Interview conducted by Jana Eisenberg
Professor Deborah Waldrop has been with the School of Social Work since 1999. As Waldrop looks to retirement, she spoke about her research focus (aging, end-of-life care and decision-making), her experience and her future.
DW: It’s time. After my term serving as associate dean for faculty development ended in 2019, I had a three-year plan. I returned to the faculty and my research. I had dreamed of starting a micro-credential program on the topic of serious illness, which is now in its third year. I wanted to be able to leave strong, look back and say that I had finished some things that were important to me. If you were me—and have done the work I’ve done—you must practice what you have studied, written and taught about. I talk to people about facing aging and end-of-life issues all the time. I believe in my work and want to be a model of considered aging.
DW: As a social work student, I learned best from professors who had been in practice, who knew what it was like to be with people in their vulnerable moments. And as a healthcare social worker, I learned about the need to improve the way we cared for people with serious illness who were nearing life’s end. I always had entering a doctoral program in the back of my mind. Then, in 1995 I was working in Oklahoma City, four blocks from where a federal building was bombed. (Note: A domestic terrorist set off a van filled with explosives; 180 people died and almost 700 were injured.) The hospital I worked at took the majority of the casualties, and I saw more loss and devastation than I’d ever imagined. That made me realize that I needed to follow my dream of becoming a professor and researcher—it wasn’t going to fall in my lap.
DW: I entered a PhD program the next fall. I was 40 and went from writing chart notes to papers and a dissertation. It was a difficult transition and I wanted to quit every semester, but I had a pre-teen and teenager and didn’t want them to see me quit anything.
DW: I wanted to be a social work professor, to help prepare the next generation of social workers for work with people who are seriously ill and facing death. And I have that satisfaction; it is incredibly meaningful to have been a part of my students’ careers, like my former graduate assistant and mentee, Jackie McGinley, and others. I was also bitten by the research bug; and found out I could make a difference by creating and disseminating knowledge. I feel fortunate that I landed here, it’s been a wonderful ride, and it is bittersweet to be leaving.
DW: I want to travel and spend time with my grandchildren. I’m retiring from UB but not from life. I am drawn back to service, and I eagerly look forward to learning what’s next for me.
I will be forever thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Waldrop. Her passion for teaching and learning from her students is unlike any other. I will never forget her kindness and respect towards her students; she called us her “colleagues” in our final class. Thank you, Dr. Waldrop, for being the teacher, social worker, researcher, and person that you are. You have truly made a difference in my life.
— Corinne Fiegl, MSW ’20
Wishing you all the best! I will forever remember all I learned from you. Thank you!
— Dixie Blevins-Bozenko, MSW '21
Professor Waldrop was one of my absolute favorite professors. Thank you, Professor Waldrop, I continue to weave your teachings into my work daily, the number of lives you have touched for the better is immense. I wish you much joy and rest and your own wish fulfillment in retirement!
— anonymous, MSW '15
Your dedication to the social work program allowed me to expand my career interests and helped me to feel comfortable in going to you for advice and questions throughout my advanced year.
I appreciate you taking a chance on me as a student, accepting me into the Serious Illness Care Fellowship, and for all the times you met with me (virtually, of course) so that I could talk about how much the school work was stressing me out, or needing advice on my internship at the time.
I think you would be excited to hear that I moved to Ohio and am working with Fresenius Kidney Care as a Licensed Social Worker. It is because of you and the SIC fellowship that I have truly found my passion in this field. Thank you for all that you have contributed to UBSSW!
— Julianne Reese, MSW '21
I hope retirement is everything you’ve wanted and more. You continued to encourage me throughout my journey at UB in the MSW program and allowed me to use my specialized interest in the field as a learning experience for each and every class assignment. You were an inspiration to me and so many others. I aspire to be as successful and passionate as you in this field. Thank you for everything.
— Jessica Olivieri, MSW '19
Dr. Waldrop was an integral part of my education at UB. The development of the serious illness fellowship truly set me up for all I’m doing now. I can’t thank her enough for her influence on my life and my career.
— Kerry Young, MSW '21
A well-deserved retirement! Thank you for your dedication to Serious Illness Care and opening up so many possibilities for MSW students wishing to pursue a career in healthcare!
— Caroline Horrigan-Maurer, MSW '21
Thank you Deborah for showing me your passion for serious illness care. I have learned so much from you and I am very lucky to have had you as my professor and field liaison. Sending happy retirement wishes your way!
