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Right Where She Wants To Be, Claver’s Energy Welcome In FCS

Published: June 30, 2011

Maria Claver is in the perfect place—at least for her. That place is CSULB and she plans to be here for a long, long time.

“This is the perfect fit for me. I knew it the minute I interviewed here. I knew this was a good place,” said the energetic assistant professor of gerontology in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS). “This department is unbelievable in terms of its support and has been from the very beginning.”

Claver said she made a very conscious decision to come to an institution that placed a lot of emphasis on teaching since her passion is in the classroom.

“I love to teach and I’ve grown to appreciate and respect research,” she said. “I didn’t realize this campus does place so much value on research; I thought it was going to be all about teaching. They really challenge us to do research and be at the top of our field, so that feels good. I actually feel very comfortable in that environment.”

Her enthusiasm, talent and energy have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated by those around her.

“She’s energetic, she’s always one of the people that volunteers to roll up their sleeves and help, she’s extremely participatory and she’s vocal at the right times,” said FCS professor and department chair Wendy Reiboldt. “She’s got that young energy. In my opinion, she serves as a very good role model for the new assistant professors coming in and she is loved by students. They just adore her and her teaching evaluations are very high.”

Claver’s efforts were most recently recognized when she received the Betty and James E. Birren Emerging Leadership Award from the California Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics. The award recognizes outstanding achievements of individuals during the early-to-middle stages of their careers as they actively promote the advancement of gerontology and/or geriatrics as fields of study in California. In addition, at CSULB she has received a Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award, a curricular development award through the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership to develop curriculum about ethics, and awards from the Center for Community Engagement.

“I submitted more or less an abbreviated resume of my teaching and research activities,” said Claver, referring to the emerging leadership award, “so I think it was based mostly on curricular development and research and thankfully they saw something they liked.”

At the age of 18, she began her journey through higher education at UCLA, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a Ph.D. While working on her master’s, Claver was fairly certain she wasn’t going to pursue a Ph.D., thinking instead she would go into non-profit work, but that changed.

“I took a research class in my second year of my master’s program and I really liked it and I had a professor who mentored me and said, ‘I think you might be good at this,’” she remembered.

“Her commitment to research is also very strong and she is all about service,” said Rieboldt. “Some of the service learning things she has done on campus have gotten her some recognition. All around campus people know her inside and outside the college, which I think is a tribute to her, because she’s only been here about four or five years.”

Rieboldt also noted Claver’s extensive work with veterans, the Veterans’ Administration and at UCLA.

“We Googled her and a lot of things came up in terms leadership and awards, even as a Ph.D. student,” said Rieboldt. “She actually came in here with an active research program, which is very rare.”

In the field of gerontology, Claver is attracted to areas where there is a lot of room for creative, innovative kinds of frontier-busting activity. Her interest in working with older adults mostly stems from knowing that there is still so much to be learned.

“Maria’s leadership in the gerontology program has contributed to the growth of our gerontology certificate option,” said Gerontology Program Director Barbara White. “Her creativity both in the classroom and as an advisor to our local chapter of the National Honor and Professional Society in Gerontology has increased the enthusiasm with which students undertake the study of aging. The gerontology program is fortunate to have her as a faculty member.”

One of Claver’s main research foci is healthcare utilization and figuring out how to best create services to fit the needs of the older population.

“Now I find my main research focused on emergency management, especially in nursing homes,” she said. “So it centers more around the organizational factors in how we provide care for older adults.”

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Maria Claver

Claver also continues to do research at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, where she completed her master’s internship in the inpatient geriatric ward and the out-patient geriatric clinic.

“I always knew that working with older adults was where it was at for me, but when I did my internship at the V.A. I really liked the atmosphere; I loved working with older veterans. That population has its own culture and it’s very interesting,” she said. “Then I linked up with a researcher who was doing work on emergency management like nursing home evacuation after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“I consider my research on two tracks–I’ve got the veteran’s work and then in the last couple of years I’ve become more involved in the Center for Community Engagement here on campus and it looks like my other track has become service learning and the effectiveness of trying to improve student attitudes on aging. I’m really interested in doing more research. I think it’s important to have a connection outside of the university in order to bring that into the college and into the classroom.”

Among her duties at CSULB are serving as an advisor to the gerontology certificate program, teaching several graduate level courses and the Introduction to Gerontology course.

“We get undergrads from all over campus taking the intro course,” she said. “Some of them sign up not even knowing what gerontology means, but it’s a capstone for writing and it fits in their schedule and then they show up in class and say ‘What is this about?’ In one of the sections I require service learning so then it’s ‘I have to actually be with older people?’ It kind of shakes their world, but I love that.

“Some of them think the class was an awesome experience, but they realize they don’t want to work with older people, which is fine,” added Claver. “At least they have something to take back with them to whatever job they have or to their own family. But then I get others that say, ‘Wow, this changed my life. I was kind of wandering along doing my degree, not really focused on what I wanted to do. Now I know this is it.’ I’ve had a handful of those in my four years here, which is just equally amazing.”

And In Her Spare Time…

Right Where She Wants To Be, Claver's Energy Welcome In FCS

It’s hard to imagine she has any, but in her spare time Maria Claver is busy with her own non-profit foundation called the Ozzy Foundation. Named after her own cat who was diagnosed with kidney failure due to abnormally-shaped kidneys that stopped working right at age 4, the foundation was formed to help people afford sometimes costly veterinary bills.

“We went through this whole thing with Ozzy…were we going to be able to flush his kidneys out. If it worked, then we would have to sustain him; the whole thing including the cost was just overwhelming,” said Claver. “We went through that and Ozzy’s now 8 and doing pretty well, but I do have to stick him with a rather large needle four to five days a week, which is not fun.”

Knowing first-hand how veterinary bills can quickly escalate, Claver said she always wanted to start up a non-profit organization going back to when she was a master’s student. Not knowing exactly how to go about it, she began the process simply by purchasing the book Non-Profit for Dummies.

“I just followed the directions in the book and now we work with vet clinics that refer families to us and we are able to give pretty substantial grants to help them. We’ve helped over a dozen animals with grants ranging from $300-$700. So, that is another extracurricular activity that I just love.”