Maria Hernandez-Peck, MSSW, PhD

Professor Emerita
Graduate Director for Aging Studies
Eastern Washington University
Cheney, WA

What drew you to the field of aging or gerontology?
I had been a social worker in the area of child welfare and school social work for approximately 12 years. Then, in 1976, I entered the doctoral program at the University of Denver’s School of Social Work. At that time, my father, who was living in Miami, became very ill, and I became a long-distance family caregiver. All of a sudden an incredible field of practice opened up before my eyes:  I wanted to do my doctoral dissertation on a topic that would serve my community, since I am originally from Cuba. It was my mother who suggested that if I wanted to be of service to our community, I should do my research on our Cuban elders and how they would be taken care of over the long term.  My dissertation topic, "Frail Elderly Cubans:  Decision-Making for Their Long Term Care," was accepted by the doctoral committee, and I was granted a fellowship by the Administration on Aging to complete this research. Then, in 1978, I secured a research assistantship at the newly funded Institute of Gerontology at the University of Denver. I have been in the field ever since and it has been very good to me.

What is your specialty or area of interest?
I am a professor of social work and director of the Center for Studies in Aging at Eastern Washington University. This program is located within the School of Social Work, but our multi-disciplinary studies in a minor in aging are open to students in all areas. I am equally interested in both practice and policy, and I teach in both areas. I teach an Advanced Policy Seminar in Aging and Long Term Care and have developed a rather popular class of Family Centered Practice in Aging. In Spokane, I am the mayor's representative to our local area agency on aging, and have served as chair of the State Council on Aging, the body that advises our governor about issues having an impact on the lives of older persons within our state.

How is EWU able to bring 22 presenters/attendees to the Aging in America Conference?
We are very fortunate to have a $700,000 endowment through The Lucille Christ Trust. We have had this for approximately ten years. Ms. Crist was a graduate of our Department of Education in the 1950s. Following graduation, she moved to the Western Washington, lived very frugally, invested very well and initiated a trust in her later life. She charged her trustees to give her money to an institution that would teach people how to treat older persons with "dignity and respect." We were granted the money on the condition that it be used for students in the field of aging. Since then, we have been able to take our students to Aging in America each year. 

How do ASA's resources and education help you with your work?
I have been attending ASA meetings for a long time now—way back to when ASA was known as the Western Gerontological Society. I consider the Aging in America conference the best professional development opportunity for our students and our faculty. I like its interdisciplinary nature and how the education topic areas include both policy and practice. During the last year, we decided to send a recent graduate, Jamie McIntyre, to ASA's Leadership Academy. I am happy to report that she has now been promoted to assistant planner at our local area agency on aging. This year, we are sponsoring Cara Hernandez, a M.S.W. graduate from the class of 2012. Cara currently holds the newly created position of care transitions coordinator at elder services of Frontier Behavioral Services, also known as Spokane Mental Health.