LeadingAge Magazine · September-October 2019 • Volume 09 • Number 05

Drawing Students to Our Field With College Partnerships

September 17, 2019 | by Debra Wood, R.N.

These providers offer students opportunities to work with older adults and gain hands-on experience that sparks career interest.

From traditional internships and clinical rotations, to writing resident life stories, to developing the latest technologies to help people stay in their homes longer, college students are working with LeadingAge members and gaining a new understanding about older adults and the plethora of careers in the aging services field.

“We are hoping to bring more excitement and change how students feel older adults age and, hopefully, draw them into this field,” says Megan Ulrich, vice president at Maple Knoll Communities, based in Cincinnati, OH. The organization has an affiliation with the University of Cincinnati.

Maple Knoll photo 1
Maple Knoll residents share health stories with University of Cincinnati students to break down intergenerational barriers.


“Right now, we are seeing a decline in interest for geriatrics, so we are hoping to change that,” Ulrich says.

Some students become close with residents they have worked with on a project, Ulrich adds. It opens their eyes to what is possible and how the students can choose a rewarding field. Many of today’s students seek purposeful careers.

“When they see how they can interact with these people and make a difference in their lives, it helps change individuals’ desire to come into the field,” says Ulrich, adding that some students have altered their career goals because of their Maple Knoll experience.

David Kinder, executive director of University Place in West Lafayette, IN, agrees the reason to pursue a career in long-term care is that they are a “part of something bigger.”

Those meaningful interactions with older adults have inspired some Purdue University students to change their post-graduation plans to work in long-term care.

“It totally changes their thoughts about the aging process,” Kinder says. “They look at these people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and they are still sharp and still have [things they] can offer the students. It introduces them to the concept of lifelong learning, no matter how old you are.”

Kinder believes more than money motivates today’s young people. They want meaningful work.

At Moravian Hall Square, a life plan community in Nazareth, PA, “Students are surprised there are so many career opportunities if they are interested in working with older adults,” adds Sandra Massetti, chief operating officer of Morningstar Living, Moravian Hall Square’s parent organization.

Developing New Technologies

Maple Knoll’s relationship with the University of Cincinnati began in the 1980s, when College of Medicine fellows completed rotations at the retirement community. Seven years ago, the UC College of Nursing wanted to create a smart house in a villa on the Maple Knoll campus to test new technologies that older adults might like or benefit from. In 2015, the life plan community signed a formal affiliation agreement with the university. Students from medicine, nursing, allied health, engineering, and other disciplines rotate through Maple Knoll. The community offers both paid and unpaid internships.

Morningstar photo
Morningstar resident Hal Smith and Lafayette College
student Xaviera Thomas. Students from several 
colleges regularly interact with residents at Moravian
Hall Square for a variety of purposes—including
research—and quickly come to appreciate the
variety of career choices in older adult services.

“The executive team sat down and asked if this [affiliation] would be worth the time and effort, and we decided we cannot afford not to do it,” Ulrich says. “We need to partner with people who are bringing the newest and training the best to come into our field.”

Staff members at Maple Knoll work with students, help with research projects, and discuss resident and staff needs with the students. Sometimes, residents mentor students. Medical students often ask residents to “Tell me your story,” which helps to perfect the students’ interviewing and communication skills.

“There’s a constant mentoring state at Maple Knoll,” Ulrich says. “The students learn a lot from our staff and residents, and in turn, we learn about the newest things in the field. And residents are getting the intergenerational relationships they crave.”

Maple Knoll offers residents the chance to volunteer to interact with students. Residents like sharing their stories and ideas for new technologies, Ulrich says. They serve as guides or mentors along the course of development of new technologies.

In the independent living units, a nurse practitioner from the university has met with residents through a robotic device, asking about health concerns and identifying anything out of the ordinary and helping them stay independent longer, a primary goal of older adults.

