A Win-Win Partnership for Universities and Older Adults: Engage Seniors, Enrich Your Community:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 196 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Paul Weiss

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Changing Higher Ed Podcast 196 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Paul Weiss – A Win-Win Partnership for Universities and Older Adults- Engage Seniors, Enrich Your Community
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

February 27, 2024 · Episode 196

A Win-Win Partnership for Universities and Older Adults: Engage Seniors, Enrich Your Community

36 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

As the senior communities increase, Universities can tap into this demographic to build mutually beneficial relationships and community support.

At the intersection of an aging population, the quest for longevity, the necessity for lifelong learning, and the pursuit of meaningful civic engagement presents a unique opportunity for higher education institutions to serve a broader community spectrum.

In this episode of Changing Higher Ed podcast, Drumm McNaughton interviews Paul Weiss, President of The Oasis Institute, to discuss how engaging Seniors in higher education can be a win-win for everyone involved. 

 

Understanding Oasis Institute and its Mission

In today’s exploration, we dive into the heart of the Oasis Institute, a beacon for lifelong learning, health and wellness, and civic engagement through intergenerational literacy tutoring. As a national nonprofit founded 42 years ago in St. Louis, it stands as a testament to the enduring power of community and education. The institute has gracefully extended its reach across several cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Albuquerque, San Antonio, St. Louis, Syracuse, and Rochester in New York, and Washington, D.C., each location pulsating with the mission to promote healthy and successful aging.

At its core, Oasis is supported by three primary pillars: lifelong learning, health programs, and civic engagement. Lifelong learning is an expansive concept, encompassing everything from practical knowledge to recreational activities and deep engagement with various subjects. This approach to education for older adults is comprehensive and inclusive, ensuring something for everyone.

The health programs are evidence-based and evidence-informed, concentrating on community-based health initiatives that encourage wellness and active living. These programs are designed with the understanding that health is a fundamental component of successful aging, highlighting the institute’s commitment to the well-being of its community.

Civic engagement finds its most significant expression in an intergenerational literacy tutoring program that spans 16 states. Before the pandemic, this program boasted about 4,500 tutors, a number they are diligently working to rebuild. This tutoring program strengthens literacy skills among the youth and encourages meaningful connections across generations, embodying the spirit of community and mutual growth.

As we explore the Institute’s endeavors, it’s clear that its mission transcends the mere act of providing services; it’s about building a society where every individual, regardless of age, can thrive through learning, health, and active civic participation.

 

How Oasis Helps Higher Ed Institutions

Oasis forms a unique bridge with higher education institutions across its center cities, advancing a symbiotic relationship that enhances education and community-based research. This collaboration spans drawing instructors from renowned universities to partnering on pivotal research projects that scrutinize the effectiveness of their programs and their impact on participants.

For instance, in Albuquerque, they benefit from the expertise of instructors from the University of New Mexico and the local community college, enriching the learning experience with diverse academic perspectives. Similarly, in St. Louis, instructors hail from prestigious institutions like Washington University and the University of Missouri, St. Louis, contributing to a robust educational framework for participants.

Beyond education, their role as a research partner is crucial. A notable example is the completion of a three-year study with the Brown School for Social Work at Washington University, funded by the Research Retirement Foundation. This study examined the impact of Oasis’s intergenerational tutoring program, providing valuable insights into its efficacy. Another significant project, in collaboration with Texas A&M University, focused on the Healthy Habits for Adults program, aiming to create an evidence-based model for dietary habit change among older adults. These research endeavors validate and refine these initiatives and pave the way for federal funding opportunities, such as Title III D, which supports the licensing of content for broader governmental use.

The partnership with universities doesn’t just bolster the institute’s programs—it offers a rich laboratory for researchers interested in exploring older adulthood, social impact, and health. This reciprocal relationship underscores the importance of academic and public collaboration in advancing mutual goals and enriching the lives of older adults through education and wellness.

 

The Impact of Senior Adults and University Collaborations on Communities

Oasis stands out as a unique entity by forming robust partnerships with universities and communities, focusing on the development of intergenerational relationships and broadening the social and educational engagement of older adults. This unique position benefits older individuals and improves multigenerational connections and the academic institutions involved.

The organization’s efforts to engage older adults in expanding their life’s footprint align with universities’ goals to connect beyond traditional student and parent demographics. This synergy between Oasis and higher education institutions enriches the social fabric, promoting a deeper, more diverse interaction that benefits all parties involved.

A pivotal aspect of this partnership is the role of older adults as major philanthropic contributors. By engaging this demographic, they indirectly influence the philanthropic landscape, encouraging investment in local educational institutions. This mutually beneficial relationship allows universities to demonstrate their social value and, in turn, attract support from a vital funding source.

The collaboration with universities exemplifies a successful model, where the value provided to older adults through educational and social initiatives forwards a cycle of support and investment in local institutions.

 

Exploring the Impact of Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning stands as a crucial element within the educational landscape, particularly for institutions that champion this philosophy, such as Arizona State University. This approach to education emphasizes the importance of nurturing an innate curiosity, encouraging individuals to explore and engage with new knowledge throughout their lives.

