The U.S. population is aging, but few opportunities exist for reaching across the generation gap. Psychology Assoc. Prof. Andrew Hostetler has initiated a series of research and outreach projects designed to increase intergenerational understanding.
“In an age-segregated and youth-focused society, generations are perceived as competing factions,” says Hostetler. “Online debates often take an accusatory tone, contending that seniors care only about their immediate needs and not their legacy. In fact, many seniors are very willing to pay more taxes and make sacrifices for the good of future generations.”
Hostetler has conducted extensive research on aging in Lowell, with the cooperation of the Lowell Senior Center. To give back to this population – and engage participation by undergraduate and graduate students taking courses on adult development and aging – Hostetler organized the first Intergenerational Month at UMass Lowell and the Senior Center.
Partnering with Hostetler to implement the program is undergraduate Ianna Hondros-McCarthy, a senior majoring in psychology and English. Hondros-McCarthy, who plans to attend medical school, is part of the Emerging Scholars program to engage advanced undergraduate students in scholarly research.
“Ianna is working on a whole range of research and outreach projects, from doing a literature review to helping to develop a grant proposal,” says Hostetler. “It’s a good opportunity for upper-level students. Graduate schools evaluate that experience and even a thesis doesn’t offer the same level of collaboration with a faculty member.”
“I had taken all the research classes, but now I’m dealing with real data and getting a taste for professional activity,” says Hondros-McCarthy. “In recruiting people, I’m faced with real-life deadlines that matter and I’m communicating on behalf of the project.”
The intergenerational activities throughout October included several events at the Senior Center, such as Quilting Across Generations, Talking Across the Generation Gap and a Khmer Community Roundtable. A panel of seniors also visited an undergraduate psychology class to share ideas about what it means to age well.
Exercise classes designed to promote well-being and sense of community were offered to seniors weekly. The ongoing research and service project is based on pilot work conducted last year by graduate students of two departments – Physical Therapy and Community Psychology – under the direction of Hostetler and Physical Therapy Assoc. Prof. Deirdra Murphy. Students interviewed community-dwelling seniors to identify needs and develop assessment tools before running exercise classes.
Hostetler hopes to make the Intergenerational Month an annual event.
“The project integrates teaching, research and service opportunities for students,” he says. “They get a sense of what it’s like to be an older adult, while providing community-based research that improves life for seniors in Lowell.” Hostetler participates in the Gerontology Idea Community on campus, a program to foster interdisciplinary research around topics of shared interest.
For more on the Emerging Scholars program and Idea Communities, supported by the Vice Provost for Research and the Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, visit the website of the Center for Women and Work
, which coordinates the programs.