International organization names Eckerd College an “Age-Friendly University”

Published September 11, 2019
Students paint alongside seniors

Students paint collaboratively with members of the Association for Senior Professionals at Eckerd College.

Public events, programs and partnerships targeted at older adults earn distinction for staff, faculty.

Eckerd College earned the distinction of Age-Friendly University (AFU) and has been added to the Age-Friendly University Global Network for its commitment to promoting intergenerational exchange and lifelong learning through teaching, research and community engagement with St. Petersburg’s older adult population, according to the Academy of Gerontology in Higher Education.

“We recognize the importance of responding to the needs and interests of our rapidly aging society. Eckerd College already has begun to establish a record of commitment to valuing and encouraging the participation of older adults in the core activities of the College,” said Tamar Shovali, Ph.D., gerontologist and assistant professor of human development at Eckerd.

Eckerd College endorses the AFU’s 10 Age-Friendly Principles that center on the varying ways colleges and universities can engage with older adults inside and outside of the classroom. From its academic program to special events, the College provides robust opportunities for social and intellectual engagement. Eckerd offers 10 undergraduate courses that focus or significantly include an emphasis on gerontology. Faculty in four disciplines (human development, sociology, communication and biology) are conducting research related to the lives of older adults. Also, our annual public events series—which includes public lectures, arts performances and film screenings mostly free of charge—is open to all and has seen high attendance from neighboring retirement communities.

Daily engagement comes via the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC) and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Eckerd College, two membership programs that provide year-round programming for older adults—including noncredit courses, health and wellness initiatives, study abroad and intergenerational learning experiences.

“Our members are very pleased that Eckerd College has been designated as an Age-Friendly University,” said Ken Wolfe, director of ASPEC. “Since ASPEC’s founding in 1982, we have been actively supporting the participation of our mostly retired members in many areas of college life with special emphasis on intergenerational learning. Our members act as discussant colleagues working with professors to teach students. We also act as resource colleagues, at the invitation of faculty, to provide specialized knowledge in selected classes. Additionally, our members work outside the classroom with students, serving as mentors and providing career guidance.”

Being based in St. Petersburg, which has been designated an Age-Friendly City by the World Health Organization, presents advantages to Eckerd College in serving the older adults of the Tampa Bay area. Local partnerships with AARP, Empath Health, the Area Agency on Aging Pasco-Pinellas Inc., the Office of the Public Guardian and the Alzheimer’s Association bring additional programming to our campus. Two upcoming events are a screening of Saving Claire: The Story of Denying Gravity, at 7 p.m., September 25—a locally produced documentary following a senior theatre troupe performing to educate the community on the hazards of falls—and a workshop for current and aspiring healthcare professionals on how to work with LGBTQ+ older adults called Think About It: Aging with Pride, on October 3.

“Becoming designated as an AFU will help us continue to grow as a college that rises to the challenges and opportunities presented by our aging society,” Shovali explained.