The reality that a single degree might not suffice for a lifetime career underscores the need for continuous education. This understanding has led some universities to explore intergenerational learning opportunities, allowing older adults to audit courses at minimal costs. Such initiatives, like those at the University of Missouri St. Louis, offer older adults the chance to participate in academic life alongside younger students, enhancing the learning environment for everyone involved.

Oasis plays a vital role in supporting universities looking to extend their educational offerings to older adults. Through programs focused on technology literacy and a flexible learning management system, they provide a structure for universities to engage with a demographic they might not otherwise have the resources to reach. This partnership enriches the educational experience for older learners and strengthens the ties between universities and the communities they serve.

The engagement of older adults in higher education serves multiple purposes. For universities like St. Louis University of Missouri, it aligns with their mission to promote community engagement and opens up avenues for philanthropy. With their potential for immediate and significant contributions, older adults become valuable allies in the development of educational institutions. This strategic engagement offers a win-win scenario where the mission of public service and the practical aspects of donor development intersect.

Moreover, the emphasis on technology literacy highlights an essential facet of lifelong learning. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, keeping older adults informed and confident in their use of new tools is increasingly essential. Programs that offer guidance on using social media, navigating Google Maps, and understanding the latest technological advancements ensure that older adults remain connected and engaged in today’s digital world.

Lifelong learning, especially when it bridges the gap between generations and integrates technology, enriches the individual and the community. Through initiatives that encourage older adults to continue their education, institutions like Oasis and their university partners are not just educating; they’re building a more connected, informed, and vibrant society.

 

Building a Curriculum for Older Learners

The move to license specialized technology curricula to universities represents a significant step forward in addressing the unique learning needs of older adults. While universities might excel in teaching technology to younger students, they often lack resources tailored to older learners, whose starting points and learning requirements are distinctly different.

The licensing of such curriculum fills this gap and simplifies the process for universities to cater to a diverse learner demographic. By integrating this specialized content into their offerings, universities can effectively engage with older adults, providing them with the tools to navigate the digital world confidently.

 

Enhancing Funding Support Through Elder Engagement

Engaging older adults in educational and civic activities profoundly benefits the broader community. For universities, this engagement serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it transforms the institution into a vital part of older adults’ lives, thereby enriching the community fabric with a broader, more inclusive perspective.

Secondly, it has tangible benefits for educational support at the state and local levels. Older adults, who are more likely to vote on bond issues related to education, can become powerful advocates for public funding if they feel a personal connection to educational institutions. This dynamic cultivates a supportive environment for education funding and strengthens the bond between universities and the communities they serve.

These institutions can significantly impact local education funding by making universities a pivotal part of older adults’ lives. This approach broadens the educational ecosystem to include learners of all ages and reinforces the role of universities as central pillars of development and support.

 

Pilot Program for Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematics

The intergenerational tutoring program introduces a new component focused on quantitative reasoning and mathematics to address learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic. Recognizing the critical need for enhanced math skills in the evolving economy, particularly for jobs in tech that demand strong STEM competencies, this initiative aims to provide foundational mathematical and quantitative reasoning skills to children in kindergarten through third grade. The goal is to ensure students are at or above grade level by fourth grade, thereby significantly altering their academic and professional trajectories. The program is currently seeking university partners to evaluate its impact and efficacy, highlighting the importance of early math skills alongside literacy for long-term success.

 

How the Intergenerational Tutoring Program Works

The program has tutors as young as 48 and as old as 99, with an average age of 72, to work with children on literacy and, now, math skills. After undergoing comprehensive training covering various educational and psychological topics, these tutors commit to working with at least one child weekly throughout the school year. The program aligns with state and district learning standards, providing a structured yet adaptable curriculum. Tutors often work with multiple children, integrating closely with classroom activities during school hours. This approach leverages the availability of older adults during the day, enhancing the educational experience for students. Remarkably, the program boasts a high retention rate among tutors, many of whom have served for decades, underscoring the mutual benefits of this intergenerational exchange. Beyond academic support, the program builds enduring mentorship relationships, significantly impacting children’s development and enthusiasm for learning.

 

Engaging University Interns

The organization does not tutor college students at this time. They actively engage with universities to host interns from various fields, such as health, education, and technology. These internships offer students hands-on experience with older adult communities, integrating them into significant organizational roles. Some interns have transitioned into long-term employees, showcasing the value and effectiveness of this partnership.

 

Cohort Opportunities and Potential Volunteers

The potential to extend tutoring programs to colleges and universities emerges as a strategic opportunity to support students grappling with academic challenges, especially those impacted by the pandemic. The notion that four months of dedicated tutoring can compensate for a year’s worth of lost learning underscores the significance of the opportunity for tutoring among incoming university students. This approach addresses immediate educational gaps and provides additional education in persistence and resilience when faced with adversity and challenges.

 While a portion of the older adult demographic shows interest in tutoring younger students, there exists a broader spectrum of opportunities for engaging with different age groups. This includes middle school students, college attendees, and those at the community college or university level who might be on the cusp of educational attainment. Matching older volunteers with these varied cohorts opens up avenues for meaningful intergenerational interactions, where exchanging knowledge, life skills, and mentorship can have profound effects on both parties involved.

