Gabrielle Woods

Gabrielle Woods plans to help families as a financial counselor after she earns her master's. When she isn't studying, Gabrielle enjoys spending time outside or reading. 

Gabrielle Woods harnesses compassion, develops leadership skills in gerontology program

Gabrielle Woods’ proudest moment at Iowa State University actually has nothing to do with her. At 10 years old, Gabrielle watched her mother cross the stage and earn her doctorate. Since she was a young girl, Gabrielle has desired to see others succeed.

Now a second year master’s student in gerontology, Gabrielle is in the midst of turning her skills in empathy and caregiving into a career of helping families.

Gabrielle studied at Des Moines Area Community College for two years, then transferred to the University of Northern Iowa to study for another two years. During her time at Northern Iowa, she completed an internship with Elizabeth Stegemöller, affiliate professor in gerontology at Iowa State. That opportunity led Gabrielle to pursue the gerontology program in graduate school with a home department in kinesiology.

“[Stegemöller and I] did recreational therapy with people with Parkinson’s disease,” she said. “When I had that chance to spend time doing activities with that population, I realized it was very natural to me, and that it’s not natural to everyone, so it’s a gift I wanted to explore.”

Experiences with Alzheimer’s disease in her personal life also pulled Gabrielle closer to the field; her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while Gabrielle was working toward her undergraduate degree.

“I realized just how hard that disease can be. When I saw it happening in my own family, I knew we needed to be prepared for what that disease brings,” she said.

Gabrielle has been involved with numerous research projects regarding Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Her current thesis research is focused on religious self-care strategies of caregivers of individuals with neurodegenerative diseases.

“Religion can change [a caregiver’s] experience with Alzheimer’s.” Gabrielle said. “How they process through grief, as well as how they give care while [their family member] is still alive.”

Gabrielle plans to use her interpersonal skills to work with families experiencing financial struggles. She knows that her research and classwork is preparing her for a lifetime of helping others through her work.

“Relational, professional development, and people skills can transfer anywhere,” she said. “You can have all the head knowledge in the world, but if you don’t genuinely care for people, it will show in your work.”