Andrea Valentino is an aspiring computer scientist who wants to design apps that increase older adults’ quality of life. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Valentino discovered a greater desire for a career that benefits older adults.
As she says in her two-page essay for the Brown/Kraus Scholarship in Gerontology, “during the pandemic I realized how dangerous it was for senior citizens…to go out to the grocery store and potentially risk their health.” Motivated to help her older neighbors, Valentino learned how to design an app which she spent months coding and testing. The resulting app lets volunteers shop for older adults and then deliver groceries directly to their doorsteps.
In her scholarship essay, Valentino also explained how she wants to specialize in Alzheimer’s-focused computational neuroscience and research. As a result, she hopes that new technologies can reduce the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Below is Valentino’s full essay:
I used to play hide and seek with the residents at the assisted senior living facility that my mother worked as a nurse at. I started playing this game accidentally when I was about five years old and ran away from my mother when she was trying to administer my allergy medicine. Unfortunately for my mother, I was a little bit of a menace and hid from her by darting in patients’ bedrooms and asking if they would help me hide. Majority of the patients did help but my cover was eventually blown, and I was forced to take the medicine. However, I wasn’t too distraught because I found excitement and comfort in being in the company of all the senior citizens at my mom’s job. Ever since then, I have pursued this interest and have spent a lot of time volunteering at various senior living complexes.
As I grew up my obligations grew from playing hide and seek to helping assist in a multitude of recreational activities such as knitting, Bingo nights, movie nights, and yoga. I think I have made more friends over the age of sixty-five than friends my own age. I find it so fascinating hearing all the stories and experiences that these folks have and all the knowledge I have to gain from them. My love for the company of older adults has also made me start volunteering at a senior living apartment complex that is close to my house. I have made countless favorable memories at this complex. For instance, I learned how to slow dance at the annual senior living Christmas party from a resident named Bernie and I learned how to perfect “Baby it’s Cold Outside” duets with my favorite resident Rose.
Through my active engagement with these communities, I have begun to realize my strong interest in a career working with older adults. I have realized that the older generation does not receive a lot of support from society but I plan to change that. Not only do I hope to have a career that will be able to help the older population, but I also am seeking to obtain a degree in computer science. I have been able to merge the two of my passions over the last few years. For instance, I helped run technology literacy nights to teach senior residents how to navigate the world of technology. This involved helping residents create emails, set up cell phones, learn how to work a smartphone, showing residents how to download online books, use Facetime and I even showed residents video games that I thought they might like. Believe me, no one loves Guitar Hero more than some of the residents that I have worked with.
The pandemic definitely contributed to my discovery of wanting to pursue a career that will help benefit older adults. For instance, during the pandemic I realized how dangerous it was for senior citizens at the apartment complex to go out to the grocery store and potentially risk their health to buy their groceries. Inspired to help create an innovative solution for this issue I began to research how to code my own app. I spent months testing, coding, and designing an app that would allow volunteers to shop for these senior citizens and deliver the groceries to their doors. In the future, I hope to pursue app development and create a series of apps that will help increase older adult’s quality of life.
Through my time volunteering I have seen several patients and residents develop Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and it is so incredibly difficult to watch the disease completely take over someone’s life. As I enter college I hope to specialize in computational neuroscience and research the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain through the use of computer modeling. With this research I hope to search for a cure, or at least a way to help significantly reduce the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Pursuing a career with older adults would be so fulfilling and I know I will be able to use my passion for technology to help improve older adult’s lives. However, a college degree is the most expensive investment that I have ever made. I would be more than honored to be the recipient of the generous Brown/Kraus Scholarship in Gerontology to help further my education.
The Brown/Kraus Scholarship in Gerontology
This scholarship awards $1,000 annually to a Middletown High School South (Middletown, NJ) senior who is interested in working with older adults. Established by Dr. Cristine Henage, it honors Cristine’s aunt, Sandra R. Kraus who passed away in October of 2015.
What is Gerontology?
Gerontology is the multidisciplinary study of aging. Gerontologists work in social services, financial planning, law, health and wellness, business, and health care. Every day 10,000 Americans turn 65. Older adults are changing the shape of every business and service in our economy. For more information on careers in aging Visit the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education’s Resources page.