The concept extends further into new programs, such as offering support to youth in the foster system through sustained mentorship relationships with older adults. This initiative aims to create a stable and nurturing environment for foster youth as they transition into adulthood, potentially filling a critical gap in the social safety net. Such engagements highlight older adults’ multifaceted role in addressing societal challenges beyond traditional educational settings.

Additionally, the integration of co-housing arrangements between college students and older adults offers another dimension of mutual benefit. This model enhances the social connections of participating individuals and contributes to reducing ageism, nurturing social ties, and enriching the lives of young and older cohorts through shared experiences.

These novel approaches underscore the potential for older adults to serve as catalysts for civic impact, leveraging their experience, wisdom, and time to forge meaningful connections that transcend generational divides.

 

What’s in it for the University?

Universities stand to gain significantly from partnering with organizations focused on older adult education and community engagement. These collaborations offer an array of benefits, from research opportunities across multiple departments to enhancing the educational experience both for faculty and students. A key advantage is the openness to scrutiny and the desire to understand the impact of educational programs, which aligns with the academic objectives of continuous learning and improvement.

Older adult learners bring a unique enthusiasm to the classroom, differing markedly from traditional students. Their genuine interest in the course material and readiness to engage deeply with the content present a refreshing and stimulating environment for professors. This demographic often arrives well-prepared, having researched the professor’s work and ready to engage in meaningful dialogue. Such interactions enrich the learning experience and support a positive association with the university.

Furthermore, the development and sharing of content in areas where universities might have gaps, such as technology literacy or community-based health, highlight the collaborative potential. Sharing resources and expertise benefits the wider community and enhances the university’s curriculum.

These partnerships significantly influence public outreach and perception. Often overlooked in traditional university outreach efforts, older adults represent a substantial portion of philanthropy. Engaging this demographic through meaningful educational experiences can enhance their view of the university, potentially leading to increased support and legacy gifts. This aspect underscores the strategic value of embracing older adult learners, not just as beneficiaries of educational programs but as vital contributors to the university’s legacy.

 

Three Key Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards

Firstly, universities have a broader role beyond educating the youth; they serve entire communities, encompassing individuals across the age spectrum. Considering the inevitability of aging, it’s vital to appreciate that today’s diverse student body will transition into tomorrow’s older adult population. This perspective shift urges institutions to adopt a more inclusive community engagement and service approach.

A pivotal demographic shift is on the horizon, with projections indicating that by 2034, older adults will comprise the largest portion of the population, surpassing the number of individuals under 18 for the first time in U.S. history. This “flippening” underscores the necessity for universities to recalibrate their strategies to cater to older adults, ensuring that educational offerings and community services are relevant and accessible to this expanding demographic.

Lastly, the field of older adult education is ripe with opportunities for innovation and research. The interests and needs of older adults, including health, happiness, and lifelong learning, are becoming increasingly significant as the population ages. Universities are uniquely positioned to explore these areas, contributing valuable insights and advancements. By leveraging their capabilities as research institutions, universities can lead in understanding and enhancing the quality of life for older adults, thereby remaining at the forefront of societal progress and relevance.

 

About Our Podcast Guest

Paul Weiss came to The Oasis Institute in June 2017 to serve as the third President in the organization’s 40-year history. Paul has spent his career helping mission-based nonprofit organizations exceed their strategic objectives, enabling them to help more people improve the quality of their lives. Originally from St. Louis, Paul holds a Ph.D. in Educational Research and Psychology from Washington University and has more than 20 years of experience in education, social enterprise leadership, program development, strategic planning, organizational growth, and team building.

Social Link: Paul Weiss on LinkedIn

 

About Our Podcast Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed®, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.

 

 

Download or read the transcript →

 

Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 196 with guest Paul Weiss
A Win-Win Partnership for Universities and Older Adults: Engaging Seniors, Enriching Your Community

 

[00:00:30] Drumm McNaughton: Paul, welcome to the program.

[00:00:32] Paul Weiss: Drumm, thank you for having me.

[00:00:34] Drumm McNaughton: My pleasure. I’m looking forward to our conversation today. First, if you wouldn’t mind, you’re from Oasis. What is Oasis? Tell us a little bit about you and a little bit about Oasis.

[00:00:46] Paul Weiss: So I’ll start with Oasis, and then I’ll talk about myself because Oasis is more interesting, but I’ll do them both quickly. The Oasis Institute is a national nonprofit, we were founded 42 years ago in St. Louis. We operate with Oasis education centers in several cities around the country. The quick list is Los Angeles, San Diego, Albuquerque, San Antonio, St. Louis, Syracuse, New York, Rochester, New York, and Washington, D. C. We focus on healthy aging and successful aging. We have three primary drivers of that mission, so the three legs on our stool: lifelong learning, very broadly conceived, everything you can think of in terms of education for older adults, from practical to recreational, to really deep engagement in a concept, an idea or a history.─ And we do health programs, evidence-based and evidence-informed, really focusing on community-based health. And we do civic engagement. The largest iteration is an intergenerational literacy tutoring program that operates in 16 states. At peak, we had about 4,500 tutors pre-pandemic, and we’re rebuilding to that number.

