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Santa Clara University Class Brings Students and Seniors Together

Santa Clara University Class Brings Students and Seniors Together

Patti Simone, associate professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, remembers growing up as the last of six children and being surrounded by an extended, loving family. Her father Karl Mueller, a World War II veteran of the United States Navy, still has many stories to share. Enriched by these stories, Simone believes it’s important for people from different generations to communicate with each other. In the Psychology of Aging class Simone teaches, she is overseeing a program that allows students to make such connections.

“Santa Clara University recognizes the importance of having Santa Clara students engage with others in the community in at least one of their classes; it works particularly well in this class because not everyone in the class has access to seniors,” Simone says. “There are 31 students in the Psychology of Aging class and we have about a dozen seniors participating. The class focuses on seniors 65 and older. Right now, seniors can sign up for a session or multiple sessions to meet with students and have their stories recorded.”

So far, Simone’s students have heard detailed stories from seniors about historical events, natural disasters, the city’s history and the day they met or married their longtime spouses.

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According to Mallory von Kugelgen, health and wellness coordinator at the Santa Clara Senior Center, participating seniors can give permission to have their stories uploaded to StoryCorps for posterity.

“StoryCorps is a non-profit organization and the goal is to capture people’s culture and stories and upload these oral histories to an archive that is right now at the United States Library of Congress,” von Kugelgen says. “The StoryCorps project started small and it blossomed. Now I hear filmmakers make animated shorts from some of these stories and that some these stories have appeared on NPR.”

On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 11, Wanda Buck, 77, met with psychology student Elena Fromer, 19, at the Santa Clara Senior Center.

“One of the few regrets I have in life is I didn’t get a college education before I started a family,” Buck says. “I was in the era where women put their husbands through college if they married young because husbands were expected to be the breadwinner. After 15 years of being out of high school, I got my college degree in psychology at San Jose State University… I have been a real estate broker since 1979. Through the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, I was Realtor of the Year in 2013…I guess I’ll feel old when I’m 80 but now I actually still feel middle-aged.”

“A lot of people talked to me about their careers,” Fromer says of interviews she has conducted. “One man told me how he met his second wife. One woman told me she has traveled to every state. A goal of this project is to eliminate stereotypes of seniors and gain more understanding about diversity.”

“I’ve come across people who say ‘I like my life but I don’t think anyone else would be interested in hearing about it,'” Simone says. “But these people grew up in a completely different time than what today’s youth knows and what they have to share is educational.”

The StoryCorps project of Santa Clara University’s Psychology of Aging class will end on March 11. Seniors interested in participating can call Simone at (408) 554-4577.

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