Heather Ophir has been a lifelong learner.
Nearly 52 now, she completed her bachelor’s degree decades ago at San Francisco State University, then taught for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. She stepped away and then returned, to teach fitness and then to start her own fitness business.
When her husband retired and the couple moved to Boise two years ago, she considered returning to teaching – but the pandemic caused her to reconsider that plan, and her future. The more she thought about it, the more the Boise State School of Social Work program, and the life of service the social work degree might lead to, made sense.
“‘What a great thing that would be,’” she recalled thinking. “It’s a totally different avenue.
“It was 100 percent always my plan to go back to school,” Ophir said. “I am a person with a lot of energy … the thought of putting my feet up is anathema to me.”
With her husband, she has plunged into Idaho life, free of much of the traffic and urban hassle of the Bay Area. And with her student cohort — which has become an “instant network of friends” — and instructors, she is soaking up the learning and the relationships.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “The professors are stellar, and they’re all different. And they make you feel like you’re not out there on the trapeze by yourself.”
The nature of the people drawn to the program, Ophir notes, has made the transition back to school easier than she’d feared.
“I am surrounded by people in their 20s, a few in their 30s, none in their 40s,” she said. “Not even for a second have I been made to feel odd or awkward.
“We’re all so invested in what we’re doing … and everyone is turning to each other for support,” Ophir said. “I’m in the mix with everyone else. It was a relief.”
Ophir is interning among veterans with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at the Idaho State Veterans Home, and is finding that all of her past experiences and current qualities – as a teacher, as a fitness instructor and as a woman in the middle of her life – are falling into place to support her in the work.
“I love where I am. It’s been a really wonderful thing,” she said, noting that the school has built relationships that serve students through the variety of internship opportunities throughout the community.
“They have really terrific connections with a lot of different agencies,” she said. “We’re all very fortunate.”
Ophir’s current favorite class is diving into ethnicity, gender and the structure of society.
“It’s just been such an eye-opening place to be,” she said. “Having the opportunity to discuss it in a safe environment and to be willing to learn is giving us an opportunity to do some hard work.
“I’m learning all kinds of interesting things about myself, my upbringing, my privilege … and how that has enabled me to do what I have been able to do in my life.”
The program has not met Ophir’s hopes – instead, as she saw early on, it has launched her far beyond what she would have thought. As is the case with other students, she is very confident in finding work after she completes the program; she hopes to continue working with older people and to make them feel valued and seen, much as she is doing now among residents at the Idaho State Veterans Home.
She says, “I realized my expectations were being blown completely out of the water. I had no idea it was going to be like this. It has just been so rich. I’m very excited about what I’m doing. I feel like I’m expanding in all directions.”