The book Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande addresses the question of how medicine can help people not only live better lives, but die better deaths. The book inspired Piragash Swargaloganathan, a senior majoring in Human Biology, Health and Society (HBHS), to pursue a minor in gerontology and ultimately consider end-of-life issues as he pursues a career in medicine.
This year, Swargaloganathan will receive the Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship for students interested in pursuing careers in gerontology. The scholarship was established by an anonymous Cornell alumnus living at Kendal of Ithaca, a continuing care retirement community located a mile from the Cornell campus.
After reading the book, Swargaloganathan began working towards a gerontology minor as part of his bachelor’s degree.
“I believe the conventional understanding of adult development and aging in the American popular culture is one of decay, and these beliefs persist even among the medical providers, which shapes their medical practice,” he said. “Being educated with the fundamentals of adult development and having acquired the tools to understand the continuing research in the field of gerontology will positively shape my conception of the process aging and older adults that will have a positive effect on my future patients.”
In addition to gerontology studies, Swargaloganathan is the president of Student Veterans of America – Cornell chapter and the outreach coordinator of the Cornell Undergraduate Veteran Association. In these roles, he has advocated for Cornell’s acceptance and support of non-traditional students and adult learners, such as veterans.
“What impressed the jurors about Piragash’s application was his strong commitment to support adult education and life-long learning, particularly his engagement for veterans, as well as his dual career aspirations as a practitioner and educator working with older adults,” said Corinna Loeckenhoff, the director of Cornell’s gerontology minor program.
Swargaloganathan has participated in undergraduate research in Professor Barbara Strupp’s Maternal Choline and Cognition Lab and Professor Gary Evans’ Children’s Economic Behavior Study for more than two years.
“Both of these experiences combined have given me an interdisciplinary experience of scientific research in social sciences and applied sciences that can be a gateway to understanding and conducting gerontology research,” he said.
This is the 18th year of the Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship. The donor, who built a career in the corporate world after graduating from Cornell in the 1940s, first learned about gerontology work at Cornell by participating in a study about the transition to living in a retirement community.
The donor’s goal was to build a lasting link between Kendal at Ithaca and Cornell so that “more students have a chance to learn about the colorful, interesting lives and careers of retirees, and more residents have an opportunity to better understand students of today – their hopes, thoughts, and dreams.