UMass Boston Gerontology Grad’s Journey From MAS Student to Assisted Living Executive

By Taryn Hojlo

After years working in management and hospitality, Catherine Williamson was confident she knew how to serve people. For a decade, she had overseen the care of hotel patrons and spa-goers at The Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons. She had also held positions in financial and property management.

Williamson thought she had experienced every managerial role the field had to offer. But when she took an assistant executive director position at Emeritus in 2013, a senior living facility in South Windsor, Conn., Williamson realized her career was only beginning.

“I loved the feeling I got from comforting families throughout the process of this challenging journey,” she said. “But I realized I needed more competency in the field.”

That discovery led Williamson to enroll in a Management of Aging Services course at UMass Boston to get a better idea of what the program had to offer before she matriculated. Once the course had ended, she made the decision to enroll as a full-time student. Thanks to her professional experience and education, Williamson was recently named the new executive director of Orchard Valley, a Benchmark Senior Living assisted living and memory care community in Wilbraham.

Williamson’s journey from UMass Boston student to assisted living executive was demanding.  While taking an average of three courses a semester, she also remained devoted to her full-time job. Well, actually, her two full-time jobs.

“I had the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom,” Williamson recalled. “I really wanted the chance to take care of my son and be with him as much as possible. I wanted that experience.”

She found the experience so rewarding that she decided to welcome a foster son into the family. Although the love she had for both children was boundless, she admits it was sometimes difficult to balance the needs of two kids with the demands of graduate coursework.

Nevertheless, she managed yet another commitment during her last semester, a part-time sales position for a home care agency. By the time she graduated in 2016, Williamson found herself well-prepared for the career path she had discovered just three years prior.

Now she is taking on a new challenge at Orchard Valley. Just two days into her new job, she talked at length about her devotion to the residents she’d encountered over the course of her career. You could hear the smile in her voice.

“I’m blessed to have this opportunity,” she said. “My reason for going to UMass Boston was so I could have a chance to sit in this seat right here.”

 

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