Interest in Health Geography Leads to Career as Part of Rural Aging Research Team
Undergraduate course planted seed for Amber Colibaba’s future career path
For Trent graduate Amber Colibaba, it was a third-year undergraduate course on health geography taught by Dr. Mark Skinner that planted the seed of her future academic direction and career path in rural aging.
“The course explored the realities of aging in a rural community and I had a grandmother who was in her 90s living alone in rural Ontario, so I was seeing this firsthand in my personal life,” says Ms. Colibaba.
A focus on rural voluntarism
Today, Ms. Colibaba is research coordinator of the Rural Aging Canada Research Chair Program headed by Dr. Skinner, Trent’s dean of Social Sciences and Humanities, and Canada research chair in Rural Aging, Health and Social Care.
In this role, Ms. Colibaba works alongside Dr. Skinner and Dr. Elizabeth Russell, director of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society (TCAS), on coordinating and implementing their collaborative rural aging program. Projects include reintegration of aging offenders, older voluntarism in aging rural communities, and building sustainable age-friendly programs.
“I work with [Dr. Skinner and Dr. Russell] on research design, data collection and analysis, and knowledge dissemination on their Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Canadian Institutes of Health (CIHR) funded projects,” Ms. Colibaba explains.
The Rural Aging Research Team recently received a grant to study how older people and volunteers in rural communities are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic physical distancing requirements.
“Through this project, we hope to gain an understanding of the experiences of rural older adults who volunteer, because many of them rely on volunteering as a way to combat feelings of isolation,” she says.
Ms. Colibaba also recently contributed a chapter to the newly published book, Rural Gerontology: Towards Critical Perspectives on Rural Ageing, which examines the prospect and precarity of older voluntarism in aging rural communities during global pandemics.
Beautiful campus and small class sizes lead her to Trent
Ms. Colibaba was originally drawn to Trent by the beauty of the campus and the close-knit community. “I was very attracted to the idea of smaller class sizes where you got to know your professors and they got to know you, rather than just being a number in a class,” she says.
After completing her B.A. in Geography in 2014, Ms. Colibaba returned to Trent in 2016 to pursue a Master’s in Sustainability Studies, exploring “the role of older volunteers in rural community sustainability,” which she completed in 2018.
First-time graduate with leading specialization
The nature of her graduate research connected Ms. Colibaba to the Trent Centre for Aging & Society (TCAS), and the then newly-created Collaborative Specialization in Aging Studies. She became the first Trent student to graduate with this unique specialization.
Being part of TCAS also allowed her to connect with other students, faculty and community members with similar interests and allowed her to expand beyond her initial research of rural aging and immerse herself, through seminars, conferences and presentations, into other discussions of aging that were not at the forefront of her research.
Valuable work skills gained from graduate studies
Through her graduate student experience, Ms. Colibaba acquired skills that are directly transferable to her career. “Undertaking an M.A. thesis allowed me to get first-hand experience designing a research project, conducting the research and analyzing and disseminating the findings – all skills I use regularly,” she says.
Throughout her academic career at Trent, Ms. Colibaba credits Professor Skinner as a key source of inspiration and support. He served as a supervisor for both her fourth-year undergraduate thesis and Master’s thesis – and hired her as a research assistant to work on projects related to rural aging.
She credits both Prof. Skinner and Prof. Russell with bringing her to where she is today. “Dr. Skinner has provided me with the opportunity to explore my research interests and allowed me to gain valuable skills in research and writing,” she says. “I cannot thank him enough for his wisdom, guidance and mentorship over the years.”
Speaking of working with Prof. Russell, Ms. Colibaba said, “she has broadened my view and understanding of rural aging and allowed me to explore new ideas for qualitative data collection, analysis and writing. Like Dr. Skinner, Dr. Russell provided me with guidance as I began the early stages of my career and I consider myself very lucky to have had such great supports.”
Learn more about the Trent Centre for Aging and Society.