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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Eighty-two-year-old counselor to receive doctorate Saturday

Quoting her favorite philosopher, Aristotle, New Mexico State University doctoral candidate Lillian Brown says, "Education is the best prevention for old age."

New Mexico State University doctoral candidate Lillian Brown and Betsy Cahill, chair of Brown's doctoral dissertation committee, review the finishing touches for Brown's dissertation. (New Mexico State University photo by Darren Phillips)

who recently defended her dissertation on the topic of grandparents raising their grandchildren, is an example of how continuing the education process can keep you young. The 82-year-old Las Crucen will receive a doctorate in education at New Mexico State's morning commencement ceremony Saturday, May 10.

"I've never thought of myself as extraordinary. When I'm ready to tackle something, I do. I don't think about my age first," Brown said.

Brown and her family moved to the area in the 1970s when her husband retired from the military. After her three children left home, she started back to school while working a civil service job at White Sands Missile Range. She received her bachelor's degree in sociology and anthropology in 1975.

Brown continued her education and in 1988 she received a master's degree in counseling and educational psychology. She opened her own counseling practice in 1990 because, she said, "I was too old to be hired, but we showed them."

Through her counseling practice Brown started working with families and in 1995 she earned her second master's degree, in marriage and family therapy.

"I've been drawn to grandparents rasing their grandchildren and decided that I would like to do an in-depth phenomenological study," Brown said. She said encouragement from university faculty led her to pursue a doctoral degree and she prepared her study as part of her dissertation work.

Brown's dissertation involved a qualitative study in which she interviewed grandparents and grandchildren to better understand attachment as family dynamics changed. Brown said trust was one of the biggest attachment issues she discovered.

"The interviews were one of the most challenging experiences I've had. The kids took my heart away with them; they were marvelous," Brown said. " I also learned that most grandparents find it challenging to start rasing children in a society that has changed out from under them. The whole process was a wonderful experience. I truly believe the family structure gives people the tools for life."

Brown said she could not have worked toward her degrees without her own family being so supportive. She said her husband of 62 years and her children were tremendously helpful.

"It takes a family to earn a doctorate," she said.

She also credited the university faculty with helping her achieve her goals. "I can't praise Dr. Betsy Cahill or the other faculty on my doctoral committee enough. The faculty at New Mexico State are outstanding," Brown said.

"Lil is so self-assured, confident and determined. I knew she would make this happen," said Betsy Cahill, associate academic department head for the curriculum and instruction department and chair of Brown's doctoral committee. "She has been such an asset to the community at large, so working with her has been an honor."

Cahill said Brown has continually gone beyond what is required of her. It is unusual to interview both groups in a study of this nature, but Brown wanted to get perspectives from the children as well, Cahill said. Brown invited professors from the other departments she has worked with on campus to her oral defense, bringing all of her faculty mentors together at the end," Cahill added.

After graduation, Brown plans to continue her counseling practice and her exercise classes. She previously led the exercise classes at the Munson Center for 10 years and as a certified physical trainer she continues to offer one-on-one exercise training.

Brown also plans to continue studying the phenomenon of grandparents rasing their grandchildren and will present her work at conferences in the fall. She would also like to develop her dissertation into a reference book for grandparents facing the challenges of parenting again.