“These kids are the top of the top. They have very willingly and openly wanted me to contribute to the project, and it’s been a joy to get the [brain] cells going again,” Jose said. “It’s changed my whole outlook. Before, I thought whatever you’re given is what you have to use. Now I think, let’s see what we else we can do. I feel so much richer for the program.
“It gives us seniors not only the chance to have a voice, but have it be listened to,” she said.
The students echoed Jose’s sentiments. Liu said he was unprepared for the elders’ level of need, but was even more impressed by the sophistication of their individual workarounds.
“Sometimes you don’t conceptualize that something like getting a coat on could be such a struggle,” he said. A native of California, Liu noted that the class has made him think more seriously about the practicalities of settling near his own parents as they get older.
For all the students, the next step is to use the feedback from community partners, their professors, and classmates to fine-tune their designs and manufacture at least one of the product ideas. The senior citizens will keep the finished product, which will be presented at the last class on May 2. Lynch hopes they will gain far more.
Since the inception of the course, she said, the collaborative process has resulted in ongoing relationships between the generations. Some community partners have requested to repeat the experience, while students have sought their feedback and participation in other courses as well.
Olin has further strengthened its relationship with local elders through a newly announced partnership with the North Hill senior living community in Needham. The North Hill-Olin College Fund for Innovation in Aging will broaden resident participation in courses, events, and similar projects that benefit older adults while providing a meaningful learning experience for students.
The social benefits are obvious. At the end of the design review class, for example, the students and their community partners chatted like the friends they’ve become. After learning that Poh wouldn’t be returning to his native Singapore for spring break, Helen Cook urged him to visit her, quickly adding, “It has nothing to do with the course.”
“Can you call a boy a doll? Because he is one,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be with the kids. You feel younger.”
In return, Poh and team-mate Froschauer, who is from Los Angeles, enjoy being treated like surrogate grandchildren by the Cooks, who fuss over them and constantly try to feed them. Poh said he hopes to continue to work with the Cooks through an independent study.
“I’ve learned things from them that I would never get in the classroom,” he said. “A long-term friendship with them would be really nice.”
Cindy Cantrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.