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UNG-Gainesville project brings students, seniors together

POSTED: April 10, 2014 12:04 a.m.

It may seem an odd pairing: College students, from the nearby University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, showing older adults at the Senior Life Center how to bowl digitally.

“They’ll do exercises,” said sophomore and psychology major Estefania Lopez. “They just did singing earlier today.”

The collaboration between young adults and senior citizens is one of many initiatives supported by the University of North Georgia, first announced by President Bonita Jacobs at the beginning of the school year.

Hundreds applied for the three types of awards, developed for ongoing faculty development, including 25 Presidential Professional Engagement awards, six Presidential Summer Scholar awards and 50 Presidential Academic Innovation awards.

Psychology professors Valerie Havill and Diane Cook received $1,000 through the Presidential Academic Innovation, which they used to purchase three Nintendo Wii systems.

“When students have gone in to interact in institutional settings and senior centers, sometimes they feel kind of uncomfortable and awkward going in,” Havill said. “They don’t know what to do. But when they have the Wii system there, it’s an icebreaker. They start playing Wii with the seniors and they get to know them.

“The idea is to change perspectives and attitudes about aging and the elderly,” she added.

The senior adults get some fun exercise, and the students get practical experience in their selected fields.

“We’re doing a lifespan project,” Lopez said. “We need to see basically how a person changes in their older life. Their attitudes, whether they go through a depression or death of a spouse. Just the basic things older people go through.”

Both sides share stories and personal experiences, learning from each other.

“They’re very sweet,” Lopez said. “They’re very respectful. I learn a lot. They have a lot to tell you. Like, I was talking to this lady and she’s been all over the world. She was telling me about Spain and how she lived in Paris. It was very educational. They just have so much to tell you.”

There were 81 total presidential grants awarded during the school year, with professors using the funding for a variety of projects ranging from designing classroom-based bilingual games to writing books to encouraging more scholarly research within the department of nursing.

“That is what is just a wonderful characteristic,” said Patricia Donat, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “You have talented faculty and certainly we’re blessed to have a group of faculty who are deeply involved in our scholarship but also very deeply involved in thinking about teaching and learning, and engaging our students actively in that endeavor.

“And so, when you put individuals together where they have the opportunities to really imagine and to dream and explore how they might advance those interests, you get all these wonderful projects.”

Gainesville-based history professor Dee Gillespie is using $5,000 from the Presidential Academic Innovation to fund development of an oral history of Hall County.

“It’s a project that blends (Geographic Information System) mapping and oral history,” Gillespie said. “What we’re trying to do is to create an interactive narrative about the history of Hall County.”

Gillespie, along with sociology professor Sara Mason and English professor Terry Easton, is in the process of developing a website that will connect people’s individual stories with mapping. For example, one of the portions will trace the history of Lake Lanier, showing via map how the area has geographically changed over time, combined with the stories of families who had land taken away in the deal.

“The work that we’re doing through this particular grant project ... it’s not focused on the lake, but it’s certainly focused on people’s experiences in Hall County,” Gillespie said. “And so Dr. Easton is working with his students this semester to record interviews about work. As a result, we’ll have a diversity of narratives about the kind of work that folks do in Northeast Georgia, and the ways that work changes over time, and the ways that work affects their experiences.”

With the grant funding originally scheduled to only run through this school calendar year, Donat is optimistic the university will continue funding and promoting similar projects.

“The program will continue into the next year as well,” she said. “Its shape and form may adjust some, because we’re finishing up our strategic planning process right now. But still the idea of investing monies in our faculty to make for a better institution through that same kind of type of process will definitely continue.”


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