HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – Governor Tom Wolf will honor Stephanie Cole, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Aging, with a Governor’s Award of Excellence for going above and beyond in serving older people in the Commonwealth. She created a program that brings together Pennsylvania undergraduate and graduate students and older adults who receive services from the Department of Aging. Cole will be among 50 employees from 12 agencies to receive the awards at a May 20 ceremony for extraordinary achievement in 2021.
Cole took the initiative to seek the interest of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) in developing the Intergenerational University Connections program. The program matches students with older adults recruited by local Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and provides service-learning credits to students. Slippery Rock University (SRU) became the first school to implement the program in the Fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. In January 2021, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an op-ed acknowledging the program and noted that it should be a model not just for Pennsylvania but for the nation.
“Stephanie’s innovative thinking in developing this unique program truly shows her passion for serving older Pennsylvanians. I applaud her for creating the Intergenerational University Connections program, and I look forward to seeing the program grow in the years to come,” Governor Wolf said.
In 2021, Cole continued to build relationships and expand the program to other universities including West Chester University, Widener University, Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State Scranton, with Penn State College of Nursing preparing for involve their campuses. This effort also included inviting AAAs across the Commonwealth to join and help recruit older adults who could benefit from the program.
“One of the biggest concerns for seniors when people were locked down because of COVID was the negative impact of social isolation,” Aging Secretary Robert Torres said. “Stephanie felt that with students having more time at home, especially those studying social work, public health, nursing and recreational therapy, they would be inclined to engage with an older adult on on an individual basis, if such an opportunity arose.”
The Department of Aging has received positive feedback from students and seniors who have participated in the program. Some students continued their relationship with their assigned senior. Some students reported an increase in their confidence in working with seniors and made a commitment to working with seniors over the course of their careers. Some seniors expressed how positive their engagement with students was when they shared their knowledge and wisdom with students and even began to remember
memories long forgotten in the process.
In 2021, Cole joined SRU faculty to discuss the Intergenerational University Connections program at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting.
Learn more about the program by visiting the Ministry of Aging website.