This month's faculty spotlight is Mary Ann Erickson, PhD., Associate Professor of Gerontology at Ithaca College, and Coordinator of Integrative Studies. She received her B.A. from the University of Rochester with a double major in Math and Music History and Theory, and her Ph.D. in Human Development from Cornell. Her early research with mentor Phyllis Moen focused on the intergenerational transmission of gender roles. She then turned to studying planning for housing transitions and their effect on social integration. Her current research focuses on the scholarship of teaching and learning in gerontology, with a particular interest in applying contemplative pedagogy to gerontology education. She will receive the State Society of Aging of New York's (SSANY) Walter Beattie Jr. award in October 2018. This award is to honor a distinguished member of SSANY for outstanding contributions to the work of SSA and for commitment to the goals of the State Society.
What brought you to Ithaca College Gerontology Institute?
I was working on the Pathways to Life Quality Study at Cornell after finishing my PhD in Human Development there. The Pathways study was a partnership between Cornell and Ithaca College so I was familiar with the Institute even while I was at Cornell. When there was a one-year faculty position starting in fall 2000 I applied and was chosen, and have been here ever since!
What is your role within your department?
Like all other faculty members, I teach both introductory and upper-level courses. I spent six years as chair, but currently focus on assessment issues for the department.
Tell me about your research interests.
For a number of years after becoming a faculty member at Ithaca College, I continued to use the Pathways to Life Quality Study data to look at housing choices among elders as well as the impact of residential moves. My experience with students has contributed to a shift in my research to figure out how best to encourage students to think deeply about aging. Currently I am working on incorporating contemplative practices into my classes and measuring their impact.
Moreover, why you are passionate about this topic?
Mindfulness and meditation have been transformative for me personally and I hope that even a small amount of meditative practice will start to give students tools they can use to better understand the workings of their own minds, which may not only help mitigate ageism but could contribute to better physical and mental health.
Tell us about your recent sabbatical.
Contemplative pedagogy was the focus of my Fall 2018 sabbatical. I enrolled in the Mindfulness Studies Graduate Certificate offered through Lesley University and wrote my first paper on using mindfulness to address ageism in the undergraduate classroom. I also started working with Kathryn Caldwell in Psychology and Julia Lapp in Nutrition to gather faculty on campus to talk about contemplative pedagogy as well as to offer regular open sessions for meditation.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love interacting with students. They are at such an interesting time of life, and I am passionate about getting them to think about issues of aging and encouraging them to interact with elders.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The academic calendar feels like a blessing during the summer and a curse when everything piles up mid-semester! I keep thinking I should know what’s coming and adjust to it, but it overwhelms me every time.
How do you like to spend your time outside ICGI?
I have been playing the piano pretty seriously for most of my life and am continuing that right now with piano lessons. I practice yoga several times a week and enjoy helping my three kids (ages 23, 21, and 16) with all of the things they are interested in.
Do you have any advice for current students or prospective students?
I am a firm believer in following your interests during college. I think you have a better chance of finding a rewarding (AND remunerative) career if you do what you are passionate about.