Scholarship recipient fights ageism as VCU faculty member

Volunteering at an assisted-living facility made Alexa van Aartrijk (M.S. ‘19/G) fall in love with working with older adults. It also made her aware of critical deficits in their long-term care.

Alexa van Aartrijk
Alexa van Aartrijk (photo by Jud Froelich)

It worried me,” van Aartrijk said. “So I wanted to get a master’s degree that would help me understand the problems older adults face and how we can improve their care and their lives.” As a gerontology student at VCU, van Aartrijk learned about disrupting ageism and became passionate about eliminating the stigmas and stereotypes associated with getting older.

“I didn’t realize how systemic these problems were in our society,” she said. “Once I started learning about it, it changed my life.”

Receiving the Walters-Wilkerson Memorial Gerontology Scholarship and the Theresa Thomas Health Professional Scholarship allowed van Aartrijk to spend time outside of class volunteering with organizations that serve older adults in the Richmond area.

“A lot of students are working nights and weekends to make ends meet, but I was able to use that time to focus more on community outreach,” she said. “It felt like someone was looking out for me even though they had never even met me before.”

After graduating in 2019, van Aartrijk joined the Department of Gerontology as community education coordinator. In that role, she plans and coordinates evidence-based continuing education training for professionals working in assisted-living and adult day care centers.

“Whether it’s through education, research or training, I want to play a big part in making the experience of getting older exciting, fulfilling and healthy for our older population,” she said.