CE courses give students the chance to learn from the residents of The Mayflower Retirement Community
When Anne Stone, assistant professor of communication, first starting planning a community engagement project for her Communication and Aging course, she figured her 25 students would interview several of the residents at The Mayflower Retirement Community and use those life stories to form a qualitative research paper about such issues as intergenerational communication. Imagine her surprise when the tables were turned.
“A lot of the residents tried to interview the students,” Stone chuckles. “The students had all these questions ready for them, but a lot of residents preferred to learn about the students rather than talk about their own lives. I don’t think my students realized how interested the older adults would be in college students’ lives.” In the end, the students were still able to conduct their research, eventually producing papers, but judging by the way most students visited more than was required by the class, they took away a lot more than just data. “Next week we’ll be having an event at the Mayflower to present the research, which really shows the positive side of aging,” Stone says.
Stone is collaborating on this event with Nick Marx, visiting assistant professor of media & cultural studies, who also worked with Mayflower for his CE course titled, American Media History and Generational Identity. Throughout the semester, Marx’s 12 students have delved into the beginnings of radio, television, and film. On at least four occasions, students met with Mayflower residents to get a first-hand perspective of what it was like to grow up and experience media when they did.
“The students got to hear people share personal experiences and speak about events that were important to their life experiences,” Marx says. “Talking to the seniors gave them perspective about having only three television channels, or what it was like to dress up for the movies, or listen to the radio at night. It brought it all home to them in a real way.”
The students met with their Mayflower partner four to five times over the semester, asking questions about the first movie they ever saw and who controlled the television when they were growing up. “The residents also joined our class sessions three different times, one in which we were talking about 1950s representations of family life,” Marx says. “I think that the residents were very excited to see that their personal memories and media experiences matter.”
Joseph Siry’s American Environmental History class also partnered with Mayflower to explore cross-generational conversations about how the landscape we have experienced in our lives changes. “The idea was to write their stories but it ended up being more of a group dialogue with everyone sharing stories of how and where they grew up and where residents worked around the world,” says Siry, an associate professor of environmental studies. Students visited bi-weekly for discussions with Mayflower residents that also entailed a sharing of course reading material and round table discussions about topics such as conservation and suburban development costs and benefits. “What started as high hopes of writing personal histories, the course turned into a book club in the end, which I think was just as good,” Siry says.
“Intergenerational partnerships provide some of the most powerful learning opportunities,” says Lord Family Director of Community Engagement Micki Meyer. “Through these collaborations all members are equally transformed by their ability to teach and learn through the process. This is why community engagement classes are so important to the Rollins experience because they allow students to better understand course content while engaging with communities they might not normally encounter.”