Maintaining Good Standing
Students enrolled in the Master of Science in Gerontology (MSG) or Graduate Certificate in Gerontology (GCG) programs must maintain a "B" average to remain in good academic standing. Those with a GPA below 3.0 are placed on academic probation per rules of the University. A GPA of 3.0 or greater is required for graduation and conferral of the degree. This is true for all graduate degrees at UMSL.
The majority of students who enroll in one of these programs succeed and graduate in a timely fashion. The Certificate can be completed in as few as three consecutive semesters (Fall, Spring, Summer). The MSG can be completed in as few as five consecutive semesters. Personalized, developmental advising is a hallmark of the Gerontology Graduate Program; we want our students to succeed and do all we can to faciltiate their development as persons and professionals in the field of aging.
In addition to in-class and on-line coursework, MSG students are required to complete two, 200-hour practicum experiences (GER 6495 or 6500, 6496). GCG students complete one, 200-hour practicum (6495). The Advanced Practicum (6496), taken in the final semeser, is considered a "capstone" experience for the MSG and allows the student to demonstrate his or her integrated knowledge of the field, often through a focused project. Practicum grades are issued by the Program Director, Dr. Meuser, in consultation with the student's on-site supervisor and these are included in the GPA calculation.
Sometimes a student is unable to complete the required 200 hours in the confines of a single semester. In consultation with the Gerontology Program Director, Dr. Meuser, the student may be granted a delayed graded and allowed to complete the remaining hours and associated deliverables during the subsequent semester. A due date is usually set and a reserve grade is posted in MyView should the student not complete the required hours on time. The reserve grade is typically less than the student would earn than if he/she completed all expectations in a timely manner, but it may not necessarily threaten the student's GPA and aspirations to graduate. Students who make a good faith effort can still earn a passing grade even if not all hours are completed. A single practicum course, however, cannot extend past two semesters under any circumstance.
Our Gerontology students come from diverse backgrounds and have many different strengths and weaknesses. Most share a passion for issues of aging and for working with and/or serving older adults. Every so often, a student may struggle academically while enrolled in the MSG or GCG programs. Solid library research and writing skills are a must for success. Students who have difficulty in these areas may be referred to the Writing Lab on campus or for other tutoring to help them succeed. Also, the MSG requires 6 credits of statistics and research coursework. Students that are not as strong in math could struggle in these courses. Our faculty are committed to helping students succeed whenever possible. The Program Director, Dr. Meuser, talks with all students about their performance each semester and academic problems are addressed as they arise. Often, remedial work or tutoring can be arranged to help boost performance. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of each student to work hard and take necessary steps to correct academic problems that may threaten their GPA and opportunity to graduate in the future.
The practicum courses challenge students in ways that regular courses often do not. Success in a community practicum placement may be measured as much by how a student gets along with others than by reading a report and discussing a concept. Depending on the specific placement, a practicum may require a student to work in a team setting with other professionals, interact with older adults and their families in a professional context, take responsibiltiy for specific programming at an agency, etc. The practicum is a "real world" work experience in most instances. Students interview for the placement much as they would for a paying job. Some agencies treat students as pseudo employees in how they train them, require health screening and testing, etc. Behavior that can threaten a paying job can also threaten a practicum placement. Indifference, incompetence, inconsistency, and a host of other behaviors can lead to poor grades for the practicum course and/or outright dismissal before the 200-hour threshold is reached.
When our Gerontology students are participating in a placement through GER 6495 or 6496, they are representing the University and themselves in a professional role. We expect them to behave appropriately and showcase the best of UMSL. Most do this and more! It is always possible that a student will display less than exemplary behavior, whether from indifference or inability. The extent and gravity of a student's behavior will influence the appraisal of the site supervisor and the final grade. Unethical and criminal behavior exhibited during the placement, whether on-site or correlated in another way, can lead to outright dismissal from the practicum placement. Such instances are very rare. The same can be true for behavior that, while not illegal or unethical per se, may be reasonably understood as offensive by those involved. A student some years ago was dismissed from a practicum placement due to pornographic material on a public webpage that the student shared with co-workers at the practicum site.
Since a passing grade in one or more practicum courses is required for graduation with the MSG or GCG, dismissal from a placement is a serious issue for the student and the Gerontology Graduate Program as a whole. Dismissal for cause (i.e., due to serious ethical or criminal behavior) is often clear-cut and other Student Conduct policies of the University usually come into play. The due process procedures of these policies are followed in such instances (see http://www.umsl.edu/~studentplanner/policies/conductcode.html).
When other problems of an interpersonal, organizational and/or attitudinal nature threaten the success of a practicum placement, it is the policy of the policy of the Gerontology Graduate Program to interview those involved (student, practicum supervisor or other related officials, clients of the agency if warranted) and gather other relevant data about the alleged problem or problems. The Program Director is the instructor of record for GER 6495 and 6496, and so the Director conducts such information gathering and also serves as the final arbiter for the issuance of a passing or failing grade. Other Gerontology faculty and/or the Director of the School of Social Work may be consulted at the discretion of the Director. Once a final grade is issued and posted to MyView, a student may still petition for review pursuant to regulations posted on the UMSL website (see http://www.umsl.edu/%7estudentplanner/academics/gradeappeal.html).
When a student's ability to earn a passing grade or to maintain good standing in a placement is threatened, the Gerontology Program Director will make a determination concerning the gravity of the situation and identify opportunities for potential rectification or remediation. If a written plan can be developed with clear guidelines and objectives to correct identified problems, this will be tried first. Such plans cannot extend past the two-semester rule listed above, however. If a remediation plan fails due to the actions or inaction of a student, then failure of the practicum course is likely.
It can happen that a personality conflict or other understandable set of circumstances can doom a practicum placement form the start or reasonably have lowered chances of success when considered in retrospect. For example, a student may make a good faith effort to succeed yet not be able to meet the expectations of a site supervisor or other agency official. Ultimately, if a practicum supervisor is unable or unwilling to work with a student, the practicum placement will be terminated. Assigning fault in such situations can be challenging; often all parties have some culpability. The student's demonstrated integrity and efforts to make the placement work are relevant for what may happen next. It may be appropriate to allow the student to start anew in a different placement, where the time clock is reset partially or fully to zero (i.e., the student may owe additional hours so as to allow the second placement to work out). This "clean slate" allows the student to start over and earn a grade commensurate with his or her effort in the new placement. The assignment of a second practicum placement when a first has failed is the responsibilty of the Gerontology Program Director. Second placements are made at the discretion of the Program Director and will depend on the circumstances of the individual case.
Dismissal from and/or failure of a second practicum placement, after termination of a first placement, are very unusual. Most students who need a second placement in a given semester are able to complete the requirements and earn a passing grade eventually, athough sometimes this stretches into the following semester depending on how many hours are needed. If a student's performance is substandard in a second placement and a failing grade or dismissal is possible, then the Gerontology Program Director will follow the same process outlined above concerning a remediation plan. If the site supervisor and student are willing to work together towards shared objectives for success, then the second placement may still be completed and a passing grade assigned. If, however, this remediation effort fails to work or the site supervisor rejects the student, the placement is terminated and a failing grade may be issued for the practicum course. A third placement will not be considered except under very extenuating circumstances.