Utah Aging Alliance Recognizes Professor Michael Caserta with Pioneer Award
Oct 21, 2013 1:00 PM
On Friday, October 11, University of Utah College of Nursing Professor Michael Caserta, PhD, inaugural holder of the Robert L. and Joyce T. Rice Presidential Endowed Chair in Healthy Aging and a faculty member with the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program, saw his efforts to help establish the Utah Aging Alliance come full circle when he was presented with the organization’s Pioneer Award. The award recognizes significant contributions to advance the field of aging in Utah.
As a founding member of the Utah Aging Alliance (Formerly the Utah Gerontological Society), which was established in 1992, Caserta was involved in the creation of the Pioneer Award, which was first awarded to Dr. Josephine Kasteler more than 20 years ago. He considers his associates in the Alliance to be not only his colleagues, but also his friends. “I am honored to be in their company,” he says of the members, which include professionals in the aging network, government and non-profit.
And while he is moved to have been selected as the 2013 recipient of the Pioneer Award, Caserta says he also finds the experience rather humbling, given that he views everyone that is working in the field of aging as a pioneer. “What does a pioneer do? They forge ahead,” he says. “When someone does something to make a community more aging friendly or develops a new resource that helps an aging individual and their family meet a challenge, when a scientist uncovers new research data to further our understanding of the aging experience or to improve older adults' quality of life or when we educate a future professional in the field of gerontology, each and every one of these actions advances the field of aging.”
The discovery of knowledge that has potential to lead to a better life for people as they age continues to drive Caserta’s work, but he says he is also at a point in his career where he is spending a lot more time mentoring people as they engage in their own aging-related research. “My work will continue until I retire, but my focus is on cultivating the people who will be tomorrow pioneers, so they can carry the field forward long after I am gone,” he says. “Fortunately, our students are highly creative individuals that are approaching how they want to use their education in gerontology from so many angles, including social and behavioral issues, policy, active aging, recreation and leisure and housing. The opportunities are endless.”
Caserta is so well respected in the field of gerontology, and his contributions so myriad, that it is difficult to imagine he never intended to enter the field in the first place. “I stumbled into gerontology with some opportunities that came my way at the University while doing an internship at the State of Utah Division of Aging and Adults Services in the 1980s,” he says. “It continues to be one of the most significant lessons of my career and one that I strive to relay to my students: Always be on the lookout for opportunities that may be available to you. If one presents itself, seize it and make the most of it.” Caserta credits the relationships he developed, along with the funding climate at the time, with allowing him to get in at the ground level on grants that were being written at the University of Utah. “I recognized where I could make a unique contribution was through my ability to conduct research, and I created a role for myself. I realized it was something I needed to latch on to or I could miss it. The ship would have sailed.”