Report Provides ‘How to’ Guide for Effective Intergenerational Projects

A new CIC report, Fostering Resilience through Intergenerational Connections, highlights lessons learned and best practices developed by the 43 institutions that participated in CIC’s Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults project. The online report serves as a practical resource for academic leaders, faculty members, students, and representatives of community organizations who seek to begin, improve, or expand efforts to foster intergenerational initiatives in campus communities.

Launched in fall 2016 with support from the AARP Foundation, the Intergenerational Connections project provided CIC member colleges and universities with grants to develop or expand campus-based projects that addressed four key needs of older adults in their campus communities: healthy and nutritious diets, safe and affordable housing, income generation, and social interaction. Through the initiative, students acquired new knowledge, practiced new skills, and developed strong relationships with their older adult partners. For their part, the older adults benefited from the direct service and companionship provided to them by their student partners. After more than two years of community-based activities, the project concluded in January 2020.

Five students present to seated audience of older adults on fraud and phishing.
Older adults learn from Virginia Wesleyan University students about cybersecurity and online safety education. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Wesleyan University)

CIC President Richard Ekman said that together, CIC and the AARP Foundation achieved the goals of the project. “Participating institutions were universally enthusiastic about the positive effects Intergeneration Connections had on the growth and development of students and on the lives of older adults.” For example, the students and the faculty members who worked with them identified and served important needs among older adults in their communities; and the campus projects became incubators of both innovative programming and engagement between community institutions and the older adults who needed their help. In addition, students developed skills and knowledge that will enhance their personal and professional lives; and the older adults shared with students their experience, wisdom, and perspectives on life.

The report compiles information that participating institutions conveyed to CIC throughout the project, especially during quarterly webinars, in biannual grant reports, and during the July 2019 culminating conference. The webinars and the conference enabled institutional participants to share the results of their projects; seek solutions to common problems in project development; identify best practices in creating and sustaining programs; and discuss best practices in student learning and engagement. The report is designed to be a practical guide that campuses can reference throughout the development and implementation of intergenerational projects.

Some examples of projects developed by CIC member colleges and universities to serve the needs of older adults in the four key areas include:

  • Guaranteeing Healthy and Nutritious Diets: Several institutions in the southern part of the country, such as Campbell (NC), Pfeiffer (NC), and Wheeling (WV) Universities, engaged students and older adults in maintaining community gardens. Whitman College (WA) students provided cooking classes to older adults that included practical advice on efficient grocery shopping, meal planning, and nutrition. Students at the College of Saint Rose (NY) volunteered at a food pantry and delivered food from the pantry to older adults with mobility or transportation difficulties.
  • Ensuring Safe and Affordable Housing: Concordia University Wisconsin and Meredith College (NC) students helped to reduce the risk of falls in older adults’ homes, including by working with the older adults on strength and balance. Some institutions, such as Barton College (NC) and Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (PR), focused on increasing older adults’ physical activity.
  • Developing Opportunities for Income Generation: Elizabethtown College (PA) students created individualized study plans to improve older adults’ ability to use the internet to search for job opportunities and to communicate with employers. Students at Virginia Wesleyan University helped older adults defend themselves against cybersecurity scams, and a Christian Brothers University (TN) student developed and implemented a financial literacy course for older adults.
  • Increasing Social Interaction: Jarvis Christian (TX) and Rust (MS) Colleges and Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University (LA) developed student-taught technology classes for older adults, while Coe (IA), Hilbert (NY), and Wofford (SC) Colleges focused on providing individual and group activities for older adults and students. Still other institutions, including California Baptist University, Converse College (SC), and University of Saint Francis (IN), paired students and older adults to create oral histories of the older adult participants. The oral histories were shared widely on the campuses and in their communities.

Student and older adult work on a smartphone
A Rust College (MS) intergenerational team works on developing technology skills such as using a smartphone. (Photo courtesy of Rust College)

Some of the best practices and lessons learned during the course of this project include the following recommendations for campuses:

  • Conduct a needs assessment before beginning project planning and project activities;
  • Develop a comprehensive and rigorous assessment plan;
  • Set clear expectations of the services provided to older adults and the time commitments required by both students and older adults;
  • Maintain constant, clear, and open communication with students and representatives at the community partner organizations; and
  • Have fun.

The report is available online. The digital format is designed to make the best practices and lessons learned accessible to all campus constituencies, including students, as well as to staff members in community partner organizations. This list contains short descriptions of each project, complete with information for the institutional contact for that project. Institutional contacts have agreed to serve as additional resources for CIC member institutions that plan to develop or improve intergenerational programs.

“The benefits of intergenerational interactions to students and older adults alike are profound,” Ekman concluded. CIC encourages member institutions to consider seriously opportunities to develop intergenerational connections in their campus communities.