Older and wiser

By Joyce Shelfo
Published Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

In 2002, at the age of 77, Edith Ginsberg graduated from Lynn University with a Ph.D. in educational leadership. She was one of only three in her class who finished the program in just over two years. Now, at the age of 86, the Boynton Beach resident gives speaking tours on the aging process while encouraging other seniors to stay challenged and involved. Edith received a master’s degree from Hunter College in New York City in 1968, a couple of months after her husband died. She remarried and began her career as a reading therapist and English teacher in elementary and junior high schools in the Bronx and Queens.


As of fall 2011, there are 24 students currently attending Lynn University who are 55 or older.


What prompted you go back to school after 37 years?

I saw an ad that Lynn University offered a Ph.D. in educational leadership and I was always looking for a challenge – it’s just part of my nature – so I came to the campus for an interview. One of the requirements for admission was to take Miller’s Analogy Test of reasoning and consequence of one thing over another. I was in the mountains of North Carolina at the time and made arrangements to take the test there. Unfortunately, on the day of the test I had 103 temperature. But I was determined to not miss the test. I passed and was one of only 16 admitted to the program.


What was it like to get back into the “academic swing of things?”

Initially, it was difficult because I had been away from a disciplined kind of life for so long. The classes were from 6-10 p.m. That was a little late for someone my age. At times it became a trial for me. But I was determined to finish what I started…and to do it on time.


What was the topic of your doctoral dissertation?

My dissertation was on aging and learning. I traveled to Australia and New Zealand to see how the government treated their senior citizens. It was a very enlightening experience. Since I didn’t see any old people in the streets, I asked where they gathered. I was told they were either in the casinos gambling or bowling. I went looking for a bowling alley but couldn’t find one. Then I went to the mall and there I found all the seniors – with babies and small children. And that’s the life of senior citizens in Australia – to be babysitters.


Why did you pick the topic of aging?

Simply because I was aging. In three months I’m going to be 87 and I’m concerned about the way older people are being treated and respected or disrespected. It’s very hard for seniors. As an older person in meetings, I become invisible. They don’t see the value of my experience. I find that insulting. I’ll be going up to Scripts Medical Center next month for a seminar on aging. There they bring the outside world to the older person.


What is your most memorable experience at Lynn?

The faculty was outstanding and inspired me to want to do well. I felt completely encouraged and supported. In New York City, I went to school with thousands of people. There were only 16 in my class at Lynn so professors were always available. One time, I was so concerned about a final…Dr. Cohen, who was the dean in the school of education at the time, bet me $100 I would do fine on exam. And I did. That’s Lynn.


What did your family think of your return to the classroom?

My kids were very encouraging. They were both married and out of the house but we kept in touch on a daily basis. My daughter, Sharon, continues to support my ultimate goal: to go into the geriatric curriculum field.


What did you do after receiving your Ph.D. from Lynn?

I became very active with Area Agency on Aging. They offered two courses initially established for young people. But I received a $1500 scholarship toward a degree in education. The course gave us an exposure to legalities of what you can and cannot do to support aging members in the community. I developed a program to call older people at home – to check up on them, make sure they take meds, etc. If a family is having a problem, I step in and find a solution. Do they want to keep the older person in their own home and bring help in, or have them move in with them or go to a facility for independent or assisted living? I help them make the best decision for all concerned.


What advice would you give to anyone who has been out of school for many years and is thinking of going back?

Go back. Pursue your interest. You can learn at any age if you are motivated. And I’m an example of that. An executive at one of the organizations I’m involved with asked me to talk to his mother about going back to school. Life with technology is new to all of us. We need to keep up.


What’s on your horizon for the future?

I aim to fundraise for an organization that deals with aging. Research needs money. Application of research needs money. When people are younger with kids they want funds to go to children’s issues but now they have aging parents…they’re the sandwich generation, caring for both children and parents. Seventy two million baby boomers have already turned 65.


I did some fundraising when I was on the board of the Arthritis Foundation and I organized a golf tournament when Cleveland Clinic wanted to come into Florida. I plan to be active with Bethesda Hospital because it’s right around the corner from me.


I’m also interested in geriatric curriculum and I would like to see Lynn offer a program to train geriatric aides properly. By that I mean to give them better training than to just take seniors to doctor appointments or check on their medications. They need to know more…like what happens to seniors’ hearing, teeth, vision. Include pharmacists as part of the curriculum. Lynn is my home. I made lots of friends here and I’m still in touch with a couple of my fellow classmates. I’d love to see that kind of program here because I know it would be done right. Teach how we can support the aging process.