Course brings generations together at Penn State York

The Development Through Adulthood course promotes intergenerational conversations for healthy aging
Three older adults, one male and two females, work with female student.

Members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Penn State York, Glenn Young, Anita Barlett, and Norma Shue, share poems with Dayana Contreras  Martinez, a Penn State York student, during an intergenerational class at Penn State York.

Credit: Jess Price

YORK, Pa. — As one of only two Penn State campuses that hosts the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Penn State York is uniquely positioned for intergenerational education. A. Patricia Aguilera-Hermida, associate teaching professor of human development and family studies (HDFS) at Penn State Harrisburg, came to York to teach HDFS 445: Development Through Adulthood, to a group of OLLI members and HDFS students.

“The intention of the course is to create a space where young and older adults can learn together. By being together, participants interact on the same level, understand each other, and develop a friendly interaction. This type of interaction reduces ageism in both generations,” said Aguilera.

Each class begins with a presentation by an OLLI member, who is an expert on a topic, typically from their career experience. The class then breaks into small groups to discuss their takeaways from the presentation, followed by creative reflection, an independent writing exercise, then additional discussion as a larger group.

The topics that OLLI members presented each week were:

  • Relationships
  • Mental Health and Well-Being
  • Caregiving/Long-term Care
  • Successful Aging

“By presenting, they reinforce their identity as knowers in the society, a valuable role since ancient times,” Aguilera said. “At the same time, young adults can appreciate their wisdom and learn from them.”

Long-term care presentation

During the class on Nov. 3, Joan Fulton, OLLI member, spoke about caregiving and long-term care. As former executive director for the York County Assistance Office (currently the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services), she was well-versed in the subject matter, touching on details about Continuing Care Retirement Communities, Medicare, long-term care insurance, and hospice.

She was also able to speak about the emotional aspect of aging, citing her personal experiences of guiding family members through the aging process.

“I joined the class in order to take advantage of an intergenerational opportunity,” said Fulton. “The class has exceeded my expectations. The professor has been creative and intentional in mixing OLLI members and students. It’s made for genuine sharing among participants and interesting discussions. It’s been fun working with such a receptive group of students.”

Intergenerational benefits for younger adults

As part of the course, Penn State York students must investigate a topic using current research and ask the older participants for their opinion on the topic. Their findings will be presented at the end of the semester.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with OLLI members as a part of our HDFS 445 intergenerational class,” said Cole Sinnott, a Penn State York senior majoring in HDFS. “It has been a pleasure to learn from the OLLI members and to hear their opinions and thoughts on a plethora of subjects. I look forward to every Friday’s class in which an OLLI member shares an impactful story from their life experiences as part of the curriculum. It has allowed me and other students to soak up the wisdom of a generation that is still very much impactful in today’s society. It is my hope that in the future, OLLI members and Penn State students continue to learn from one another in such a fun and exciting environment as our class has.”


Numerous OLLI members commented on the effectiveness of the course structure and how the experience surprised or inspired them. Several noted the mutual respect they felt among the Penn State York students.

One OLLI member, Norma Shue, said, “I took the course because I am still very interested in learning and sharing my life. I am 90 years old and have had a very healthy and extremely interesting life. Dr. Aguilera is a vibrant professor and her style of teaching was very new to me after all the courses I have taken. Many points she made will stick with me when I think of the course and all the enjoyment I personally received by participating.”

For more information about the intergenerational HDFS course at Penn State York, contact A. Patricia Aguilera at [email protected].

To learn more about OLLI, contact Jen Geubtner-May at [email protected].