Valerie Bratton is a student with wide-ranging interests and skills, and the desire to expand her education even more. Currently pursuing a Master of Science in Human Services with a Specialization in Gerontology at Capella University, she’s also a marketing director at Bayada Home Health Care in North Carolina. She recently spent some time talking about her career, her studies, and being a Capella student.
Q. Can you share a bit about your background?
A. I have a varied background. I worked at Sprint as the North Carolina Health Care Technology Manager for many years. When Sprint laid off 3,000 people, I took it as an opportunity for a career change. Years ago I worked in daycare management, which I really enjoyed, and I wanted to feel that joy in my career again.
Q. Why did you go into your field?
A. I had the health care technology background, but wanted to work more directly with people. I decided to pursue a career in social work, which would give me the opportunity to help people more directly. I realized that an advanced degree would help me make this change, which is how I came to Capella.
Q. Why did you make the shift to gerontology?
A. When I started working with Bayada Home Health Care and spending time at assisted living facilities, I found I got so much satisfaction out of working with the elderly! When I enrolled at Capella, I planned to go into social work, but I realized that social work was too clinical for me, whereas gerontology would allow me to keep working with these amazing people. My Capella enrollment counselor really walked me through that decision. It’s absolutely the right path for me. I have no regrets, and I’m so happy the enrollment counselor helped me get here.
Q. What do you think is the single biggest challenge facing your field right now?
A. It’s really a two-pronged problem. One part is there’s so much research to be done. We just don’t understand the body side of aging and dementia. We need long research periods, but unfortunately, because of the age group we’re studying, the elderly fall out.
The second part of the problem, also related to research, is the current generation of the elderly often still feels a stigma attached to admitting their age and infirmities. They aren’t as forthcoming with physical details that would help researchers.
Q. What has your experience been like with online courses?
A. Capella—you’ve got it going on! I took my first online program 10 years ago with an organization that was still new. It wasn’t bad, but the support pieces just weren’t there. Then I tried an online program through a bricks-and-mortar university, and that was a nightmare. They just didn’t know what they were doing. They tried to move real-life courses online, without the library and resources, and the instructors were not engaged.
Capella’s got it all figured out. I never have to leave Capella to do my work, because everything is right at my fingertips. The instructors are really knowledgeable and engaged. They’re very professional; they participate and hold us accountable, and offer rigorous classes. I’ll be proud to have a Capella degree.
Q. What would you recommend to others who are thinking about pursuing a graduate course online?
A. Really do your research. Accreditation is very important. But you also need to find an organization that’s experienced in doing this. Talk to a lot of people, including enrollment and guidance counselors.
The other thing I’d advise is, if you enroll at Capella, do the pre-work that’s required. I didn’t think I would need the orientation class, but I was wrong! Even with previous online experience, it made it so much easier for me to transfer into Capella and access all of Capella’s resources.
Q. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A. Don’t chase the money. Chase what makes your heart sing.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not studying?
A. Sunday is motorcycle day. And go to the sushi bar day. It’s the reward I give myself for sticking to my week’s work.
Q. What is one thing your colleagues would be surprised to know about you?
A. In eighth grade, I was the state bowling champion of Alabama.
Q. Coffee, tea, or soda?
A. Coffee, with so much sugar in it, it’s crazy!