Students Shape Communication Advocacy Efforts to Help Aging Populations Through Partnership with Alumna
Kent State alumna Courtney Flickinger, ’20, has been using communication skills to advocate for aging populations since her senior year of college. In 2019, she was a communications intern with Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities, and has since begun her career there as a communication specialist. This semester, she’s sharing her knowledge and experiences with students in two Communication Studies courses.
“There is nothing like working for a nonprofit,” Flickinger said. “Now that I’ve been working for a nonprofit and witnessing the importance of advocacy efforts for vulnerable populations firsthand, I quickly learned that the impact one can make just by showing up is evident. Sometimes all people need is a voice. We have a loud voice to loan as communication scholars.”
Direction Home is a nonprofit organization that strives to provide older adults and their caregivers with access to services and support so they can age independently where they choose to call home. Flickinger’s work primarily consists of spearheading new campaigns and ideas and releasing information about the special things the organization is doing such as developing activity books with community partners, bringing in animal companion robots for nursing homes and facilitating legislative roundtables on important issues.
In the course Communication Across the Lifespan, Flickinger is working with Professor Mei-Chen Lin, Ph.D., and her students, to develop technology guides to distribute to Direction Home’s members, care managers, community members and community partners. These guides can be infographics, flyers, how-to videos or anything the students are interested in creating. The tech guide topics range from using video calling software to using online banking and health platforms.
“One of the biggest needs we’ve identified in older adults in the region, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is a way to access resources and support online,” Flickinger said. “Social isolation can have serious effects on health and well-being, and older adults have a wide range of e-literacy.”
Lin says this partnership is exciting to her and her students.
“Students have a chance to participate in the state-wide effort to create aging-friendly cities and communities for all residents,” Lin said. “Through this project, students not only learn to work with a real-world client to meet their needs, they also learn to engage in advocacy work using communication skills they have learned in the program. … I believe that this collaboration is a good example of students participating in DEI&B efforts and learn to serve an age group they will be entering in the future.”
Similarly, Flickinger is working with Associate Professor JD Ponder, Ph.D., and his students in the course Communication and Advocacy in Your Community, to develop social media posts, infographics and written content with themes around falls prevention, aging well, and planning early and often for aging support.
The class’s work ties into a specific strategic goal Flickinger is currently addressing in her professional capacity.
“Individuals may only call us after a serious long-term care need has arisen,” Flickinger said. “We want to shift our messaging to address the need to plan early, well and often before something serious happens. …The students in the class will help grant us the capacity to develop this messaging specific to key populations.”
Ponder shared that learning experiences such as these provide students the chance to connect all the knowledge they’ve gathered throughout their time at Kent State and learn about ways they can apply their degree to real-world initiatives.
“It’s extremely important for students to see how the skills they acquire while in college can apply to life outside the university,” he said. “…These opportunities allow students to think about the material they’ve learned in other classes and in this class and make connections on how to design and develop messages with the audience in mind.
“Students in the class routinely reference other classes they’ve had and bring up other course material and ask if I think it will apply in this situation. I can’t think of a single time where the material they referenced wasn’t applicable. These experiences serve as more than a piece of a portfolio; they connect everything students have learned across their time here at Kent State University and help students understand just how applicable their degree is.”
Flickinger’s experiences at Kent State in the communication studies program continue to help her succeed in this career path.
“My experience at Kent State continues to help me succeed, particularly because of the undergraduate research experience,” she said. “Another invaluable skill I took with me into my position is how to analyze information, write about it effectively and present it professionally.”
Ponder says he remembers that Flickinger was one of his students during spring 2020, the first semester that was disrupted due to COVID-19. She graduated later that spring.
“We were working on a similar project with another organization when classes went remote,” he remembers. “I love how Courtney has brought this opportunity back to my students so they can have a hands-on experience working with a community partner.”