For more than 30 years, Mary Alice Wolf has been immersed in exploring the nature of aging and learning, serving as a boundary spanner between adult education and gerontology (particularly educational gerontology) as fields of both study and practice.
Fusing gerontological theory and research with adult education, she has been recognized both nationally and internationally through professional fellowships, awards, consultancies, media interviews, writing and speaking invitations, and other modes. Her work is frequently cited in peer-reviewed journals and embraced as a foundation for the research of others.
From the early 1980s, her award-winning research has made an influential impact, providing a developmental foundational framework for both researchers and practitioners. With her worldwide efforts in expanding anti-aging practice, she has broadened and deepened the scope of adult education as a profession. At the same time, she has brought the field of adult education onto the radar screen of gerontologists, a contribution that deepens even further as our elderly population continues to grow.
Her legacy is equally active in the efforts of many of her former graduate students and other mentees who have since effected policy and organizational changes to permit older persons to grow to their fullest potential, including those with cognitive deficits. Deeply devoted to the plight, the rights, as well as potential of older adults, she tirelessly serves as a global champion and advocate for the role that elder adult education plays in society at large, bringing both honor and visibility to the power and potential of adult education worldwide.
Wolf has published more than 70 articles, chapters, and monographs dealing with learning in elder adulthood, gerontological education, ethnographies of older adults, and humanities and aging. In addition to her own scholarly work, research, publications, and guidance of graduate students, and as book review editor of Educational Gerontology: An International Journal, she has worked to develop a scholarly and practitioner-oriented bibliography of texts and resources for the teaching of aging studies.
In addition, Wolf has also developed training and educational programs for a wide range of practitioners. For instance, as a grant recipient, she educated adult learners working as home companions to the elderly, a heretofore marginalized but increasingly called-for area of the workforce. Combining her research and professional experience, such intervention efforts have resulted in publications such as Gerontology for Companions: A Leader’s Guide (with C. Whitman) and Connecting with Older Adults: Educational Responses and Approaches (with P. Beatty).
In recognition of her pioneering and creative contributions to the learning and education of older adults, Wolf has received a variety of honors. Among them, she was the 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, she was inducted as a Fellow into the Gerontological Society of America, and she was given an honorary citation from the Connecticut Department of Elderly Services.
Increasingly more valuable in our aging societies is recognition of multi-cultural patterns of living, aging, and dying. As a result of her work, Wolf has encouraged learners to explore, appreciate, and collect life stories of diverse populations including Saudi Arabian, Vietnamese, Hispanic, Irish, West Indian, Korean, Japanese, and African populations. These projects have resulted in texts used throughout the world, changing the way in which elders are viewed and treated.
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