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Scholarship honors social worker's gerontology efforts

December 17, 2013

Teri Kennedy says her passion for gerontology and inspiring students to pursue careers in the field led her to establish the Gerontological Social Work Endowed Scholarship at Arizona State University. Just recently at the Arizona Geriatrics Society Fall Symposium, Neda Spiric, a senior pursuing a degree in social work, was named the first recipient of the scholarship.

The award honors her passion for the field and acknowledges her already significant experience through volunteer, internship and job opportunities.  

“Neda is obviously exceptional, and her life story is incredibly moving,” says Kennedy. “This has been her path all along. She has been paying her own way and making it on her own. It is gratifying to be able to help.”

Kennedy is director of the Office of Gerontological Social Work Initiatives and a faculty member in the School of Social Work, part of the College of Public Programs. She is also a member of the board of directors and President Elect of the Arizona Geriatrics Society.

“I’m really thankful for the scholarship. Being the first recipient really means a lot. It shows my strong interest in it – I’m set in this field,” says Spiric.

Paving a career path

Neda went to Paradise Valley Community College for two years before coming to ASU. She is on track to graduate in May and is applying for the advanced standing master’s program, where she could earn an advanced degree in just one year.

Along the way, Neda has gained a wealth of experience. She started working in an assisted living facility as a teen. She has volunteered with Alzheimer’s Association Southwest Desert Chapter and Hospice of the Valley, which she says cemented her interest in elder care.

“The social workers were coming in and out, and I just really enjoyed that whole aspect of seeing clients. I felt like I contributed a lot to the family I was helping,” she says.

Neda now works at a private geriatric case management firm as an assistant case manager. She is also an intern with Duet: Partners in Health and Aging, a nonprofit agency where she works with caregivers, helping to connect them to resources and providing support.

“Every day is a new experience. It is never routine, which I love,” Spiric adds.

“I’ve tried several different fields in social work, but my interest is geriatrics. Through my internship, every activity I do is applied to working with an elderly person. Through my job, I work with older adults, often with dementia. There is a need for caregivers and it is so rewarding.”

Spiric says, “I am doing social work. I know I don’t have my degree yet, but I am a social worker.”

Funding the future

Kennedy says that what seems like not a lot of money to most people can be a huge help to a student – meaning the difference between being able to buy books, or even go to school.

The scholarship originated several years ago – Kennedy says she learned about a program that had a $10,000 limit, and thought, “I can do that.” She notes that she funded the endowment through payroll deduction.

Recently Kennedy increased her pledge through ASU’s new Maroon and Gold Program, which matches payouts on pledges of $25,000 or more. Kennedy is the first ASU faculty member to make a pledge in the program.

“Literature shows that the earlier a student is exposed to working with older adults, the more likely they are to be interested in the area of aging,” she explains. “So I decided to focus on undergraduates.”

Kennedy set up the scholarship to enable others to contribute through the Tree of Life, a means for individuals to honor the legacy of their elders.

“Whether you are in social work or not, chances are that a social worker will help you or a family member at some time. It is a way to invest in having good elder care in the future,” she says.

For her personally, it is a tribute to her late parents, Stanley and Bernadine Knutson, and grandparents, Albert and Emma Berg and Selmer and Myrtle Knutson. She says it is “an honor to my family that will live forever.”

To learn more about the Tree of Life, visit