Lisa Hollis-Sawyer

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When Lisa Hollis-Sawyer accepted her American Psychological Association Division 20 Mentorship Award in Aging on Aug. 9 in Washington, D.C., she had a special guest in attendance: her own mentor.

“I’m driven by passion toward what I do,” said Hollis-Sawyer, gerontology program director at Northeastern Illinois University. “I try to instill that passion and cultivate that passion in students.”

That’s an attitude Hollis-Sawyer developed when she earned a Ph.D. in industrial gerontology (the study of aging in the workplace) under her mentor, Harvey Sterns, at the University of Akron.

Gerontology is the holistic study of aging across disciplines including biology, sociology and psychology. As the world population ages, the field is growing more popular among professionals ranging from health care workers to nursing home administrators.

“Sometimes you see populations that need recognition, that need help, that need empowerment,” said Hollis-Sawyer, who started teaching at Northeastern in 1998 and became director of the gerontology program in 2004. “The challenge is to convince people that this is a population in need.”

Hollis-Sawyer was nominated for the APA award by psychology department colleagues Lorilene Cuevas and Amanda Dykema-Engblade, as well as several of her current and former students.

Marie Gurnik, executive director of Brookdale Plaza Glen Ellyn retirement community, not only graduated from the program in 2001, but she also has provided practical experience for four interns from Northeastern in the past five years.

“[Hollis-Sawyer] was a great resource when I was going through the thesis process,” Gurnik said. “It’s been a very positive experience for us and for the students.”

This has been an exciting year for Hollis-Sawyer and her program, which offers a Master of Arts, a minor and a certificate in gerontology. On the heels of another award—this one from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education—beginning this fall, master’s students will receive a certificate acknowledging they have graduated from a program of merit.

“These awards show that our students are benefiting from the instruction we offer in the NEIU gerontology program,” said Hollis-Sawyer, who is working on a book about aging and women with Dykema-Engblade. “It’s just a verification of what we do on a day-to-day basis.”