Wichita State University has joined the Age-Friendly University Network, a group more than 90 schools interested in creating more age-inclusive environments on their campuses.
“Wichita State has just a huge number of age-friendly things that are going,” said Rosemary Wright, a senior research scientist who works in the office of WSU President Richard Muma. “Age inclusion and diversity are really important.”
WSU is the first university in the state to join the network, which got its start at Ireland’s Dublin City University in 2012. To join, universities must document how they meet 10 principles of the network, starting with encouraging older adults to take part in core campus activities. There’s no cost to join and applicants are given some leeway in how many of the 10 principles they actually meet. Most network members are located in Europe and North America, although Asia, South America and Australia are also represented.
Louis Medvene, a WSU professor emeritus of psychology, said joining the network is partly a recognition of existing activities and partly “aspirational.”
“We’re hoping it will lead to more classes being offered, lead to more intergenerational teaching, lead to more older adults participating in cultural activities, in lectures and events at WSU,” Medvene said.
Medvene has taught a class called “Aging: OK Boomers and Beyond” at WSU for several years. Medvene reserves 10 seats for undergrads and 10 for older adults, who can attend for free. While the course covers subjects such as the demographic and biological aspects of aging, Medvene said his favorite part of it is the interaction of different generations as they discuss topics of their own choice. Social media, mental health and loss are subjects that the class has taken up, he said.
Older adults also participate in many research projects at the university, and WSU’s community education program offers a range of courses for them, Medvene said.
Wright noted that WSU offers a degree in aging studies, senior discounts to athletic events and free admission to the Ulrich Museum, located on its campus. Residents who are 60 and older can take classes for free at WSU and other public universities in Kansas.
“One thing we really want to do is pull our (university) retirees and emeritus faculty back into the fold and make sure they are part of the university,” Wright said.
Some age-friendly universities have opened retirement communities on their campuses. “That’s something we’ve always kept our eye on,” Wright said. “There are a lot of possibilities there.”
Both Medvene and Wright said much of the push for joining the age-friendly network came from Muma, who Medvene said attended a recent conference on positive aging at WSU.
“I can tell you that our president is a great champion for age inclusiveness,” Wright said. “That’s very unusual. In other universities, it usually starts as a niche effort and gets built up.”
Free classes offered
WSU is looking for 16 to 20 older adults to take part in two classes next fall: “Aging: Ok Boomer and Beyond,” taught by Lou Medvene; and “The Influence of Aging on Consumer Behavior,” taught by Alexander Ziegler. People 60 and older can attend for free, although they must pay small student and parking fees. For more information, contact Louis.Medvene@shockers.wichita.edu or Alexander.Ziegler@wichita.edu.