CCSU Program Connects Seniors and Students in Intergenerational Dialogue

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A CCSU program called Working Together: Intergenerational Student/Senior Exchange (WISE) connects CCSU students to older adults. Together, they exchange thoughts and ideas, enriching the lives of all involved. In 2014, the program won an Assisted Living Federation of America’s “Best of the Best” award.

CCSU students meet with residents of The Orchards at Southington, an assisted living facility in Southington, CT. Participants discuss subjects such as the environment, finances, and romantic relationships in order to break down intergenerational stereotypes and increase social engagement.

Dr. Carrie Andreoletti of the CCSU Department of Psychological Science started the program in 2012 after running a program on successful aging in another assisted living facility. Seeing how students could benefit from the intergenerational experience, Dr. Andreoletti set up WISE with help from The Orchards’ activities director Michelle Korby-Gale. In the fall of 2014, Dr. Andrea June, also of the CCSU Deptartment of Psychological Science, joined the program.

Getting students face-to-face with seniors provides an invaluable learning experience. Students are not paired up with one senior, but spend their time with as many seniors as possible. “We can tell students all we want about older adults, but unless they have the ability to meet and interact with real older people, it is hard to break their stereotypes. It gives them an opportunity to meet older adults who aren’t family members and see that they are interesting and have interests in common,” said Dr. Andreoletti.

Unlike other similar programs, the WISE program is concerned with enriching both students and seniors. Generativity—the belief that one is contributing to society—is important for the wellbeing of older adults. It can especially be a challenge in senior living facilities, which are in some ways cut off from the rest of the world. “We believe that the program contributes to mental health outcomes in terms of lower anxiety and depression levels, as well as a sense of being more connected to their community,” said Dr. June. This semester, student researchers will be collecting data to measure the effects of the program on older adults.

Both students and seniors have reported the program as a positive, eye-opening experience. Both groups are surprised by how much they have in common. “I hear a lot of comments [from students] that ‘okay, maybe aging isn’t so bad,’ and that they can see some positive sides of getting older. It opens up a different possible self,” said Dr. Andreoletti. Dr. June recalled a student who was inspired to spend more time getting to know her grandmother after meeting seniors at The Orchards.

Seniors report a more positive view about Millennials after participation in the program. “In the past, I’ve had residents say to me, ‘wow, I have hope for the future, they are such hard workers,’” said Dr. Andreoletti. Seniors are often surprised how much students work in order to pay for and attend college.

After completing the program, some students have declared gerontology minors. There is a growing need for workers who specialize in treating and working with older adults, but many students do not want to enter the field or haven’t thought about entering the field until having an experience like the WISE program. The program shows students that older adults are a vibrant population and working with them can be a fulfilling career path.

In the fall of 2015, there will be five sessions of the WISE program occurring both at The Orchards and on the CCSU campus.

 

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