Admit it: When you read the title of this blog, you begin to bop your head and sway your shoulders as if you’re listening to the chorus of your favorite dance song.
The same goes for Jennifer Rossano, who is swaying to her own academic beat as she continues to develop her career path. During a 10-year stint as a culinary educator and food writer Jennifer enjoyed helping families and children learn how to prepare healthy meals and prioritize food and eating together as part of their wellness.
“My interest in psychology really grew out of my work in the kitchen observing the health behaviors and interpersonal dynamics that motivate people,” Jennifer details. “That shifted my interest away from the nuts and bolts of cooking toward learning why people think and act as they do.”
What started out as culinary passion has turned into a new career of digging into the nuances of human behavior—not just in healthy eating, but our overall well-being. Unsure if this was the right path for her—or if graduate studies were in her future—Jennifer enrolled in the Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions and hasn’t looked back.
What drew you to our Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions?
I was really thankful that I discovered the program because it gave me a comprehensive dive into the field of psychology so I could decide if I wanted to continue graduate-level work in the field.
In particular, I also really liked how the academic courses were scaffolded with seminars about career paths and how to apply to graduate school in psychology.
For me, I was in the middle of my working career and those seminars really helped me get back into school mode and understand the process of applying.
What were some of the gems you received in the courses?
One of the first classes I took was Developmental Psychology Across the Lifespan with Dr. Richard Sprott, which included a unit on adult development and aging. I had never really considered that development is something that we can study across the whole lifespan because we are often so focused on youth. For me, a real light bulb went off. This set me on the trajectory that I'm on now, which is an interest in adult development and well-being. This course was also really instrumental for me in helping to shape some of my research questions and interests.
One thing I'll also mention about that class is that Dr. Sprott was really flexible. After the first or second paper, I generally wanted to write about older adulthood and aging, and the paper prompts were really geared toward child development. I asked if I could write about adult development. He was so receptive to that idea, which was great because writing the papers helped me integrate what I was learning with my interest in aging.
This course was personally relevant, too, because I'm in a midlife transitional phase. I realized that we need to focus not only on our youth, adolescents and young adults, but we also need to understand and study adults—especially given how much longer people are living. So I immersed myself in the aging, wellness and longevity space, and it's shaped my direction moving forward.
Why study aging?
I was almost 50 when I started this program. I have aging parents. When COVID-19 hit, I saw firsthand how difficult that time was for my parents with a lack of social connection, a lack of routines around their own well-being, and not having the tools to think about how to keep themselves engaged. They struggled with having a sense of purpose and feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Also, I was drawn to this field because of where I am in my own life—.I realized that everyone is living longer lives, and so we all need to be thinking about how to cultivate overall well-being to ensure healthy longevity. So it really came from a personal place, and then understanding that there were theories and researchers examining these issues, which is what I learned in my coursework.
Is there any research on how dementia and other age-associated chronic illnesses kick in as people get older and does that have anything to do with how they cared for their bodies in their younger years?
Yes, there are longitudinal studies that are very intensive and expensive to do. But there are several in the U.S. and internationally that examine people’s development over time in which they're able to make those types of correlations.
We know that our lifestyle choices really impact our well-being. Habits related to exercise, sleep, stress management—those are a couple of the big ones that affect our brain.
The good news for older adults is that because our brains have plasticity, we have the ability to positively influence how our brain works, no matter our age or stage of life.
Since completing the program, you’ve been accepted into the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania—congrats!
While studying in the post-bacc program, I also became interested in positive psychology, the scientific study of human strengths and flourishing, a relatively new discipline within the field of psychology. I discovered a very unique program with a one-year Master of Applied Positive Psychology. I think that the post-bacc program enabled me to speak to and demonstrate my commitment to entering the field.
I was drawn to positive psychology because it focuses on what works well with people and what factors enable individuals and communities to thrive.
Now I'm exploring whether or not I want to pair this degree with another master's program like one in public health or go into a more research-based career as a Ph.D., or go directly into the workplace.
So many options. Anything speaking to you right now?
Ultimately, what I want to do is combine my previous experience in education and communication with knowledge in psychology in order to work in the space of translational research. This is where you work with basic research and you determine how to communicate and apply the findings in the public arena. Health communications would be one particular pathway that would integrate my skills and interests.
Also, there are several think tanks and non-profit organizations that focus on developing solutions for how to address our aging society. Because we know that staying physically and mentally active throughout life is important we really have to examine the types of environments we are creating for people. How is work, for example, accommodating to meet the needs of our aging population?
We have to take the science of well-being and aging and translate it in a way that could influence how policy is made.
As you can see, it's a very big scope!
Any advice to someone starting off in the counseling and psychology program?
What you put into your assignments is what you get out of them, particularly in a virtual learning environment. I would encourage students to really embrace the interactive tools made available on the Canvas learning platform.
I also think that writing can be a bit difficult, especially for students who are returning to school after being out for a while, and there is a lot of writing! Leave yourself plenty of time for the editing process, and maybe even consider finding a friend or family member to read and critique your first couple of papers.
Also, I did reach out to my instructors when I had questions. Even in online classes, don't be afraid to reach out to your instructors if you have questions about the direction you’re taking when writing a paper or if you're looking for additional resources.
If you are thinking about going to graduate school—especially if you haven’t been in school for a while—what's also great about this program is that you can ask for a composite academic recommendation letter at the end.