For BGSU gerontology students, learning is inseparable from service, and the community of elderly people constitutes their “research lab,” thanks to the efforts and philosophy of gerontology program director Dr. Nancy Orel.
For her extraordinary commitment to service-learning, Orel was selected as one of four finalists for Campus Compact’s 2010 Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning following her nomination by BGSU President Carol Cartwright.
“Although the external reviewers selected another as this year’s recipient of the award, it is an honor to have been among the finalists for this most prestigious national award,” said Dr. Linda Petrosino, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Orel will represent BGSU as a finalist at the annual Association of American Colleges and Universities in January.
Orel is well known in the Bowling Green community and nationally for the programs she has created and for using her groundbreaking research to develop curriculum and practices and provide outreach to meet community needs.
For example, her community-based research into the previously unrecognized growth of HIV infection rates among the elderly resulted in a University-community partnership that planned and implemented the “No One Is Immune” HIV-AIDS prevention program. She also taught a course that involved developing and hosting a conference on the subject. One of her articles on this “hidden” topic is among the top-25 most requested manuscripts published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, and she has been honored with the Ohio HIV/AIDS Award.
Orel has provided exemplary leadership in the scholarship of engagement, Cartwright said, noting, “Her work demonstrates how teaching and research can be integrated with and applied to community-based learning and produce products that impact societal issues.” She has been a promoter of service-learning and a generous mentor to other faculty across campus.
Orel has revised the gerontology curriculum to ensure that a focus on civic and community engagement permeates the program, with many tangible results. The ongoing partnership with the Wood County Committee on Aging has yielded staff and student training in such issues as opportunities for senior citizens with developmental disabilities and elder-abuse prevention. Students are engaged on all levels, as participants, volunteers and interns. They have been part of planning, implementing and evaluating aspects of the community work. Their success has been recognized with numerous community-service awards from local and state entities.
“Partnerships are at the heart of Dr. Orel’s work,” Cartwright said. Recently, she has developed a service-learning partnership with Hospice of Northwest Ohio that resulted in gerontology students’ becoming fully trained as hospice volunteers and completing a period of service.
As Orel said, her work has the “common goal of bringing visibility to those who have been overlooked and/or ignored by the scientific community and society at large.” Under her example and mentorship, BGSU is producing a new generation of gerontologists who will continue to revolutionize the field for the benefit of some of our most vulnerable, and valuable, citizens.