Professor Peggy Kendall Receives Fulbright Fellowship to Study Elder Care

Professor of Communication Studies Peggy Kendall ’83 will study elder care and caregivers in Torun, Poland, through a Fulbright Fellowship in spring 2020.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

February 04, 2019 | Noon

Professor of Communication Studies Peggy Kendall ’83 will study elder care and caregivers in Torun, Poland, through a Fulbright Fellowship in spring 2020.

Professor of Communication Studies Peggy Kendall ’83

During her career, Professor of Communication Studies Peggy Kendall ’83 has researched social media, the church, and technology's effects on faith. But Kendall has shifted her research efforts to devote her time and energy with the topics she is most passionate about—and to areas where she can make the biggest difference.

“If I’m going to be doing research, I want to do research that makes a difference in people’s lives and gives a voice to people that don’t usually have a voice,” she says.

Kendall plans to do just that next spring. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach at Nicolas Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, where she’ll also research caregivers and eldercare, a topic she’s become passionate about in recent years. Fulbright Fellows help build relationships between the people of the United States and citizens of other countries to solve global challenges. The selective program is funded through an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress and operates in more than 160 countries.

Kendall, who started at Bethel in 1999, experienced in-home health care for many years through her own family. Then a colleague helped inspire her to research the challenges faced by home health aides. Two years ago, she and her student research assistant interviewed home health aides through a Bethel Edgren Scholarship.

Through interviews with almost 50 aides, her team found that family members of elders can make home health aides’ work incredibly fulfilling and enriching, or they can cause extreme burnout and stress. “Home health aides are doing this really important job, and they’re on the front lines of kind of keeping elders in their homes and solving so many of the health care problems that we have, but yet they get paid minimum wage, they very often don’t have health insurance for their jobs, and they don’t get reimbursed for mileage, and other expenses,” she says. 

“They’re really unsung heroes,” she adds. “I guess I wasn’t aware of how much they did and how important they were.”

But her research will take a new angle in Poland. Kendall had planned to continue researching home health aides in Torun, but she learned Poland does not have many professional in-home caregivers. Most elders, instead, are cared for by friends and family.

Kendall found a need to research the challenges that working women face when tasked with caring for their aging parents. Many of these women are also expected to care for their grandchildren while working full time. 

Kendall and her research partner, Dr. Agnieszka Furmańska-Maruszak, will each bring a different mindset to the project. While Kendall specializes in communication, Furmańska-Maruszak is an economic scholar and is an assistant professor in the Social Policy Unit of the Institute of Sociology at Nicolaus Copernicus University.

Kendall will examine things like stigma, social support, and burnout in the research. Her perspective will also be unique to the region, as she says not many Polish universities feature communication departments.

Kendall plans to conduct qualitative interviews and complete her research through grounded theory, which is where the researcher collects qualitative data without a predetermined hypothesis. “You look at the data and let the data speak for itself, and from there you get your themes; you find the interesting patterns, see things that the data is saying,” she says.

Along with the work, Kendall is also excited for the chance to live in Torun, Poland, for an extended period. She calls Torun a “beautiful gem of a place” on a river in northern Poland—and she notes it’s a rare old city left virtually undamaged by World War II.

Her ties to Poland trace to Bethel's Europe Term, which she’s co-led several times. After years of visiting many major tourist destinations in Europe, Kendall and Professor of Communication Studies Ripley Smith ventured out to places like Poland to help students experience new places and to experience starker cultural contrasts. Through the trips, Kendall has built connections and gotten to know people in Poland.