Susan Hillier

Associate Professor, Psychology
Coordinator, Gerontology Program

PhD, Adult Development and Aging
MS, Family Studies


My interest in gerontology, or later life development, was not a direct path. Like many in the field, I began with an interest in child development and then came to see that to understand the development of the child, one must understand the full range of human development, because, of course we don’t grow up in a social or emotional vacuum.

For several years before coming to Sonoma State I managed research projects to investigate the coping modalities and social ecology of at-risk populations. This research background sharpened my interest in understanding more about the support systems of people with developmental disabilities, low-income women and their children, people at special risk of illness, and the elderly—all categories of people with limited personal or economic resources to assist with coping and adaptation skills.

My professional interest in the psychology of later life developed from a research project on family interactions—especially those among siblings—when a parent has Alzheimer’s disease. Through the experience of working with people whose lives were so affected by this disease, I became interested in the ways people continue to create richness and meaning in their lives even though they might be physically or cognitively frail. This inquiry led me to an understanding of the importance of people’s support networks in this process; and that interest led me to my current research explorations.

I continually find myself struck by the circular relationship of teaching and research: Theoretical ideas form a framework for understanding complex human processes; research tests those theories in small, cumulative ways; and the findings from research help us to understand those complex processes as real feelings or activities in which real people engage.

Research Projects

My research concerns the ways in which psychological growth continues throughout the life course-a growth that incorporates and gives shape to the individual's continuing sense of self. I have two current research projects, the first of which is theoretical and the second, more applied in nature:
  1. Women's perception of meaning and self concept in later life; and
  2. The management of care: Professionals and paraprofessionals in long term care.


All of the courses I teach are part of the Gerontology Program curriculum and are cross-listed with the Department of Psychology. This semester I am co-teaching a class with Tom Nolan in the Department of Nursing on Family Health.

Fall 1996 Classes

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Sonoma State University Gerontology Program
Susan Hillier, Program Coordinator

1801 East Cotati Avenue
Rohnert Park, California 94928
Telephone Voice 707.664.2452
FAX 707.664.3920