Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Johnston and His Experiences with Health and Aging

Meet Matthew Johnston, a 2010 graduate of App State with a BA in Sociology. Below are his answers to select questions about his success after graduation and some advice for new sociology majors. 

1. What have you been doing since you left App State? 

Upon graduating from Appalachian State, I immediately began working within the Senior Living industry. I started as an Assisted Living Dining Room Manager at Brookdale Charlotte East (called Wilora Lake Lodge at the time), as a way to get my foot in the door and discover which avenues I wanted to pursue. Having experience in a Retirement Community in high school, I knew I wanted to work in a community setting but not necessarily remain in Food & Beverage. While working in that setting, the Assisted Living Administrator suggested I become certified as an Assisted Living Administrator through the North Carolina Assisted Living Association (NCALA). This required classes and on-site experience, as well as an examination process. When I became certified as an Administrator, a Marketing Assistant position became available within the Marketing department in the same community. I transferred to that department and, around a year later, moved to Washington, DC. I had been hired as a Sales Counselor at The Residences at Thomas Circle, a retirement community in downtown DC. At the time, it was the only retirement community downtown that offered all four levels of care. It was an attractive option to the older adult population there, and I enjoyed working in that setting and getting to know the vibrant and interesting residents. After a year and a half, I was promoted to Marketing Director and remained there another year and a half before relocating back to North Carolina. I began working as a Residency Counselor at WhiteStone, a Masonic and Eastern Star community. I wanted to continue working for Life Care Services, the management company at Thomas Circle. After three years at WhiteStone, I wanted to continue growing and began considering options outside of sales & marketing. It was the Spring of 2020, and I learned that UNCG offers an excellent Masters of Gerontology program.

2. How did sociology at App State help or prepare you for your recent successes?

Earning a Masters in Gerontology had been a long-term goal of mine, and I discovered that the program at UNCG was online and could be finished in three semesters (August to August) if taken at the accelerated rate. I decided to leave my job and become a Gerontologist. As I had worked with the older adult population for a cumulative 13 years at that point, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about the aging process from a biopsychosocial perspective. As the older adult population is vastly increasing over the next decade, I thought it would also help me stand out in the job market to have both experience and education. To complete the program, an internship was required as a part of the Capstone course. I had previously learned about Geriatric Care Management earlier in the program. I thought it would be a great career that would utilize the skills I acquired in Senior Living but would place the focus and energy on what was best for the Older Adult client. My internship occurred at Choice Care Navigators, a Geriatric Care Management organization in Greensboro. Upon finishing the program and becoming a Gerontologist, I was hired full-time at Choice Care Navigators as a Care Manager and Administrative Director, where I remain to this day!

The Sociology program at Appalachian State prepared me for my future career by helping me to realize you can find a career path that also aligns with your interests. Before changing my sociology major, I was completely unhappy trying to achieve a degree at the Walker College of Business. While Walker is an excellent program with many great professors, I knew deep down that I was not interested in the courses I took, and my grades suffered. After taking additional sociology courses, I decided to switch my major. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Race & Minority Relations, Sexual Deviance and Violence, Constructions of Gender, the Sociology of Work, and Sociological Theories. While I wouldn't truly appreciate Theory until being in a Master's Program, I look back and see how utilizing theories to explain different aspects of society helped develop an interest in a sociological perspective, which later evolved into a Gerontological imagination and perspective. If Gerontology is to be taken seriously as a discipline, theories must be used in practice and research applications. Learning about theories in Sociology helped instill an interest and understanding of different aspects of society and human behavior that were expanded upon within my Master's program.

3. What advice would you give new sociology majors moving forward in our program and into the job market?

I would advise students moving forward in the Department of Sociology to develop a plan of action upon graduation. Appalachian's courses are vast and can take you in many different directions upon graduation. Talk to your favorite professors about your interests after looking at all the course options within the program. They can help you realize what pathways are available to you upon graduation, helping to solidify which courses would be best suited to you during your time as an undergraduate. Additionally, don't be afraid to work for a few years, learn more about yourself and what interests you, and then return for a master's program later! Everyone has a different Life Course, and there is no age limit for continuing your education after earning experience and money. As a Gerontologist, I also need to promote finding a career path where you can work with Older Adults in some capacity. There are hundreds of career options within this field. Our aging population is growing substantially, and you could find job security while working with an interesting and ever-changing population!

Congratulations to Matthew and the Department wishes continued success!

Matthew Johnston
Published: Oct 13, 2022 10:47am