Seminar broadens HSHP students’ understanding of aging
Seminar broadens HSHP students’ understanding of agingJune 02, 2004Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
A group of Syracuse University first-year students recently fast-forwarded their lives to the year 2055, when the group of young adults will have reached their early 70s.
The time leap, the basis of the “Aging: It’s About Your Life” freshman seminar, encouraged students to reflect on issues including Social Security, caring for a parent in failing health or the implications of aging, as well as their new opportunities, new roles in the community and the gift of life as senior citizens. The seminar was taught through the Renee Crown Honors Program this spring by Eric Kingson, professor of social work in the College of Human Services and Health Professions (HSHP) with the assistance of Kevin Martin, a sophomore in The College of Arts and Sciences. To make the experience as real-life as possible, Kingson enlisted the help of two seniors in the Syracuse community, Michael Walzer and Goldie Smernoff, residents of The Oaks in DeWitt.
At 89 and 91 years old, respectively, Walzer and Smernoff are 20 years older than the stage in life that the students were asked to ponder. They made weekly trips to campus to share their life experiences with the students. Walzer is a retired certified public accountant and Smernoff a retired lawyer.
The seminar is an outgrowth of Syracuse University’s Geriatric Enrichment in Social Work (GeroRich) Project in HSHP; The GeroRich project offers the opportunity to pioneer and test unique intergenerational approaches to strengthen interest and knowledge in aging among undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. Kingson and his fellow social work faculty members have worked on outreach projects with the Oaks and Toomey Abbott in bringing students much-needed understanding of the country’s aging population.
Throughout the seminar, students explored the implications of aging for their own, their parents’ and their grandparents’ generations and for their communities. Through learning about the experiences of Walzer and Smernoff, they discussed what it means to get older, how people prepare for old age, and how different generations relate to each other and work together. They also debated ethical questions related to health care, Social Security and Medicare.
Tyler Achilles, a freshman in The College of Arts and Sciences from Rutland, Mass, says that the seminar put the concept of aging into perspective for him, and he found Walzer’s and Smernoff’s experiences to be intriguing. “They have a lot of values that are different from the values that our generation has,” Achilles says.
Courtney Woods, a freshman magazine journalism major from Norfolk, Mass., says that the experiences of Walzer and Smernoff such as living through the Depression and World War II were often hard for students to imagine.” I think this class helped us take a step toward that understanding,” Woods says.
Achilles says he has always thought of aging as dehabilitating but now understands that there are tangible joys associated with being part of the older population.
“They have learned that when you get to be a senior citizen, you still are a human being,” Smernoff says of the students. Smernoff, who has lived at the Oaks for eight years, has kept active in a local senior activity program and tutoring at an elementary school; she says working with the SU students has been one of the best experiences of her life.
“We enjoyed every minute of it,” Walzer says of co-teaching the course. “For those weeks, we lived in their skins as much as they lived in ours. When I was young, very few people lived to be over 60. The next generation will be a very good test.”
At the seminar’s end, students met with Walzer and Smernoff at the Oaks for a dinner, mingling for a meal and conversation. “I have learned a lot more from you than you have from me,” Walzer told the students. “I hope you will continue to study and learn from others.”