By Alycia Wilson
A mathematical sciences degree gave Nancy Geisse the ability to break down a complex problem into manageable tasks. Today, she uses this ability to serve 14,000 older adults and people with disabilities in Marin County, California.
The Stanford graduate and Phi Beta Kappa alumna accepted a job in late January as chief operating officer at Whistlestop, a newly created position at the nonprofit. Many of the management tasks Geisse performs day to day revolve around transportation, healthy aging, and nutrition to foster the organization’s mission of promoting independence, well-being, and quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities.
“I’m taking on the responsibility of driving growth in the organization and expansion in the services we provide,” Geisse said. “Whistlestop is rising to the challenges facing America as the baby boomers age.”
The rationale behind this newly-created position is to rise to the challenges that an increasing older adult population brings. This warrants expansion efforts as Geisse emphasizes that the number of older adults is projected to double to more than 98 million by 2060. In Whistlestop’s service area, 1 in 3 adults are expected to be age 65 or older by 2025, with the age 85 and older group projected to experience the highest growth rate. These numbers gave the organization the incentive to find more ways to create a community where older adults are celebrated and honored so they may age with dignity and grace.
The charge to find a solution to the housing and healthcare problems that many adults face in Marin County is just one example of why Geisse was appointed to this strategic leadership role.
“We are in the process of developing a healthy aging campus with affordable housing for older adults in San Rafael, California. In addition, we are addressing other social determinants of health, such as nutrition, socialization, and transportation,” Geisse said.
In addition to the many classes Whistlestop provides, Geisse is working to create socialization opportunities for older adults, both at the center and in their homes. Under her instruction, plans have also been made to expand Whistlestop’s nutrition services, which currently include Meals on Wheels, the center’s own meal delivery service, and a restaurant at its Active Aging Center.
Geisse said the critical thinking, logic, and structured analysis skills developed while pursuing her math degree at Stanford aid her every day in her new job.
“Through math, I learned to question the status quo, drill down into the how and why, and test the accuracy of the reasoning and data in my solutions. Critical thinking is vital in business, including in my new position at Whistlestop,” Geisse said.
While at Stanford, Geisse aspired to become a member of Phi Beta Kappa because she knew it would provide her with lifelong learning opportunities and allow her to be part of a network of exceptional individuals who are driven to work hard and succeed. Geisse notes Phi Beta Kappa’s The American Scholar magazine in particular when referring to lifelong learning opportunities as it “has been a fantastic source of learning about subjects I do not encounter in my work life. The literature and history articles are especially interesting to me.”
The drive to work hard and succeed can also be seen in Geisse’s career trajectory. Before Whistlestop, she was vice president of strategy and business development at Uppercase Branding, a verbal identity firm. Previously, she was director of project management at Certain Solar, executive vice president at Trio Energy, and chief executive officer and founder of MedStep Health Services.
“Given [Whistlestop’s] planned foray into new markets and my experience launching startups, it made sense for me to join the organization in a position where I can contribute strategically and operationally to the whole organization,” Geisse said.
Speaking to the value of being a member of Phi Beta Kappa in both her personal and professional life, Geisse said that it encourages her to think big and achieve higher goals. Today, she finds that Phi Beta Kappa’s articles and publications keep her informed and challenge her to think beyond her own expertise. In addition, Geisse benefits from staying connected to other members who work in similar fields, calling Phi Beta Kappa “truly an amazing network.”
Alycia Wilson is a senior at the University of New Hampshire majoring in journalism with a concentration in political science. She interned at Plugged in with Greta Van Susteren in the fall. The University of New Hampshire is home to the Beta of New Hampshire chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.