— Kinza Arif, MSW '22
Dr. Waldrop will be so so missed. She was such an important part of my education and she helped me become a better clinician. Thank you for all you’ve done for our community! ♥️♥️♥️
— Jenna Turchiarelli, MSW '20
Congratulations on your retirement! It was an indescribable pleasure to learn from you, and then to be able to work with you professionally. I wish you all the best and truly hope our paths cross again!
— Julia Szprygada, MSW '13
Thank you so much for all you do for our Aging population! Thank you for inspiring me and re-igniting my passion for Gerontological Social Work. I enjoyed my time in your classes and will not forget the things that you taught me. Enjoy having some free time now!!!
— Bonnie Oliver, MSW '11
Well wishes and congratulations. I remember your excellent lectures. All the best in retirement.
— Monique Stays, MSW '01
"Make sure you take time to celebrate the moment." Of all the advice you have offered me over the years this is the one I most often offer to others. I offer it now to you. Take time to celebrate your well-earned retirement. Your influence on me, on the profession, and the field of gerontological social work will endure. You have prepared the next generation well, and we will take it from here.
— Nancy Kusmaul, PhD '13
Wishing you all the best on your retirement. You taught me so much about teaching and understanding Social Work from your perspective and it resonates daily in my life and practice. It has made me better and stronger in my abilities in the field and in my personal life. Thank you for everything!
— E'Marie Graczyk-Holt, MSW '04
I will always credit you with enforcing my love of working with older adults. I was proud to be a member of the first Hartford Cohort (Aging is HIP!) and spend time working with and learning from you. Best wishes in your retirement!
— Janelle Thiessen (Tona), MSW '07
Sending you a huge well deserved CONGRATULATIONS and wishes for a wonderful retirement. You are such a role model, leader and inspiration. I learned so much from you and think of you often in my own social work leadership role. It was an honor learning from you and know that you’ve made such a profound impact on your students and the social work profession. Cheers to the next chapter!
— Heather Tighe, MSW '08
Congratulations on your retirement....You and Terry Koenig helped me find my passion for medical social work. I have worked at URMC now for 15 years in oncology social work. Best wishes in your retirement!
— Jackie Bill, MSW '05
Congratulations! So glad I could be part of your career at UB and wishing you the best on this new chapter. Thanks for all you taught me and all of your students.
— Hailey White, MSW '09
I aspire to be as kind, gentle and passionate as you one day. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
— anonymous, MSW '20
Sending you best wishes as you begin this new chapter of your life. You leave a legacy of learning and love for your profession. That love is shown in your work as a Professor and researcher. It was there when your students needed guidance and confidence. You lifted us up when we were overwhelmed with demands of working, family and our studies. You were inspiring, encouraging and showing us our dignity and worth and we thank you.
— Diane Pesch-Savatteri, MSW '89
I wish you the best of luck in your retirement. I loved taking your classes. Thank you for all the guidance and support.
— Melina Ciotta, MSW '20
You are such an incredible inspiration to me and so many others. Thank you for all your dedication in the aging field of social work. I chose to work with the aging population (hospice, home care, medical social work) because of my experiences at UB. Good Luck in your retirement and future endeavors.
— Amy Chevez (Handrich), MSW '07
During the early days of my PhD, I had the privilege of sitting next to Dr. Waldrop as she interviewed recently bereaved caregivers. At the end of the interview, she would pledge to each person her commitment to "doing right" by what they had shared. I have learned so much from Dr. Waldrop. She taught me how to conduct research, how to teach (online and in-person!), and how to serve. But above all, she instilled in me an unwavering commitment to doing right. What a profound gift!
— Jackie McGinley, PhD '18
Congratulations on your retirement! You have made a tremendous impact on your students and the larger community, through your teaching, research and expertise. You were an amazing teacher and had a unique gift of making every student feel seen. Best wishes in this next exciting chapter!
— Emma O'Connor Gagliano, MSW '16
I wish you all the very best today, tomorrow, and always! May your retirement bring you peace and joy. It was such a pleasure getting to know you over my tenure as a PhD student. The world would be a better place if more people had your heart, compassion, and grace. Thank you for everything.
— Carol Scott, PhD '19
You have been an amazing force at UB in building one of the best programs in Geriatric Social Work and have been a great mentor and role model for students. You have played a large part in my decision to create my scholarship award for students entering the field of geriatric social work. I hope that whatever your plans are for this next stage of your life's journey, you enjoy the things that are important to you.
— Mary Kaplan, BSW '74