College of Public Health Partners with Kent City Health Department to Plan the Development of a Virtual Senior Center
Students from multiple Kent State colleges joined forces during the Interprofessional Education course to help elders fight social isolation.
Loneliness and social isolation are serious public health risks affecting many older adults in our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic left elderly people even more isolated than before, exacerbating their risk of poor physical and mental health. To help local elders stay engaged and connected, the College of Public Health partnered with the Kent City Health Department to plan the development of a virtual senior center. The ongoing project, called Silver Foxes, started in fall 2022 during the Interprofessional Education (IPE) course offered by CPH.
Nine undergraduate and graduate students from five different Kent State colleges (Public Health; Nursing; Communication and Information; Education, Health and Human Services; and Arts and Sciences) worked in interdisciplinary teams to start the development of a website where local senior citizens can connect with the community. When completed, the virtual senior center will offer resources and useful information about a variety of topics, from fall prevention exercises to technology tutorials, from online games to volunteering opportunities, from medical services to in-person activities and events.
“The Interprofessional Education course is a great opportunity for students at all levels to work with outstanding faculty and our community partners to develop new community-based programs,” said College of Public Health Dean Sonia Alemagno, Ph.D. “The development of a virtual senior center, including the plan for services and technology, is a real testimony of what can happen when professionals from across campus work together to build a new approach.”
According to Kent City Health Commissioner Joan Seidel, many local elders feel isolated and alone, and the creation of a dedicated online community could significantly improve their quality of life. “A virtual center could be a hub to link elders to programs they love but didn’t know were offered, or to find new opportunities to enrich their lives, whether virtually or in person, feeling connected and engaging with others,” Seidel said. “The expertise at Kent State provides a reality-based means to bring this to fruition. It is an example of the power of relationships, the benefits of the city and the university working together makes the place where we live, learn, work, and play a more fulfilling environment.”
Based on a multidisciplinary approach, the IPE course not only gave students the unique opportunity to develop a community-based program, but also allowed them to enhance their interprofessional competencies, such as values and ethics, roles and responsibilities, interprofessional communication, and teams and teamwork.
“There is tremendous historical evidence of the value of interprofessional and interdisciplinary education,” said Richard Ferdig, Ph.D., summit professor of learning technologies, professor of educational technology and co-instructor of the course. “The IPE class provides opportunities for faculty and students from across multiple colleges to engage in discussions and work that is impacted by and can be informed by such varied voices. For many students, this was their first opportunity to truly engage with someone who wasn’t in the same major or degree as them. That led to new and fruitful conversations that informed their current and future practice,” he added.
“The students entirely designed and started the development of the online community for Kent senior citizens, working on content, design, web development and testing,” said Enrico Gandolfi, Ph.D., assistant professor of educational technology and co-instructor of the course. “Students applied their own knowledge, but they also collaborated with their colleagues and were exposed to different perspectives and approaches. This experience expanded their horizons and made them better team members and leaders.”
Once the development of the website is completed, possibly by summer of 2023, the pilot test version of the virtual senior center will be launched.
The Student Perspective
“The IPE course gave me the opportunity to collaborate with individuals from other majors, experiences and backgrounds and to use all our personal interests and knowledge to create an online community for local senior citizens. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not had many in-person classes, so I looked forward to working together in person each week,” said Gabrielle Gandini, senior nursing student.
According to Fatma Al Kiyumi, a second-year doctoral student in educational technology, the course gave her the chance to learn about the interprofessional competencies and to understand her strengths and weaknesses through the self-assessments. “This process was meaningful for my personal development in my research area and for my future career. After understanding how online gaming is used to help senior citizens, I started conducting my own research.”
“This type of class gives a close-to real-world experience of what it is like to perform in an interprofessional team working toward a common goal,” said Mark J. Miller, MPH student, firefighter paramedic with the Twinsburg Fire Department and captain of Hudson EMS. “This course allowed me to self-reflect on my abilities to work in a team of individuals on different skill levels with diverse backgrounds. This type of reflection has proven invaluable and given me the knowledge of where I need to concentrate efforts to adapt to others. You never reach the level of knowing it all, and there is always room for improvement, no matter how long you have worked in your field of choice.”
Miller concluded: “The opportunity to work in this type of team in the educational setting helps students adapt to working with others once they get into their field of choice. If given a chance, I recommend participating in this type of course.”