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Students learn about wealth of opportunities in aging

Beeca Schilling 14 sings a part from Peter Pan, in a performance of dramatic vignettes about aging.
Beeca Schilling 14 sings a part from Peter Pan, in a performance of dramatic vignettes about aging.
Catherine Tsen 11.

St. Catherine University joined the nation in celebrating "Careers in Aging Week" April 10-16 and opening up a dialogue on the aging U.S. population.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 61.5 million Americans are expected to surpass the age of 65 by the year 2020, creating a high demand for trained individuals who can meet the needs of the elderly.

Students, faculty and staff worked together to call attention to this trend in April, hosting a week of events centered on issues in aging for the first time at St. Catherine University. Events were held at both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses of the University, with round-table conversations and research poster sessions kicking off Careers in Aging Week.

“The goal of Careers in Aging Week was to raise awareness about aging in general because there’s this huge increase of baby boomers in the generation and we want to make sure that their needs are going to be addressed,” said Associate Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Catherine Sullivan, Ph.D., OTR.

Sullivan said the events during the week offered education to students about different concerns related to aging as well as the careers that are available in the area of aging.  

 Arts-informed research

Young and old alike were invited to participate in a reader’s theater in the Center for Women on Monday.

During the presentation, students in the Master of Social Work program offered jointly by St. Catherine University and the University of St. Thomas recited research in the form of a play. While only some of the students who were presenting were "Aging Scholars" (those whose major was in this area of emphasis), all of them had chosen to conduct their clinical research projects on issues in aging.

The dramatic presentation itself focused on the needs of the elderly as they enter nursing homes, and addressed the resulting comfort levels or lack thereof, as well as discussing the dynamics between the elderly and their caretakers.

Aging Scholars used a method of arts-informed research to share the findings of Maura McIntyre, as she worked to answer research questions concerning aging. The three questions answered through the group’s performance included:

  • How does staff make home in the institution?
  • Who are the caregivers to people with dementia in institutional settings?
  • And what is the interaction between an individual’s personal and professional commitment to caregiving?

Both students and community members attended the reader’s theater performance on Monday. The events continued with a film screening of “Young at Heart” on Tuesday, and an intergenerational dance and storytelling performance by Kairos Dance Theater on Wednesday.

Relating issues in aging

Professor Geri Chavis led a poetry reading and workshop on Thursday that drew local poetry enthusiasts to a Derham Hall meeting room.

Chavis, who also works as a licensed psychologist in the field of biblio-therapy, said people who are caring for the elderly can address problems through the use of stories and poetry.  She said these literary works hold therapeutic power in two distinct ways. First, they are useful in helping the listeners to grow and change, and second, they have the power to help a listener experience the plight or story of someone outside of herself.

With this in mind, Chavis read several poems and stories by famous writers and she invited participants in the workshop to share their responses to each work.

Week conclude with art exhibit and poster session

Careers in Aging Week concluded with an art exhibit and poster session in the Coeur de Catherine on Friday, and with a presentation of excerpts from popular pieces on aging by the liturgical drama students from St. Kate’s. Here, the students performed excerpts from works like “Grandfather’s Story Cloth,” “Everyman,” and “Peter Pan.”

Poster sessions at the University described careers in aging through the lens of Biology, Family Consumer and Nutrition Science, Masters in Holistic Health, Masters in Organizational Leadership, Masters of Library and Information Science, Exercise and Sports Science, Social Work, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Physical Therapy Assistant programs.

More about "Careers in Aging Week"

Associate Professor of Nursing Corjena Cheung, Ph.D., RN, said even in its initial year at St. Kate’s, Careers in Aging Week was a success. It also achieved its goal, as many students came forward with questions or an interest in a career in aging.

“I was really excited about having that unique St. Kate’s stamp on this,” said Sullivan. “The fact that we’re a liberal arts university, I think, really brought depth to this, because to understand aging it’s good to have a number of perspectives that look at the meaning of aging.”

Though many people contributed to the success of the week, Mariya Kovaleva ’11 worked tirelessly to coordinate the events and assist faculty and staff.

St. Catherine University was one of 10 educational institutions selected by the Gerontology Society of America and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education to receive a grant from the Careers in Aging Week Fund. With the help of Sullivan and Associate Cheung, the grant was awarded to St. Kate’s in March for use in Careers in Aging Week activities.

The events for Careers in Aging Week at St. Kate’s were organized by the University's Aging Interest Group with support from the Office of Career Development and with additional financial support from the Graduate Student Advisory Board, the Student Center and Activities, the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, the School of Liberal Arts.

April 22, 2011 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Faculty, Healthcare, Liberal Arts, Students