Kendall Massengill '10
I have been passionate about eldercare since I began volunteering in nursing homes almost ten years ago. Before this summer, despite my years of experience, I had never felt prepared to answer questions residents or their loved ones posed to me about psychological, financial or insurance related issues. As a Biochemistry major, I have had many opportunities to learn about physiological issues associated with aging, but I have never had a chance to educate myself on those other, equally-as-pertinent, age related concerns. Ultimately, I want to become a doctor who specializes in geriatric medicine, and as a physician I believe it will become even more critical that I be able to confidently advise my patients on those confusing issues. My Johnson Opportunity Grant allowed me to work for MetLife's Mature Market Institute, a not-for-profit division of MetLife that produces research on the biological, psychological and financial concerns associated with aging. Their publications cover a wide range of formats from academic white papers to more reader friendly brochures and tip sheets, but the goal of each piece is to educate aging adults or their caregivers on the many confusing decisions they face.
As an intern at the Mature Market Institute, or the MMI, I was expected to familiarize myself with the Institute's 60+ publications on aging related issues. This expectation and the opportunity I had to consult with expert gerontologists on staff helped me to better understand many of the challenging decisions that seniors face. My supervisors asked me to report what I had learned at each of our staff meetings which forced me to learn to articulate many complicated financial and insurance related issues in clear, easy to understand statements. The knowledge I acquired along with the practice I gained expressing these ideas has enabled me to better serve the nursing home residents who seek my advice and will one day make me a better physician.
While it was personally satisfying to acquire the knowledge to answer questions that had previously stumped me, the most rewarding aspect of my internship was assisting in the MMI's website redesign because I believe the improved site will ultimately help better inform the underserved geriatric population on issues critical to their financial, emotional and physical well being. While the MMI is a well known resource among the thought leadership community, the general population does not know about the wealth of quality information that the MMI generates because its website is not user friendly. As the baby boomers approach and enter retirement age, the need for easy to understand information on age relevant issues from a trusted resource is enormous. Despite this critical and growing need, many publications on, for example, Social Security, Medicare, reverse mortgages or long term care insurance, are almost impossible to understand without a background in finance. As a result, many senior citizens do not know how to adequately prepare for their futures, are vulnerable to fraud and/or don't receive many of the benefits they are entitled to. Most of the MMI's materials are written with the average person in mind, so they explain these and other essential concepts in a thorough but easy to understand manner. In order to make these invaluable materials more available to the public, the MMI decided to redesign their outdated website.
When my supervisor at the MMI asked me to take on this project, I was initially very reluctant because I had no background in website redesign-in fact, I had a hard time even logging onto campus computers. My supervisor, however, insisted I step outside my comfort zone and encouraged me to participate in every step of the redesign process. In order to get an idea of the issues that mattered to the public, I began this project by researching the distribution of the Institute's printed materials and by identifying the type of traffic viewing and linking to the current MMI site. I then had the incredible opportunity to utilize MetLife's many corporate partnerships to learn how to extrapolate trends from this data that would be useful for improving the MMI's website. I arranged meetings with gracious representatives from innovative companies like Google, Ogilvy, Media Edge and Young and Rubicam who patiently taught me about many aspects of website redesign. After these extremely helpful consultations, I attended several workshops where I learned how search engines "crawl" through pages on a website and what techniques could be used to optimize a site's "searchability" on search engines. With all of these lessons learned, I was able to advise a creative team on the publications that ought to be included on the new site, the format those publications ought to be in, and the aesthetic and interactive elements that ought to be integrated into the site in order to improve user friendliness, especially for an older audience. Currently, the creative team is in the final stages of this project's development, and the new site should launch at the end of the month. When the new site does launch, the MMI's resources will become more accessible to the underserved geriatric population and their caregivers. I believe this improved access will help those facing confusing issues related to aging make more informed decisions.
The website redesign was an exciting project for me to be involved with on many levels. Most gratifyingly, I felt like I helped a population that I care deeply about gain access to trustworthy information on topics that have serious impact on their lives. While I felt like I was helping to educate the public, I was also receiving an education myself on website design and the business world. Despite receiving a liberal arts education, my coursework and job experiences have always been heavily focused on the life sciences. My Johnson Opportunity Grant allowed me to take an internship completely out of my comfort zone. I acquired a completely new skill set, and in the process learned how to confidently talk with, ask questions of and present to professionals in the business world. I was able to observe how companies, especially large companies, operate and manage employees. Most notably, I learned that I could adapt to and succeed in any situation, even those that are intimidating or uncomfortable at first. As graduation looms, I am so grateful for my Johnson Opportunity Grant and the chance of a lifetime it afforded me. If it had not been for the Johnson Opportunity Grant, I never would have been able to take an internship so outside my comfort zone, and, therefore, never would have learned the invaluable lessons and skills I did. Next summer, when I enter into the workforce or medical school, I will be doing so with the skills, knowledge and professional confidence I gained during my internship this summer, and I know I will be all the more prepared because of it.