Adrienne Jeanette Gurge – Special to The Southern News -
Elizabeth Dalton, an older woman, waits in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts at the Adanti student center. The younger students are busy chatting, their conversations with each other about the events from last weekend. One is complaining about her roommate; other students are talking on their phones and texting. They don’t seem to notice Dalton, who is carrying some books. It doesn’t bother Dalton as she pays for her coffee and rushes off to class.
Elizabeth Dalton has been a part-time student at Southern for four years. Dalton is one of 100 students over the age of 62 years old that are on campus this year. Dalton has a positive view of the younger generation.
“Every single generation has ingenuity and a sense of decency. And that always comes out. You will be different in style but that is the exterior,” Dalton said.
Many younger students are coming to find out that seniors—senior citizens that is—are cool. Nontraditional students are coming into the campus in waves. Some senior citizen students are making big splashes in the Southern Connecticut State University community.
The nation’s population of 65 and older increased 15 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S Census Bureau. This population will grow even further as the Baby Boomer generation, an estimated 7.8 million people, reaches 65.
People who are 62 and older can attend State University or Community College for a lower cost, and in the case of many part-time students, for only a registration fee of $55.
Frank LaDore is the interim director of academic advisement and also has been the director of the senior citizen program for the last eight years at SCSU. LaDore said that the program started in the 1970’s and presently there are about 100 seniors attending SCSU this semester. He helps them to register for classes.
“I can help a senior have a great experience and it is fun for me,” LaDore said. Every year he looks forward to senior registration day.
Many senior citizens are coming back to school after they retire. Some audit courses and others take courses for a grade.
Jonathann Beauchamp, 68, is taking Latin and Latin literature this semester. Beauchamp is a recent retiree. He experiences college differently this time than he did when he was young.
“I can devote the time to studying and by auditing I am free of the pressure to get a grade,” Beauchamp says.
Beauchamp taught Spanish at SCSU for three semesters: fall of 2008, fall of 2009, and spring of 2010. He thinks that the educational environment has changed over the years.
“We put too much emphasis on grades and it has become more intensified,” he says.
Beauchamp is an open-minded free thinker. When these types of students are in the class it can change the entire educational experience for all students. There can be more fun and lively discussions. They can also share their life experiences with younger students. Beauchamp has traveled to China and Dalton lived in Germany and Japan for periods of time.
For Beauchamp, it is a challenge to get through New Haven traffic in the morning. But the positives seem to outweigh the negatives when it comes to the college atmosphere. Senior citizens get challenged and that helps their intellect.
“I am taking Latin for the first time in my life and I am testing my memory. I have been a language teacher and words have fascinated me for years,” he said.
Not only does the college give to them, but they are an asset to the campus. In fact, senior citizens are a treasure in the community, that once discovered, enriches the lives of so many.
“They bring a whole dynamic to the classroom. You can learn for that person with so much experience. I have seen students get very close to seniors in their class. Often times the seniors mentor,” LaDore said.
Joseph Solodow, a foreign language professor who taught for 21 years at Southern, said that older students can be good role models.
“They are models of higher motivation and better performance. It means something to them,” Solodow said. “A woman, about 65 years old, in my Spanish 405 course on the last quiz has a perfect score—and she was the only one.”
Many senior citizens take courses in subjects like history, political science, English, art, foreign language, and creative writing.
“I always thought if I had the free time I would like to pursue subjects that I am interest in,” Dalton said.
Dalton was laid off from her job as a school librarian. The decline in the economy has led numerous people back to school for extra skills. When people start to look around and notice the 32-year-old pregnant, married woman holding her child’s hand while crossing the street to get to the parking lot and the 40-year-old man carrying text books, they will appreciate the diversity of our campus. College is all about learning. And what better way to learn then to include diverse people with different points of view. Dalton doesn’t like to be called a “senior”; she prefers to be classified as a “boomer.”
“I always said that interaction between the generations is an important factor in education. Other boomers I met agree that it removes the stereotypes,” Dalton says.
Many people have an image of the elderly staying at home alone or slowing down. Not Dalton. She said that seniors are, “paving the way for younger people to think differently of old age.” They have an effect on the younger and the younger has an effect on them.
The older generations are learning the new technology. It is difficult for some senior citizens to learn. But others embrace the new.
“I am very happy that I get on the computer. It stretches me to learn more about technology,” Dalton said. “I have an iPhone and I show my friends. They see what I do. They say it looks great and they want to get it.”
Now when a phone goes off in class, it might belong to an older student.
The lasting impression is that these students are part of our Southern community. Some students and professors can develop strong and lasting relationships with senior students. Solodow became friends with an elderly Scotsman who was a student of his years ago. The professor and his wife had been friends with his former student and his wife for 15 years.