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Juniata Reaches Out to Older Students from Retirement Community

(Posted September 30, 2013)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m., Dottie Hershberger walks into her "History of Food" class. She sits down and chats with some of her classmates about campus gossip until Jim Tuten, associate professor of history, starts lecturing. She pays close attention and participates in the discussion, just like everyone else in the class.

But while Hershberger's classmates will all be graduating sometime between 2014 and 2018, Hershberger has already graduated from Juniata -- in 1950. Hershberger lives in Westminster Woods, a retirement community located in Huntingdon. She is also one of roughly 60 members over the age of 65 who participates in the Passport to Juniata program, which provides Westminster Woods residents with access to different activities on campus. Participants pay a $200 fee once a year to be a part of the program.

"I think the folks up at Westminster Woods want a chance to share their own knowledge. It keeps them young. They're willing to listen to the students but also willing to challenge what some of our undergraduates are saying."
Kathy Jones, associate professor of education

"I think it's a great opportunity," says Hershberger. "It allows us to keep in touch with people outside of our generation. That for me is the plus, not so much what I learn in class. Just being on campus again is nostalgic. All of that is part of who I am and why I'm going to keep on here at Juniata."
The program includes auditing classes, which allows a person to sit in on a class and participate without getting a grade or academic credit. Auditing classes is on a space available basis.

Darwin Kysor, director of career services and coordinator for the program, says that auditing classes is only one part of the program. Passport to Juniata includes access to Kennedy Sports and Recreation Center and the Beeghly Library, as well as Juniata Presents, other lecture series on campus, convocations, invocations, Baccalaureate, art exhibits, film series, Mountain Day, and Lobsterfest. Members even get a discount in the bookstore.

"It's been going on for a while," says Kysor. "The program probably started because there are a number of retired faculty who are still in Huntingdon and live up at Westminster Woods. They're already integrated into Juniata, and still want to be involved."

Only about 12 members of the Passport to Juniata group currently audit classes. Members can also take classes for credits, though there is an additional fee.

Hershberger has been auditing classes at Juniata since she moved to Westminster Woods with her husband Rex in 2008. As Juniata alumni, they really moved from Martinsburg, Pa. back to Huntingdon because of the college. Knowing that auditing classes was one of the amenities available to her, Dottie has since sat in on many classes.

Hershberger often encourages other Westminster Woods residents to participate and audit classes. Donald and Patricia Bachman were both "recruited" by Hershberger to audit a class.

"We just moved here last spring," says Donald. "Now we're both auditing Interpersonal Communication with Grace Fala (professor of communication), and she's great. Dottie was the driving force to get us involved."

"We're very happy with it," says Patricia. " Don went to a large university, but I went to a small liberal arts college, so Juniata brings back my days in school."

According to Hershberger and the Bachmans, the ideal classes to audit are discussion-based, rather than lecture-based. "There's a lot of class participation," says Patricia. "We had the idea we could just go sit in the back of class and watch, but Grace won't allow that!"

Kathy Jones, associate professor of education and chair of the education department, had Hershberger in her "Science and Society" class, and says that it was a great experience.

"She was such an integral part of the class," recalls Jones. "She jumped right in on discussions and was able to offer a totally different view because she has so many years of experience, so the students really listened to her."

You might expect that some undergraduate students might alienate seniors sitting in on their classes. But after the initial awkwardness, the students tend to fully embrace the Westminster Woods residents.

"When I first walk into class, I think the other students are afraid maybe of opening up," explains Hershberger. "But I've made good relationships, and I'm currently still in touch with a student from Seattle, Wash. that I met in a class."

"Whenever Dottie was absent, the students all worried about her," laughs Jones. "They all got so close to her and got to know her because the class is so much of a conversation- and discussion-based class."

Still, there are some other challenges facing Westminster Woods residents.

"Using the computer can sometimes be a problem," says Hershberger. "I'm still not on the college's storage drives. But the college has started sending an IT employee up here to help us access the Juniata networks and devices."

Jones and other faculty feel as though the program -- especially auditing classes -- is extremely valuable for Westminster Woods residents, undergraduates, and professors.

"I think the folks up at Westminster Woods want a chance to share their own knowledge," says Jones. "It keeps them young. They're willing to listen to the students but also willing to challenge what some of our undergraduates are saying. From my perspective, the whole experience is absolutely delightful and wonderful."

Written by John Dubensky

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.