[00:02:01] Then, we train older adults as community health workers and instructors in our classes. They support our centers, and we are always looking for new opportunities to engage older adult volunteers. My background is actually higher education; I have a Ph.D. I am in educational psychology from Washington University, and I have used it in odd ways across a career in social enterprise, youth sports, youth development, large-scale community-based facility management, secondary education, and, now, leading a nonprofit in St. Louis that serves a national audience.

[00:02:36] Drumm McNaughton: So, how did you come? I can easily see your background and how it matches up with both higher ed and Oasis. Tell us a little bit about how Oasis helps higher ed.

[00:02:50] Paul Weiss: Sure. Oasis engages with colleges and universities and all of our center cities in a variety of ways. And we engage with several large university research sites in looking at both our participants and our programs. So, for example, in Albuquerque, we draw instructors from the University of New Mexico and the community college there. In St. Louis, we have many instructors from Washington University of Missouri. In all of our center cities, we have instructional staff who are from the university, sometimes retired, many times current professors and instructors. We also are a research partner. So we just completed a three-year study funded by the Research Retirement Foundation, looking at the impact of our intergenerational tutoring program on multiple cohorts of our tutors. We did that with the Brown School for Social Work at Washington University. We are just completing a research project looking at a program called Healthy Habits for Adults. Our partner for that was Texas A& M University, a great researcher there. And we’re looking at creating an evidence-based model for habit change around food, cooking, and other elements of diet for older adults, and we’ve had some really good results. , But without our university research partners, it’s hard to validate what we do, provide an evidence-based backbone for what we do, which allows us to be eligible for Title III D funding, which allows for area agencies on aging and other governmental organizations to use our program to license the content.

[00:04:28] And our university partners are key to that. And we hope that we provide university researchers with really interesting laboratories for looking at older adulthood, community impact, and health.

[00:04:40] Drumm McNaughton: This is fascinating to me because I’ve never heard of an agency such as yours that’s developed this kind of partnership with universities and the community at the same time.

[00:04:52] Paul Weiss: Yeah, I think we fit a very interesting niche in communities in which higher education centers exist. Because we’re very interested in intergenerational relationships. We’re very interested in having older adults expand the footprint of their lives. And I think many times, the university is interested in connecting with the community beyond the parent and student relationships.

[00:05:18] And, older adults are. I’m not saying anything out of school when I say that older adults are the largest source of philanthropy for every organization in a community, including the universities. And so I think our university partnerships, there’s some reflection of if we are seen in a certain way by the older adults whom this nonprofit engages with, they are possibly going to engage with us. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think if a university is providing value in a community, they should reap the rewards of the philanthropic element of that community investing in the university and what they do. So I don’t. I take no truck with that, even though we look for the same source of philanthropy. I think universities are smart to engage older adults and demonstrate their value to the community, not just be that place that brings kids in.

[00:06:06] Drumm McNaughton: Are you familiar with ROADS Scholars, as in R O A D S?

[00:06:11] Paul Weiss: Yes, of course.

[00:06:12] Drumm McNaughton: In some ways, what you’re doing, and of course, you’ve got a bicycle in your background,

[00:06:16] Paul Weiss: We have a very robust walking club and bicycling club. So yes, we also do travel. Oasis Center is to do travel. We do trips all over the place. We’re actually doing a very big, two-day overnight adventure to look at the eclipse in rural Missouri with a bunch of older adults, and you can see where that would dovetail with a university providing educational content around the science of eclipses and either astronomy or physics or the planetary sciences. We would love to have and build education around trips like that. So the kind of stuff that ROAD Scholar does, where they take people out to have adventures in a supported way, Oasis does some of that, too. We just tried to build an education component around it as well.

[00:07:01] Drumm McNaughton: Absolutely. And one of those things that I think is really neat, that you talked about, is the lifelong learning aspect. There aren’t too many institutions out there, Arizona State being one of them, that really promotes lifelong learning. This is one of the keys of higher education is teaching people that innate curiosity that they have to be able to go in and explore things.

[00:07:25] The degree that someone earns early on in their education may or may not work for their career for their entire life.

[00:07:34] Paul Weiss: Yeah, universities, I think, are increasingly taking at least small nibbles at the notion of this intergenerational relationship that you can have with older adults on your campus. An example is in St. Louis University of Missouri St. Louis has a program, I think it’s as cheap as 25 a course, where you can audit for a whole semester, you don’t get credit or anything, but you as an older adult, you can audit for a whole semester, a class and be in the company of students and participate. That sort of thing I think is really meaningful and to make it so accessible is a really great element of how a community based, higher ed organization is engaging with its community.

[00:08:14] Oasis can provide some of that structure for a university that doesn’t think they have that bandwidth. And, we’re actually having some interesting conversations around things like our technology literacy curriculum. We have a learning management system and, we can skin it any way we want to represent whoever our partner is.

