Sharing life stories with Shockers a rewarding experience

By Al Higdon | May 31, 2024

Al Higdon, center, enjoyed getting to know Wichita States students Rashad West, left, and Jaden Jenkins.

Many senior residents of south-central Kansas have the opportunity to be in the lives of their grandchildren, but many others do not. And this is also true of many 20-somethings, some of whom don’t have a chance to interact much with older adults.

Three years ago, Jacie Green sought a way to change that. Green is director of graduate programs and associate educator in the department of public health sciences at Wichita State’s college of health professions. Working with senior living communities Catholic Care Center and Larksfield Place, she created a freshman course at WSU called Connecting Generations: Sharing Life Stories with Shockers.

The third interaction of these two divergent age groups was completed in May at Larksfield, and I was fortunate to be one among 10 residents to participate, along with more than 20 WSU students.

With Jacie as our constant “den mother,” two or three WSU freshmen were paired with one Larksfield resident, meeting one or two times each week, generally on the Larksfield campus, over a two-month period.  At these one-hour sessions, students — always meeting with the same resident — asked an extensive series of questions about the resident’s parents, early childhood, schooling, career path, family life, travel experiences, observations and thoughts on life and more.

Ours responses were recorded on tablets using technology known as the Life Bio Memory App (quite a new experience for most Larksfieldians), then converted digitally to hard copy printouts of what had been each resident’s responses.  

Ultimately, the response went into soft cover books telling each resident’s life story as well as large illustrated banners that Jacie created and had printed for residents.

WSU and Larksfield are the first university and senior resident community to collaborate using the Life Bio Memory App for such a program.

To a person, my fellow residents and I found these sessions with our new young friends to be highly rewarding. And apparently this feeling was reciprocated by the students. One told Jacie: “I am so happy with how this project went. I never thought a Connecting Generations class would have such an impact on my life.”  Another said: “This experience highlights the significance of intergenerational interaction, showing a potential for mutual enrichment and understanding.”

WSU will seek to expand this intergenerational experience with other area independent living senior centers.  Additionally, Jacie and her colleagues are looking into expanding the project beyond freshmen seminar, taking the program to assisted living and heath care centers with clinical students collecting life stories.  

“Having grown up close to my grandparents, it’s a personal passion of mine to connect younger generations with older generations, so we can break down barriers that stereotypes have built,” Jacie said.

As a recent “graduate,” I can attest this program does just that.

Al Higdon is a member of The Active Age’s board of directors. He can be reached at