Driving to Case Western Reserve University’s campus each day, Susan Ross, a social work student who returned to college after nearly 40 years, found inspiration from a Chester Avenue billboard of a 95-year-old woman with a degree in hand.
“If she can do it, then I can do it, too,” Ross said.
She returned to school in 2007 for the intellectual challenge and knowledge about how to care for her aging mother, who lives in Strongsville.
On Sunday, May 16, during Commencement ceremonies at Case Western Reserve University in Veale Athletic Center, Ross will receive her master’s degree in social work from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.
Ross started taking courses at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. After learning more about Ross, her advisor Diana Morris, executive director of University Center on Aging and Health, encouraged her to check out social work courses.
“I was surprised to find so many specializations in social work,” Ross said. “I didn’t know there were social workers in community development, private practices, nursing homes or government agencies where I could bring all my skills into work.”
She decided to change from the nursing gerontology certificate program to enter social work school as a full-time student two years ago.
After Ross graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1974 with her bachelor’s degree, she taught English to high school students for a short time until Ross and her husband moved to California in the 1980s.
Once in California, her life took a new turn. She joined the California Park Service where she combined educational experiences with her values of preserving the wild areas. She became a park ranger and later a training specialist at the State Park Training Center where she coordinated programs for rangers and other park employees. Following this assignment, she worked as a superintendent, managing park units in southern California.
During that time, she itched with wanderlust and took a two-year break to volunteer in the Peace Corps.
With her experience as a park ranger, she was sent to Botswana where she was assigned to the Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. The park is home to the five big animals—elephants, rhinos, water buffalo, leopards, and lions. It also has more than 450 species of birds.
But foreign travel called again after returning to the United States and her ranger job.
She left the Park Service and became a paid full-time associate director with the Peace Corps in 2002. In five years, she lived on three continents, training new volunteers in Kenya, Bangladesh and Suriname.
Ross said, “This provided me with many interesting experiences and perspectives—particularly the poverty in this world.”
“It provided an appreciation for the job Peace Corps volunteers do, because they have unique challenges depending upon their assignments,” she said.
At the end of her contract with Peace Corps, and with her mother’s health failing, she decided to move to the Cleveland area to care for her mother.
Always looking for intellectual challenges, CWRU offered one. But she found a new calling in social work—particularly working in the field of geriatrics.
“I never expected to find a new career in social work,” she said.
One thing she has learned throughout her life: “If you follow your own path, every skill you develop and life experience somehow affects your job and at whatever point you are in life.”
But one calling stills persists. “Once you live in Africa, the continent keeps calling you back.” Someday she plans to return to Africa.
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