[00:08:33] And so we’re starting to have these conversations with university partners, about both our content and our audience, and half the reason I was excited to be on this podcast is I’d love to see that accelerate.

[00:08:45] Drumm McNaughton: Tell me a little bit, the St. Louis University of Missouri, what’s the benefit for them to having the elder folks in classes to audit?

[00:08:56] Paul Weiss: I’m not sure, other than they have a very community-focused mission, and I think when it comes to donor development, they’re no dummies. The kids who they will seek out through their development department as alumni are going to take 30 to 40 years to develop as real donors. Or as your 75-year-old who audits a class, develops a relationship with a professor, feels like it’s a real bargain.

[00:09:20] I think they’re more likely to be a really interesting philanthropic target. So I think it’s a combination of mission and then being rewarded for mission by developing donors you would not ordinarily have if you did not offer them this exceptional experience to participate in learning.

[00:09:37] Drumm McNaughton: That makes total sense to me. Obviously, donor relations are huge, but it also satisfies the need for elderly Americans and others to be able to renew their curiosity, renew their learning, and maybe folks who’ve retired from a professional nature to be able to go back and learn the newest things that are going on in their previous profession.

[00:10:01] Paul Weiss: Yeah, I mentioned our technology literacy content, Oasis Connections. We think that’s a particularly important, and becoming more important element of our lifelong learning mission because nothing can make an older adult feel more alienated by life than technology that’s accelerating and that they don’t understand and don’t feel competent with, and so we think that’s really important.

[00:10:26] Drumm McNaughton: Well, Moore’s law, every 18 months, technology doubles, the price cuts in half, et cetera, et cetera. I know certain things are coming out, and I’m not bad. I run my own office. I’ve got tech folks to help me when I get stuck, but there’s stuff coming out now. I had to get somebody to teach me how to use AI and Chat GPT, and it’s amazing.

[00:10:52] Paul Weiss: Yeah, and those are the sorts of courses that we’re offering. Everything from, learning how to use social media to learn how to use Google mapping, and we have tons of stories of older adults in a class just really going through a transformational experience as they learn to use new technology, whether it’s connecting to family or connecting to ideas.

[00:11:16] The Google map piece was fascinating. We had a class on how to use Google Maps and navigation technology. One of the older adults in the class was visibly upset and looked very emotional. And so the instructor engaged with them, it turned out it was a Holocaust survivor. He used Google Maps to go find and look at street view and overhead, the concentration camp in which he was interned as a child. And, of course, the entire class shifted to him telling the story of his youth. It was incredibly moving for the entire class, but it’s an example of where an older adult can connect with things that would be unheard of 30 years ago through using technology and we can help them do it. That’s a particularly poignant example, but we have many of these in our classes where the older adult has, their life opens like a flower as they learn to engage technology in ways that they didn’t feel confident to do before the class.

[00:12:15] Drumm McNaughton: And relate that back to how the university was involved with that.

[00:12:21] Paul Weiss: So our technology curriculum, we license, lots of organizations license the curriculum, so it can be library systems and even we’ve been talking to two universities about licensing our content and having it offered within community because what older adults need to learn is different than what kids need to learn.

[00:12:40] So a university may be very well equipped, for example, in an engineering department or something else to teach technology to kids at their entry point, but they might not be equipped to do it an older adult’s entry point, which is wildly different. And so, developing a curriculum is hard, but licensing and bringing a curriculum onto your campus to engage a new type of learner is not so hard.

[00:13:02] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah. It reminds me of the movie Space Cowboys. I don’t know if you ever saw that, the technology in the space shuttle was very different than the lunar module, and the turnover between engineers, people changing jobs, it leaves a dearth there more than that, what the universities teach nowadays and what people graduate with is far different than the technology that you and I I’ll say me, I’m not going to say you’re not that old. You and I learned as we were growing up.

[00:13:39] Paul Weiss: Yeah, and I think it’s really easy for us to forget that learning styles are influenced by a bunch of things, including experience, and what one needs to learn is influenced by that. I think we can, as Oasis, we have 40 years of experience meeting older adults where they are, whether it’s learning art or technology or foreign language.

[00:14:01] There’s a different learning style for a 75-year-old than there is for a 19-year-old. And they start in different places and they have slightly different brains. That’s the place where we are experts. We can definitely help a university understand how you engage an older adult and the things that they really both want and need and in a way that really fits where they are at cognitively.

[00:14:24] Drumm McNaughton: What is, and I want to get into the mentoring aspect because this is one of the big ones that I saw, which is important. But, how many relationships with universities does Oasis have?

[00:14:38] Paul Weiss: So we have multiple relationships around the country, and then they vary in terms of type and shape. For example, one of the things we did in New Mexico with the university of New Mexico Community College is we ran a leadership conference for several years. We did not do it during the pandemic when things were inconvenient with part of the pandemic, he ran it for several years, and we attracted this really interesting cross-cultural and intergenerational audience to this leadership conference. And we had great speakers. We had the CEO of the Girl Scouts, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, who is an engineer, she had actually an aerospace background and that was, women’s leadership piece where you had these unbelievable women. But the audience that we engage by the community college partnering with Oasis, there is probably a 60-year span of ages in this huge leadership conference audience.

