Laura Darlak’s life is one of agrarian romanticism, contemplation, and authenticity. Since graduating from Ithaca College in 2010 with a dual major in Gerontology and Journalism, Laura and her partner, Elyse, have travelled the country, worked on farms, lived in a motorhome, owned homes, started and departed graduate school and entrepreneurial endeavors, and adjusted course when they saw in others a vision of their future selves that was not aligned with their deepest desires.
Laura applied to Ithaca College to pursue Journalism at the Park School of Communications. By the end of her first semester, Laura struggled to find community among her Journalism peers and did not find the major’s curriculum engaging. Laura considered leaving Ithaca College, until she was introduced to the Gerontology Institute. An acquaintance told Laura about Intro to Gerontology with Dr. Patricia Lynott. “GeroWHAT?” Laura asked. She took her first gerontology class and the rest is history. Brian Karafin, who taught religion and transpersonal psychology, also mentored Laura. His classes influenced Laura’s spiritual practice and the way she approaches altered states of consciousness, including dementia.
Laura pursued these interests after graduation, though, upon reflection, she said, “I was clueless.” She grew up in a rural town in Western New York and, like many of us, was strongly oriented by society toward achieving the next goal, the next academic or career milestone. “There was always an end goal…” she said. “Graduate high school, go to college. I finished college and thought, that’s it. Now what? Life became a moving target.” Laura wanted to change policy. “I saw it as the most direct way to make an impact,” she said. Upon graduating from IC, she took an internship in Washington D.C. with the National Academy of Social Insurance. From there, Laura went to Cleveland, Ohio and worked as a research assistant from 2011-2014 at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging. While there, she worked on data collection with Dr. David M. Bass, making phone calls to caregivers and veterans living with dementia, and disseminating research findings to older adults and service providers. While gathering this quantitative data, Laura realized that the people she was calling had a lot more to say than quantitative data could capture, and the implementation and monitoring of research-based programming took a perpetual flow of time and money and was based on findings from data that didn’t necessarily honor the whole person. This was not an environment that best suited Laura’s talents and passions.