Accepted Paper:

Engineering for Humanity: partnering college students with older adults for healthy aging-in-place  


Caitrin Lynch (Olin College of Engineering)

Paper short abstract:

Engineering for Humanity is an intergenerational, interdisciplinary (anthropology and engineering) college program in the USA. This paper describes the program’s impacts on older adults and examines its lessons for designing and maintaining age-friendly communities.

Paper long abstract:

Engineering for Humanity is an intergenerational, interdisciplinary (anthropology and engineering) program at Olin College of Engineering, near Boston, Massachusetts. It is a partnership between students from Olin, Wellesley, and Babson Colleges and local Councils on Aging. Senior citizens who wish to age in place are recruited as "community partners" to work for a semester with students in a series of discovery, design, and community-building activities; ultimately the students design and deliver real, implemented solutions to the seniors' specific problems and challenges. This paper describes the program and, based on interview and survey data, impacts on older adults. The older adults receive a customized artifact to help them feel more independent. Beyond that, the class has non-material impacts on the older adults during and after the program. During the program, they report increased interest in getting out of their houses and engaging with others; they express feelings of being recognized and valued in society; and they positively cite the chance to have intergenerational peers. After the program, they say that they feel less lonely and less isolated. Even when living situations remained the same, participating seniors feel more comfortable reaching out to friends and family and discussing personal challenges. Some community partners go on to participate in more activities through local senior centers and in other venues. This paper includes discussion of the lessons we can take from this one course for how to design and maintain age-friendly communities, and why (and to whom) they are important.

Panel P027
Considering ideas and practices to create "age-friendly communities" (NME/Commission on Aging and the Aged panel)