[00:15:31] And they got to engage with the speakers in ways that would probably be different than it was just a single generation. Also for the community college, it was a bunch of older adults discovering the campus. Why would they step foot on a community college campus? If you bring Oasis members to the community college campus, the first thing they do is pick up course catalogs, look around, check out the cafeteria, look at this fabulous auditorium, and look for more events to go to. It was a partnership that was, I think, meaningful because the intergenerational nature of that audience at that leadership conference made the conference better. But also the community college had this tsunami of older adults show up on their campus because they were invited to participate and even help organize the conference. And I don’t, this is a, the Bill Maher quote, I don’t know it as a fact, but I know it to be true. I am positive we had a positive impact on the way older adults engage with that community colleges over the years we were doing that conference.

[00:16:33] Drumm McNaughton: This is something that helps colleges with their, I hate to use the term town/ gown relationships, but that’s part of it. But also their perceptions in the community as being a welcoming place for all generations.

[00:16:49] Paul Weiss: Sure. I think often; the university can be a high-walled space in which kids exist in an environment that is separate from the community they are living in.

[00:17:00] Drumm McNaughton: Really? You mean something like an ivory tower? Is that what you’re talking about?

[00:17:05] Paul Weiss: Exactly. And so this is when you have retired or just simply older working adults for whom the university becomes one of those places that is important to your life, I think you’re really changing, you’re doing two things, you’re really changing, obviously, the fabric of the community, because you become this really broader serving asset.

[00:17:27] But the other thing you’re doing is you’re changing perception. For public universities, this is key because a public university is publicly funded. Who are your most likely people to vote on statewide or local bond issues? Older adults. And so I don’t say that casually. We just did this research project, funded by the Brown School of Social Work at Wash U, and one of the things we looked at was whether older adults are more likely to vote for school bond issues if they’re involved in the elementary schools in their community.

[00:18:03] And the answer was a resounding yes. Once they see the school and the kids and they, meet the teachers and administrators, and they think about the needs of the school, they are much more likely to vote for funding that school, which changes property tax, which increases their local taxes. So they’re voting against their financial self-interest because their kids are grown, they have no other reason to invest in the school, and it does increase their cost of living, but they’re invested in the community. And I think the universities, especially public, but to some extent private, who need permission to do a variety of things, by creating advocates among older adults, by being meaningful in their lives, I think that can only benefit them.

[00:18:49] Drumm McNaughton: So, going back to your Oasis mission again: lifelong learning, health and wellness, civic engagement, and intergenerational literacy tutoring. We’ve talked about lifelong learning and how critical that is, that partnership between the university, Oasis, and the public. The research aspects of health and wellness, and we’ve talked to some degree of civic engagement ─ The intergenerational literacy tutoring is huge. That is so critical, especially coming out of the pandemic where so many high school, quote, graduates missed two years of learning, and some of the professors and some faculty are having a difficult time dealing with this. You’ve brought in Incredible solutions to this.

[00:19:36] Paul Weiss: It’s true. And we’re growing this program. Actually, as a PSA and solicitation to your university leadership listeners, we are currently developing a quantitative reasoning and mathematics component of our intergenerational tutoring program. We’re actually working on a pilot right now with the school district.

[00:19:53] We will, in short order, be launching this pilot. We will want to scale it. But at the same time, we’d love to have a university partner that’s interested in looking at the impact of this mathematics, K through third-grade educational piece following these kids’ long term, looking at how getting this extra help in quantitative reasoning skills affects them with long term and the efficacy of the program.

[00:20:19] And so we, we will be in short order looking for a university partner to evaluate this program because we think the next big learning gap, obviously, that there’s the old saw that’s true, that you learn to read from K through third grade and by fourth grade you’re reading to learn.

[00:20:34] So we focused on literacy because it was the absolute foundation for all learning that follows in academic and professional success. But as the new economy evolves and more jobs exist in tech that require quantitative reasoning, math, and STEM skills, we think there are fundamental skills that kids K through third grade can also get behind on and that if they are at or above grade level by the time they hit fourth grade, their trajectory changes. These quantitative reasoning and foundational mathematical skills that are required in a young brain in ways that are well understood, and we’re developing a curriculum to address them, are equally important as literacy.

[00:21:14] But of course, we need to demonstrate that, and we’d love some research partners to do some work on that with

[00:21:19] Drumm McNaughton: So, tell us about how your tutoring program works.

[00:21:24] Paul Weiss: We recruit older adults. The average age is 72, though we’ve had tutors as young as 48 and as old as 99 There is we train them There’s a two-day full immersion training and then we do ongoing in service trainings in continuing ed on everything from trauma to restorative practices to dyslexia, on learning disabilities. However, we have a curriculum that ties to multiple state and district learning standards.

[00:21:52] We have books, we write curriculum for each of those books, so eventually the tutors branch out. Each tutor has a minimum commitment. You must commit for a full year. You must commit to working with one child every week for the school year. However, we tutor a multiple of kids, of a number of tutors we have.

