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Kansas State University
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Manhattan, KS 66506
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Sources: Christina Pacheco, chr4ksu@k-state.edu;
Jacob Schultz, jake80@k-state.edu;
and Gayle Doll, 785-532-5945, gdoll@k-state.edu
Pronouncer: Doll sounds like "dole."
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415, khodges2@k-state.edu

Thursday, May 28, 2009

K-STATE STUDENTS OVERCOME STEREOTYPES, ESTABLISH FRIENDSHIPS WITH MENTORS AT MEADOWLARK HILLS RETIREMENT COMMUNITY

MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University students have been learning about aging from mentors at a local retirement community, with many of the students establishing friendships with the older generation.

For a seminar in gerontology course, K-State students are paired with resident mentors at the Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community in Manhattan. Gayle Doll, director of the Center of Aging at K-State, said the goal of the class experience is to combat ageism, particularly since many of the students will pursue careers where they interact with the elderly.

Doll said common stereotypes of older adults are that they're grumpy, lonely and can't learn new things. She said the mentor experience allows students to overcome these stereotypes. The mentors also serve as guides for the course curriculum.

"What we read and learn has more value when elders are there to confirm or enrich the material," Doll said. "When we meet with our mentors in the classroom situation, they become the teachers and I facilitate the conversations. Professionally, many of our mentors are very well-connected and have been useful references for students seeking career opportunities."

Christina Pacheco, May K-State bachelor's graduate in sociology and gerontology, Overland Park, spent the spring semester getting to know an 89-year-old female resident in independent living at Meadowlark Hills.

"We frequently met outside of the allotted class meetings and went to dinners, got coffee, grabbed lunch and hung out," Pacheco said. "We bonded not only as mentor and mentee, but as friends. Who knew an 89-year-old could make such great friends with a 22-year-old?"

Pacheco said her mentor does most things on her own, including driving a car, and is active in the Meadowlark and Manhattan communities. Pacheco described her mentor as fashionable, outgoing and free-spirited.

"It has been interesting because often your own grandparents will not tell you the 'bad' or societal wrong things they may have done, but she just laid it all out on the table," Pacheco said. "She speaks with truth and honesty, and is always trying to throw in a lesson or two. She has taught me a lot about love of family and friends, along with a small course on etiquette and manners."

Pacheco plans to enter the administrative training program at Meadowlark Hills to develop skills to run a retirement home.

"My mentor has definitely given me more confidence in having conversations with an older person," she said. "You sometimes feel that you may have nothing in common with someone who is so much older, but you have to stop and remember that they were young once, too."

Jacob Schultz, junior in management and gerontology, Topeka, said he enjoyed learning about his mentor, a former linguistics professor who traveled the world with his wife teaching English as a second language.

Schultz said his mentor is tech-savvy, and the pair often communicated through the social networking site Facebook. His mentor also was a valuable resource for class projects, such as an assignment on religion and spirituality within the aging population.

"On a personal level, he and I discussed our ideas of faith and how they have changed as we have grown older," Schultz said. "Of course, he has had more time than me to decide what he believes while I am still searching for my true beliefs. I found our discussions to be very valuable and I will remember them all my life."

Schultz has a summer internship with Meadowlark Hills and plans to pursue a career in long-term care.

"I will be working one-on-one with a lot of people," Schultz said. "I hope that the relationship I had with my mentor will help me remember that a person's unique personality doesn't change once they reach 65. We are all different and those differences are what make relationships special."

Doll said the mentors enjoy working with the students and have requested more interaction with them. Some of the mentors have said they were surprised that the students were smarter and better mannered than they expected.

"They've learned that ageism works both ways and that overcoming their stereotypes of youth has proved to be a meaningful experience," Doll said.