PLATTSBURGH - State University of New York at Plattsburgh undergraduate Elizabeth Ryan is embarking on a two-part mission this summer.
Ryan, a nursing major, will study the status of the elderly in Plattsburgh, documenting their lives in film. Then, she plans to use the footage to see what people can do to help.
Ryan's work will be supported by the Chapel Hill Foundation, which sponsors an annual fellowship that provides a SUNY Plattsburgh junior or senior with a summer stipend and tuition support for up to two semesters. The goal is to support student research into the challenges of an aging society.
For her project, Ryan plans to interview at least 20 senior citizens, 20 young people and four or five SUNY Plattsburgh faculty members who are experts in fields like nursing, philosophy and psychology. She will then work with James Heffron, a TV/video production major, to produce a video, titled "The New Age of Old."
"I'm going to find out what the aging population in Plattsburgh can do and what they can't do, and, if there is a big enough problem with things they can't do, then I will try to find a public policy to make everything better," said Ryan.
Ryan became motivated to undertake the study after conversations with her 99-year-old grandfather.
"There's so much to learn about him," said Ryan, whose interactions with him made her think about the elderly from a nursing standpoint.
"When you meet a client or patient, you don't really know about them," she said. "But, I think that this project will help me see that and understand that a patient is not just a grumpy person in a bed. It's a person with a lot of history and a lot of prospects."
Because she was so motivated by her grandfather, Ryan said she would have embarked on this study with or without the funding. However, the financial support will enable her to concentrate more fully on the project, allowing her to be more independent and to finish it earlier.
"It is an unfathomable honor," said Ryan. "I am so proud and thankful to the Chapel Hill Fellowship and to my mentor and teacher for the project, Dr. Beth Dixon."
"Besides being an amazing experience to better understand my future career, it offers me the personal experience of moving out of my parent's house," Ryan added. "I really feel like I am growing up, and this project will give me such a great insight into growing older and growing up."