[00:22:12] So we have tutors that work with many kids within a school. In St. Louis, we have one tutor working with 12 different kids, and then the tutors often end up working with the classroom teachers and doing a little work in the classroom. So the amount of contact the older adult tutor has with the kids is really intense. And often, they’re working with multiple children, and we do all of this tutoring. It’s not an afterschool program; it’s during the day. They’re in school during the day, which is one of the reasons why older adults are the right lever, the volunteer for this program is because they’re available during the day.

[00:22:43] And the younger tutors are often moms who are very involved in their kids’ lives or are working part-time or from home and can join this program. But the average age is 72. The duration of our tutors is remarkable. We have an over 90 percent retention rate of tutors, and we have multiple tutors who are at five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and even several 30-year tutors. And again, return back to the notion that our average tutor is 72, and you consider we’ve had some 30-year tutors, we know there’s a health impact. We know that there, that this is, that this is really creating this extra piece of their lives that is very sustaining. And these relationships can be quite enduring. We’ve had multiple stories, though the most intense is the tutor who went to elementary school graduation, middle school graduation, high school graduation, and college graduation, and then was a bridesmaid in the child’s wedding. And if you want to, how sticky are these relationships? They’re that sticky, and I think that has real meaning. And what school districts say to us is that filling the learning gap, that you just described is very important, and having this extra support in schools to create enthusiasm about reading and learning and words and ideas and communicating is important, but there’s a mentorship piece and, anybody who listens to your podcast, who’s, has a child development in their background, they’re an educational Ph.D., will know the researcher Yuri Bronfenbrenner. He’s a Russian researcher who wrote that the most important influence in a child’s life is a nonparental adult who’s irrationally excited about them, which would be every single one of our tutors.

[00:24:29] You have an adult who’s volunteering, who’s irrationally excited about seeing a child every week. And the impact that has on the child developmentally is profound.

[00:24:38] Drumm McNaughton: That is neat. Now you’re also not only elementary, middle school, and high school, but you also tutor college students as well, correct?

[00:24:46] Paul Weiss: We don’t tutor college students so the other interesting thing we do with universities is we take in interns. So we take in health interns, we’ve had interns for our tutoring program, and we’ve even had some interns around some of our technology pieces. Whether you’re a social work student or you’re working in education, or you’re working in some field that might bring you an interest in older adulthood, we do a lot of partnerships with universities to bring in this sort of free student talent, and we expose them. We’ve made some hiring. We’ve hired some interns that we’ve taken in, but that’s the most significant, direct relationship with a college kid, are the interns we take in. And, we do that quite often and they’re extremely effective. We hired one who’s now a four-year employee in our health department.

[00:25:37] Drumm McNaughton: One of the things, just an idea, it may work, it may not, but in the future, being able to reach out to colleges and universities and offer the tutoring program to students who are struggling, one of the big things right now is persistence, especially with students coming out who graduated during the pandemic, the loss of learning, et cetera. They’re not quite where they are. The research says that four months of tutoring can make up a full year of lost academics. So, it could be an opportunity for you. I don’t know.

[00:26:11] Paul Weiss: Yes, we have, let’s face it. We have this huge population of older adults we reach, of which a relatively small percentage wants to tutor kids K through third grade. So one of the things we’ve repeatedly discussed, though, and actually, we’re starting a middle school pilot when the pandemic hit, is one of the opportunities for different cohorts of Oasis volunteers to work with different age groups that would be more interested in them. Working with middle school kids, working with college school kids, working with kids at the community college or public university level who might be on the margin.

[00:26:44] That’s a different cohort of potential Oasis volunteers who don’t want to work in elementary school but might be thrilled to be involved with someone who’s 18, 19, or 20 years old. So we’d welcome that. we’re looking at all these different ways for older adults to be levers of civic impact, not just to serve them.

[00:27:05] Successful aging is about feeling purposeful and relevant. For example, one of the programs we’re working on developing a pilot for right now is for older adults to work with kids who are in the foster system over a multi-year period. Kids in the foster system they don’t have family, but in many states, they’re moved out of the foster system at 18, and there are not a lot of really great safety nets, but one social safety net could be if we can get an older adult involved in a Grand- parental mentorship way, teaching life skills at 12 and sustain that relationship through their graduation from foster care, you’ve created a quasi familiar relationship where you teach the older adult how to get this kid involved in life skills and transition to adulthood and provide this safety net link that can sustain after foster care. We think older adults can increasingly be the lever for social solutions, and that’s one of the ones we’re thinking of. And, of course, improving the graduation rate of college students who are on the margin by having this local adult, especially if the kid is away from home, there’s, I think there’s meaning there.

[00:28:12] So I’m very interested in any way the older adult can be that lever for civic impact.

[00:28:17] Drumm McNaughton: When I was at the Naval Academy, my first year, they had a program there called SPONSORS, and the local folks opened their home to the freshmen, and sometimes that relationship stays throughout the time there. It was very beneficial, a place to go out and just be able to relax. You’re not under the gun all the time, no, no pun intended, of course.

