After studying the aging process in a classroom, Northwestern University undergraduates in the School of Education and Social Policy visited a retirement and senior living community Monday to meet those who have weathered most of life’s transitions, including retirement, grandparenting and widowhood.
The intergenerational exchange, held twice a year, brought together young adults in Regina Logan’s Adulthood and Aging class with elders from The Mather Evanston. The informal conversations over coffee, tea and cookies often benefit both sides, Logan said.
For the students, the experience brought to life theories discussed in class and ushered in new perspectives about their own loved ones. The Mather residents gave the students an ‘A’ for the day and said they loved the questions, the youthful energy and the focus on making a difference.
“It’s very exciting to be a room full of people of a similar young age,” said Helene Miller, 87, a four-year Mather resident. “It made me reflect on my own family, children and grandchildren at this age, and how they went off into their own careers.”
The discussion also served as a warm up for the students’ final exams, which involve recording an interview and writing a case study of an adult who is at least 70 years old.
This year, Logan also has asked the class to submit their work to the Great Thanksgiving Listen, where it will be preserved at the Library of Congress.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to document the voices of two generations in relationship to each other,” said Logan, research assistant professor and the director of the Foley Longitudinal Study of Adulthood. “It’s a chance to create a community of students and elders both here in SESP and nationally.”
During the wide-ranging conversations at the Mather, the elders answered questions and offered sage advice, including “learn a language” and “travel.” When SESP’s Carolina Laguna asked 81-year-old Ed Dublin if he was happy in a retirement home, he described the inevitable transition.
“You make the decision to move knowing it’s the last place you’ll live, and it takes a while to reconcile that,” said Dublin, who worked as an administrator at Northwestern for 38 years “For my wife it took about 37 steps into the building. For me, it was a little longer. I consider myself 25 years old until I look in the mirror.”
Mather resident Pat Finnegan talked about the tendency to overbook yourself as you age. “You have to remember that you’re not what you once were,” she said. “Everything takes longer. But everyone is still in the same boat, and I’m grateful I still have two legs under me.”
Resident Ellie Meran, 90, a former elementary school teacher in Evanston, said she was warned she wouldn’t be able to make deep friendships in a retirement facility. “But she found the opposite,” SESP junior Mylan Henderson told the class. “It was interesting to compare her preconceived notions with reality.”
“Adulthood and Aging SESP 203," a core offering, assumes that development continues throughout life and is affected by race, ethnicity, class and gender. The students learn about the major developmental issues of adulthood, from the age of 18 through midlife, old age and the end of life.
“It’s a great way to look at research on adulthood and apply it,” Logan said. “It also can change the students’ attitudes of what it means to be an older adult. They realize everyone has a story to tell.”
Learn more about Northwestern's Human Development and Psychological Services concentration.