth (Elise) Ruckert ’06 graduated with a bachelor’s in clinical science with minors in gerontology and integrative health studies and a doctorate degree in physical therapy. Now a faculty member in George Washington University’s Physical Therapy Department in Washington DC, Elise is also a practicing clinician at Making Progress, an outpatient neurologic physical therapy practice in Alexandria, Virginia.
Although her primary area of study was physical therapy, Elise had a passion for gerontology. She decided to enroll in an Intro to Gerontology course after seeing a brochure and talking about it with her family. The course was engaging and fascinating to Elise. Realizing the interconnected nature of gerontology and physical therapy, she decided to minor in gerontology: “I knew the pulse of healthcare was going to be greatly affected by the aging population, so it made sense to bridge these two interests together.”
After declaring her minor, Elise realized how many opportunities were now available: “At the Gerontology Institute, my interests in learning, teaching, and research were mentored and developed in a nourishing and stimulating atmosphere. I was able to develop relationships with new faculty and students who were outside of the physical therapy curriculum. It was a great way to diversify my learning and develop inter-professional relationships.”
The Pathways to Life Quality Study was one of the research projects Elise was involved in on campus, through Ithaca College and the Cornell University Life Course Center. Elise claims that the study gave her a different perspective about what it means to age in different community settings. Interviewing older adults across Tompkins County, Elise interacted with elders still living in their own homes, as well as those living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and CCRCs (continuing care retirement communities).
She also took part in research with her faculty mentor/advisor Patty Lynott. They investigated how stereotypes of aging are developed in children (specifically 4th graders), and created intergenerational programming geared to educate younger generations on a realistic view of aging. They provided education sessions at a local elementary school classrooms, as well as took the students on a field trip to Kendal (a local CCRC). “It was great because the children were able to interact and learn from older adults on a personal level,” Elise stated. “They gained the perspective that aging is not just about physical changes, like having gray hair or wrinkled skin, but that older adults have a wealth of life experience and knowledge to share.”
Elise became a student assistant in the Gerontology Institute as an undergraduate, and says that gave her experience and knowledge outside of the classroom. Elise states, “I got to work closely with faculty, doing literature reviews on varied topics, finding new types of media to use in the classroom, making phone calls to area aging agencies, and being involved in professional development/conference planning.” She says these experiences helped her understand more of what takes place behind the scenes in academia: “I was able to prepare more for the professional world of higher education and what to expect in my new role as faculty member at GW.”
Elise was also very active in A.G.E.S (Aging and Gerontological Education Society), a gerontology student club on campus focusing on aging education of the campus community and service to the older population in Ithaca. Her involvement with this group was among her favorite experiences at Ithaca College: “Some of my best memories were spending afternoons at Longview with the Glamour Gals program (doing manicures), the Annual Intergenerational Harvest Moon dance at IC, and the Alzheimer’s memory walk at Sterling House and Clare Bridge. The relationships I formed with older adults through these and other service activities really changed me as a person.”
Elise’s work in the community was so extensive that she was awarded the William A. Scoones Community Service Scholarship her senior year. In addition, as a graduate student, she worked on a research project with Kathy Beissner, a fellow of the Gerontology Institute and PT faculty member, related to quality of life in different living environments for older adults. She was later awarded the AARP Scholar Award for her contributions to research related to older adults and physical therapy.
Now, as a physical therapy professor and clinician, Elise regularly works with elders. She asserts, “Geriatrics is a part of every health care setting from acute care to outpatient; if you are in the healthcare field, you’re going to be working with older adults.” She interacts with elders most often in the clinic, which she deems vital to her success as a professor: “You can’t be an effective educator unless you’re in the field working with patients and aware of current issues in clinical care.”
Elise attributes her professional success to the wide array of learning and service opportunities available at IC. “There are so few schools that have a gerontology program like Ithaca College,” she says. “Students need to take advantage of the unique opportunities available, such as the Longview-IC partnership. The Gerontology Institute has a wealth of expertise and a dedicated, inspirational faculty to help each student achieve their utmost potential.”
Elise also advises that students get involved outside of the classroom. She states, “It’s fine to learn about topics in class, but until you actually see and experience the content in real life by listening and talking with people, you won’t have a greater appreciation for how it applies to your professional and personal life. Getting involved outside the IC campus helps students realize that their role is not just to learn but to spread knowledge, help others, and give back to their greater community.”