Revised class may bridge generation gap

Charlotte Muller

A revised Introduction to Gerontology course will connect college students and adults ages 65 and older during the fall semester.

Older adults are invited to participate in lively small-group discussions with students enrolled in the course, with the hope of bridging some of the generation gap.

Gerontology, which is the study of the elderly and of the aging process itself, is offered as a bachelor’s program at Kent State that prepares graduates for professional positions in the diverse field of aging. It covers the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging.

Gregory Smith, gerontology and human development and family studies professor, is the instructor of the introductory course.

“Starting this fall, GERO 14029 has been approved as a liberal education requirement and diversity course,” Smith said. “Now students can not only take a course in which they’re interested, they will also fulfill more requirements by taking it.”

He said that the main reason to change the course, which was made possible by an award he received from the University Teaching Council, is the goal of having intergenerational discussion groups.

Throughout the semester, five or six discussion group sessions will be set up. Each discussion group will consist of two adults, age 65 and older, and four to six undergraduate students.

“The discussion groups will talk about controversial issues that pertain to aging,” Smith said.

Class lectures and other materials on debatable topics, including whether healthcare should be rationed and what it means to age “successfully,” will be the focus of thought-provoking conversations among the discussion groups, he said.

“Students and older adults will discuss issues that have societal significance. ‘Should everyone age 65 and older get Medicare? What can be done to fight aging?'” Smith asked.

In order to get better results, Smith said he will try to keep the same groups during the semester, because if the adults talk to the selected students on a regular basis, the views expressed will be more valuable to them.

“The groups have to remain structured and focused,” Smith said. “I don’t want it to turn into a social event.”

Smith said these discussions could potentially be very beneficial for both sides involved.

“Research in gerontology has found that there’s actually more diversity as we get older; however, there are still a lot of stereotypes about aging,” he said. “A lot of young people think that as we age, we become more alike, but that’s not the case.”

He said diversity will be a major theme in the class.

“Adults in diverse ethnic, cultural and societal groups experience aging differently,” Smith said.

So far, 13 adults have registered to participate in the class.

“It’s amazing how interested older members of the community are,” Smith said. “They are willing to give up their supper time to come to class.”

Smith also said that among them were some very articulate people.

“It’s something that you don’t expect at their age,” Smith said. “It will definitely surprise some of the students that enroll.”

Older adult participants who attend a minimum of six discussion sessions will be invited to sit in on course lectures and guest speakers as well.

The class runs Monday and Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m.

Orientation sessions for older participants are planned during the first two weeks of August, and parking close to the classroom will be made available to older participants.

“Hopefully it will be successful so that we can offer the same course with the interdisciplinary approach to the aging process in the spring semester too,” Smith said.

Contact student wellness reporter Charlotte Muller at [email protected].