[00:28:42] Paul Weiss: I see universities doing lots of interesting things, one of which is co-housing. So there are universities that have their students co-housing with older adults, and it’s a mutual benefit. The older adult has someone who’s just an extra person in their lives and a young person that sort of increases their social connection.

[00:28:59] And the college kid gets to have a relationship with an older adult, a place to stay that is not boisterous or loud and distracting. And builds this other relationship with an adult in a place where they can often feel pretty isolated. And I think these co-housing things that are happening around the country are very interesting. I have to think some of the listeners to your podcast are toying with this student co-housing model, and I think it’s very interesting. And I think it’s worth a lot more research because I think it has a lot of efficacy on everything from reducing the incidence of ageism. Having kids understand what older adults are really like, creating stronger ties to the community because you’re not just isolated at the university, and changing the perspective of the older adults about who a college kid is.

[00:29:49] Drumm McNaughton: I, I think those are all great things. So just as a wrap-up and a takeaway, the WIIFMs for the universities?

[00:29:56] Paul Weiss: I think we’re a terrific partner in part because we have so many different things to offer. We can be a research partner for multiple departments, and we really welcome scrutiny of our work and a better understanding of our impact, and I think that’s key. I think we make a very interesting partner for any of your faculty looking for ways to increase the audience.

[00:30:19] There is no one as enthusiastic as an Oasis learning audience. Kids are trying to meet a bunch of requirements when they’re in school, and if they’re focused on getting their engineering degree, but they have to take Psych 101, they’re often napping through that class and just making sure they get the stuff they need on the test.

[00:30:35] When Oasis people show up for a class, they’re 100 percent interested in absorbing everything you have. They’ve probably read your book if you’re a Professor. They’ve probably Googled you and looked at your papers, and they’re probably coming in, understanding your research focus, and then looking to ask questions as well as learn.

[00:30:53] It’s a very different learning environment, it can be very stimulating, and when they have that good experience with a Professor, that is by default a good experience with the university. And then, finally, we do a lot of content development. There are places where there might be voids in technology literacy or community-based health for a university. We share our content with lots of organizations, universities included and would love to expand that.

[00:31:18] Drumm McNaughton: And there’s also the outreach and public perception, which I think is huge.

[00:31:22] Paul Weiss: Absolutely. I think all of these things influence how older adults view the university in their community, and that can only benefit them. As I mentioned before, I’m not pandering to say, that’s where all the philanthropy lives, it’s not with your alumni. Your alumni are too young; they’re still working for a living. It’s the older adults, and it’s the potential to have a legacy gift. That’s what really pushes fundraising, and, we know that as an organization that serves older adults, but we get all of them. And we’d be happy to share if the experience that the university is sharing was valuable to those older adults.

[00:31:55] Drumm McNaughton: Now this is great, Paul. Thank you. Three takeaways for University Presidents and boards.

[00:32:01] Paul Weiss: Three takeaways. You don’t just serve kids; you serve communities. Remember that every single person you serve is going to age as well and that older adults are going to be the largest percentage of the population in 2034. There will be the “flippening”, where older adults over 65 will outnumber kids over 18 for the first time in American history.

[00:32:25] So, if you want to think about what you need to do in terms of serving a population and remaining relevant, older adults have to be a part of that because the population shift is happening. And I think the third part is that older adults are really interesting. Older adulthood, health, education, what it takes to be happy, are all things, as this demographic shift happens, we are going to be way more interested in and are going to be way more important. And we make a great laboratory for looking at that population in a meaningful way and doing research that matters. So, we think all three of those things are really important.

[00:33:06] Drumm McNaughton: I think so as well. I want to thank you so much for being on the program. What’s next for you? What’s next for Oasis?

[00:33:13] Paul Weiss: We’re moving into a new national headquarters in St. Louis. We are building out classrooms. We’re building relationships with the actually the university partners near our new headquarters. We are looking to expand our tutoring program. We just launched in Alabama as a new state and are looking at new school districts in Alabama; now that we have a foothold with this existing, we are increasingly interested in how we can be part of community health in a much broader way.

[00:33:44] Fall prevention, diabetes, self-management, chronic disease, and self-management are always looking for university hospital partners to be part of their community benefit.

[00:33:53] Drumm McNaughton: Paul, thank you so much for being on the program. This hasn’t been a typical program for me. It’s not totally focused on higher ed and fixing problems, but I think for institutions who really want to improve their community relations, want to provide mentoring for their students and other avenues for research, I think this has been great. So, thank you so much for taking the time to be with me today.

[00:34:21] Paul Weiss: Drumm, so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

[00:34:24] Drumm McNaughton: Take care. And the next time you happen to be out here and looking at your Oasis places in Albuquerque, be sure to look me up.

[00:34:31] Paul Weiss: We will hook you up, and we’ll get you into a class, more importantly, because, as you said, you’re not so young anymore. You’re becoming an Oasis person.

[00:34:41] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you for that reminder. Take care.

[00:34:44] Paul Weiss: Take care.

 

 

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