“Faculty members are trying to bring technology to make geriatrics attractive to younger audiences,” Ulrich says. “Technology is making this more exciting for students, and our residents view it as a way to maintain their independence.”

Making One-on-One Connections

Six students from the aging studies course at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, met with independent living residents at Morningstar Living once weekly for 7 weeks. The residents had volunteered to participate and meet with the students for a couple of hours. Every week, the students were given a topic to discuss with the resident and then to write about the experience in a journal.

Maple Knoll photo 2
University of Cincinnati faculty and students pose with
the telehealth robot used to provide preventive care in
independent living at Maple Knoll Village.

“The students [arrived] with a lot of myths about aging and older people, such as frailty and dementia,” Massetti recalls. “They met people with active, vibrant lives, and they developed a good relationship over time.”

At the end of the semester, the residents and students shared their thoughts about the experience on video. The students talked about what they learned and how they can use that knowledge in the future.

“It was a rich experience,” Massetti says. “For many of the students, this was their first experience with a vibrant older adult.”

Next semester, the aging studies students will work with residents living with memory issues.

A Lafayette College biology student is completing a wellness research project about nutritional supplements at Morningstar Living.

The community also works with DeSales University in Center Valley, PA. It serves as a clinical site for physical therapy students in the doctoral program. The students also conduct some research projects with rehabilitation professionals. Occupational therapy students also participate.

Registered nurse and certified nursing assistant students from Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA, complete clinical rotations at Morningstar Living. Massetti explains that students often come in timid, because they have not been exposed to older adults. But they leave knowing the rewards of a career in aging services.

“They see the value in being in the field and what a rich experience working with older adults can be,” Massetti adds.

Massetti reports that Morningstar staff members look to teach, mentor, and influence young people about careers in aging, and do not look at students as being available to ease their workload.

“Students breathe life into this environment,” Massetti says.

Morningstar has started to approach the local high school through a workforce solutions project to help educate them about careers in aging services.

“We feel strongly that it has to start sooner than college,” Massetti says.

Collaborating in Many Ways

University Place was the brainchild of 4 former Purdue faculty members, reports Kinder. Developed 17 years ago, the community has continued its relationship with the university, about a mile away, including an advisory board comprised of community residents, 2 staff members, and 4 people from the university. The advisory board determines ways for the community and school to collaborate.

University Place photo
Purdue students’ meaningful interactions with older
adults have inspired some to plan on working in
long-term services and supports after graduation.

A group of students and a faculty member, called the “Brain Builders,” works with independent living residents to improve their memory, and the Purdue “balance team” helps people improve their balance.

A team of senior registered nursing students come in on all 3 shifts and then brainstorm solutions for operational problems (such as lengthy medication passes), drawing on their critical thinking skills, the literature, and best practices. Other students complete clinical rotations at the skilled nursing community. And several students have internships in the dietary department.

“Our nursing staff appreciate the students, and being able to share from their years of knowledge,” Kinder says. “Our staff members enjoy the enthusiasm the students bring.”

An “adopt a grandparent” activity offers Purdue students time to chat with residents and get to know them. Other students help residents write the stories of their lives. English as a second language students from Purdue talk with residents biweekly and improve their language skills.

Engineering and information technology students from Purdue help residents struggling with computer, smartphone, or other technology problems. A landscape architecture class assessed the grounds and came up with ideas to change an outside area into a more recreational landscape. Members of the resident council and plant manager watched the presentations, and now leadership must decide if it will make the investment.

“It created a buzz,” Kinder says. “People talked about it for months. It has spurred University Place to renew its resident strategic planning committee.”

Residents often attend TED talks at Purdue University, basketball games, the annual holiday show, and a senior prom for University Place residents.

“Students see University Place as an opportunity to learn from our residents and to give back to the people who are here,” Kinder says. “These are great programs, and it is awesome to have the opportunity to have young people work with our residents. It just makes sense. Why not do things that work well for them and work well for us?”

Debra Wood, R.N., is a writer who lives in Orlando, FL.