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“Lighter as We Go” — OLLI Cultivates Intergenerational Connections

Penn State OLLI members will return to the classroom this fall to spend time discussing current research on happiness, aging, and well-being with undergraduate students. “Lighter as We Go” is a twice-weekly course that enrolls undergraduate students alongside OLLI members for intergenerational learning. The course is inspired by the book by the same name and strives to connect the virtues featured in the book to the experiences of aging.

How do we become the human beings we want to be? The older members of this class help answer this question by bringing perspective from life experience to provide insight to younger class members. To be sure, undergraduate students learn a lot from the older students in the room, but that is not where the learning ends. OLLI members report they take away just as many lessons from their time as they share.

All class participants develop skills and experiences working within an intergenerational team. Students form pairs to complete a project such as a video, children’s book, or puzzle. The purpose of the project is to allow classmates to find common ground while working with someone who has a different perspective from their own. Faculty member Amy Lorek, Ph.D., with Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging, says, “I want everyone to become storytellers.” She finds ways to ensure all class members are engaged not only asking of others but also sharing some of themselves in the process.

OLLI member and Volunteer Committee Chair Sandy Lopez has had the opportunity to participate twice. In reflecting on her first class project, she said, “I was matched with a young woman, and when we started chatting the first day of class, we immediately connected around the shared experience of summer camp! Our experiences were somewhat different in terms of location and certainly the decade, but shared many similarities as well, especially in terms of culture and basic values of why we attended summer camp. We realized that any gap between the generations was bridged through those commonalities. We wrapped up the semester sharing our experiences with the class, including photos of each of our camp experiences.”

The connections formed in the classroom extend beyond with opportunities for class pairs to attend performances and art shows across campus together. Some form a bond that lasts beyond the semester. One undergraduate student in the ROTC program invited their older classmate to attend a special ceremony to celebrate with them. In another case, an older student had a friend who was expecting a baby. The older student wanted to knit a baby blanket for her friend but, due to some physical limitations, could no longer knit. Her younger student partner offered to make the blanket for her.

The bonds formed in this educational experience last long past the 15 weeks in the classroom. This class is yet another way to involve OLLI members with the larger campus community.