Leadership Insights from New Ventures in Leadership Partners
Since ASA established the New Ventures in Leadership (NVL) program more than two decades ago, the program, which focuses on developing leaders of color, has graduated more than 350 leaders. Three recent NVL graduates offer their insights on leadership in the field of aging.
Jean Aerius, Ph.D., P.M.P., is senior strategic policy advisor within the Office of Policy Integraf/on at AARP, Washington, D.C.
Aging Today: What piqued your interest in the field of aging?
My interest and involvement in the field of aging is part of my calling- part of the divine order. My grandmother raised me for the first four years of my life, and I started working in the field of aging at 16. My first job was as a busboy in a retirement community dining room. During breaks and on days off, I hung out with residents, listening to their life stories, successes and regrets. By my senior year, I was an assistant supervisor. However, I never lost the connection with the residents. Their humanity, sense of grace and dignity inspired me.
What are you hoping to accomplish and how will you go about making a difference in the field of aging?
I am attempting to bridge the gaps between research, policy and practice for vulnerable older adults. Research, policy and practice can and should help inform our thinking by establishing evidencebased programs that improve the quality of life for seniors. Part of my advocacy is bringing attention to and addressing the issues of racial disparities and the structural and attitudinal barriers- accessibility, affordability and acceptability.
What impact would you like to have on the field?
I hope to bring a greater awareness that research, policy and practice are interrelated and that fostering that relationship is vital for achieving improved quality of care and life for seniors.
What was your job going into the NVL program, and where are you now in your career path?
I was a Ph.D. candidate at American University when I entered the NVL program. Midway through the program, I accepted a senior policy analyst position with the AARP Public Policy Institute, focusing on long-term-care issues. Currently, I am a senior strategic policy advisor within the Office of Policy Integration at AARP.
What are the qualities of a good leader, and who inspires you in the field of aging? Who inspires you outside the field of aging?
Authenticity, having a service leadership mentality, the ability to articulate a vision and a roadmap to achieve goals, great communication and listening skills and inspiring followers to go where they could not go on their own are important ingredients for good leaders.
I have been blessed to have some outstanding mentors: AARP senior vice president Susan Reinhard, who has extensive experience in translating research and developing coalitions to promote policy change; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Program Operations at the Administration on Aging Edwin Walker, who serves as the chief career official for the federal agency responsible for advocating on behalf of older Americans; and former AARP chief diversity officer and consultant Percil Stanford- a visionary leader in the field of gerontology and minority aging whose wisdom and intellectual rigor is in a field of its own.
How could you as a leader best serve diverse communities?
It is important that I bring the life experiences, stories and voices of our most vulnerable seniors to the forefront of policy discussions- with the full understanding that as a heterogeneous population, one size doesn't fit all.
We must help bring attention to and find solutions for addressing racial disparities ranging from health issues, the widening income gap, shrinking of the middle class and the accumulative implications these factors have in old age. We have a moral obligation and a great sense of urgency to rectify the existing structural and systematic barriers to ensure everyone has an opportunity to live their best lives and age with dignity. …