Eastern Michigan joins worldwide collaboration of schools seeking to improve connection of older adults with universities

EMU becomes first Age-Friendly University in Michigan

A middle-aged woman takes notes in the classroom.

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University has joined a worldwide network of universities that have committed themselves to becoming more age friendly in their programs and policies.

The Age-Friendly University (AFU) network, recognized by the Academy of Gerontology in Higher Education, consists of institutions of higher education around the globe who have endorsed 10 age-friendly principles and seek to learn about emerging age-friendly efforts, with the goal of contributing to the social, personal, and economic benefit of students of all ages. 

As the first AFU university in Michigan, Eastern will be conducting an Age-Friendly Environmental Scan this year, said Andrea Gossett Zakrajsek, a professor of occupational therapy and director of the Aging Studies Program in the School of Health Sciences.

 “With this information, we will be recognizing the age-friendly initiatives we undertake here at EMU and working towards enhancing this work through the AFU 10 Principles,” she said. “This is a very exciting time to be celebrating age as a component of diversity in incorporating aging initiatives and further integrating older adults into our campus.

“The AFU initiative is very important, because, as we know, the population is aging nationally. Fifteen percent of the population in the United States is 65 and older, and that number is expected to grow to 24 percent by 2020.

“The community surrounding Eastern mirrors that growth. In fact, during the winter 2018 semester, more than 1,000 students were enrolled in classes on our campus who are 50 years and older. Furthermore, many of the faculty and staff who work on our campus are older adults, not to mention our active campus retirement community.”

Examples of supporting older adults on campus include diversifying classrooms in terms of age, and training students to develop skills to research and be prepared to work with older adults. In addition, Zakrajsek says, it’s vital to support entities at EMU that are developing programs to meet the needs older adults in our community, such as the Office of Nutritional Services, the Psychology and Speech Language Therapy clinics, the Occupational Therapy Program, CarFit events and the Aging Studies Program Annual Lecture.

“We’re very proud and excited to be part of this initiative,” said Rhonda Longworth, provost and executive vice president of academic and student affairs. “This effort underscores Eastern’s strong commitment to welcoming students that bring with them a wide range of life perspectives and backgrounds. Our commitment to such diversity and lifelong learning helps provide a deeper and more meaningful educational experience to all students and members of our campus community.”

EMU's Aging Studies Program offers three programs to students: an aging studies minor, plus graduate certificates in gerontology and dementia, with 25 faculty affiliates from various programs across campus who contribute to the program activities.

The AFU principles reflect the work of an international, interdisciplinary team convened by professor Brían MacCraith, President of Dublin City University in Ireland, to identify the distinctive contributions institutions of higher education can make in responding to the interests and needs of an aging population.

The 10 age friendly principles include goals such as encouraging participating of older adults in the core activities of the university, promoting late career development, enhancing online learning activities and improving access to wellness programs and cultural events.

Launched by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in 2012, the AFU principles have been adopted by institutions in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Canada and beyond.

"For more information about EMU's AFU activities, please contact Andrea Zakrajsek at azakrajs@emich.edu or 734-487-3220. 

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 19,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

October 10, 2018

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Geoff Larcom